Books: Stuffed Eagle

THE ORIGINAL RUBAIYYAT OF OMAR KHAYAAM, translated by Robert Graves and Omar Ali-Shah. 86 pages. Doubleday. $5.

Translators of poetry are the John Aldens of literature. They may woo the reader in another's name but, ultimately, they must speak for themselves—with translations that stand up in their own right as good poetry. "A translation must live," wrote Edward FitzGerald, "with a transfusion of one's own worse life if he can't retain the original's better. Better a live sparrow than a stuffed eagle."

FitzGerald, a mid-Victorian belletrist and amateur Orientalist, carried this principle to...