not by bread alone

If of thy worldly goods thou art bereft
and of the store two loaves alone are left,
sell one and with the dole
buy hyacinths to feed the soul.

blue hyacinths

I seem to have known that verse all my life, and always associated it with the phrase “Man shall not live by bread alone.” Of course the latter is from the Bible; the verse, it seems, is by Rumi. Presumably the original wasn’t written in English, which would account for the variations I found when I went looking to see where it came from.

I was fairly sure I’d quoted Rumi on the blog before, but it turns out I’m wrong. What I did find, when I searched the archives for hyacinths, was a glosa based on FitzGerald’s Rubaiyat. It’s nearly three years since I posted it, and the blog has a lot of new readers since then, so here it is again:


Here with a Loaf of Bread beneath the Bough,
A Flask of Wine, a Book of Verse – and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness –
And Wilderness is Paradise enow.

I had two loaves till you said it was fitting
to swap one for a hyacinth; that’s how,
now the lily’s dead, you’ll find me sitting
here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough.

A single loaf ain’t much, it’s poor indeed,
but I’ll admit that, here and now,
more than a second loaf, I need
a flask of wine, a book of verse – and thou.

Cheese perhaps, and, though I’d do without
the mayo, butter, salt and watercress,
I’d rather like you to be here, flat out
beside me singing in the Wilderness.

In fact I’d ditch this (now stale) loaf of bread
if you’d just bring some wine; I’d show you how
– you, me, some booze – we need no feather bed
and wilderness is Paradise enow.

And now, to raise the tone again, another quatrain from Omar Khayyam as interpreted by FitzGerald:

I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Caesar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.

deep blue hyacinth

Author: don't confuse the narrator

Exploring the boundary between writer and narrator through first person poetry, prose and opinion

One thought on “not by bread alone”

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