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RUBÁIYÁT
OF
OMAR KHAYYÁM

OF NISHAPÚR  

 


A free translation from the Persian by


Edward FitzGerald


this is the most popular - and perhaps the most-quoted - poem in English.
It influenced generations of English, Irish and American poets,
including Rossetti, Browning, Eliot, Pound, Graves and Yeats.

Rubáiyát is the Persian word for quatrains.
They were a popular form, often used for irreverent - even Wildean - quips and witticisms,
thus resembling the English limerick - or, in some instances, the Japanese haiku.
Like the limerick they were individual and mostly anonymous,
and not one can be securely ascribed to Omar Khayyám,
though hundreds have been attributed to him.

Some notes on Omar Khayyám and FitzGerald are appended as a publisher's footnote.

 


FIFTH EDITION
originally published in 1889



 
I

Wake! For the Sun, who scatter'd into flight
The Stars before him from the Field of Night,
Drives Night along with them from Heav'n, and strikes
The Sultán's Turret with a Shaft of Light.

[The First Edition version of the opening stanzas is better and runs:-

Awake! for Morning in the Bowl of Night
Has flung the Stone that puts the Stars to Flight:
And Lo! the Hunter of the East has caught
The Sultán's Turret in a Noose of Light.

Dreaming when Dawn's Left Hand was in the Sky
I heard a voice within the Tavern cry.
'Awake, my Little Ones and fill the Cup
Before Life's Liquor in its Cup be dry.'
]

II
Before the phantom of False morning died,
Methought a Voice within the Tavern cried,
"When all the Temple is prepared within,
Why nods the drowsy Worshipper outside ?"
III
And, as the Cock crew, those who stood before
The Tavern shouted - "Open then the Door!
You know how little while we have to stay,
And, once departed, may return no more."
IV

Now the New Year reviving old Desires,
The thoughtful Soul to Solitude retires,
Where the WHITE HAND OF MOSES on the Bough
Puts out, and Jesus from the Ground suspires.

V
Iram indeed is gone with all his Rose,
And Jamshyd's Sev'n-ring'd Cup where no one knows;
But still a Ruby kindles in the Vine,
And many a Garden by the Water blows.
VI
And David's lips are lockt; but in divine
High-piping Pehleví, with Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!
the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers to incarnadine.
VII
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter - and the Bird is on the Wing.
VIII
Whether at Naishápúr or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
IX
Each Morn a thousand Roses brings, you say:
Yes, but where leaves the Rose of Yesterday ?
And this first Summer month that brings the Rose
Shall take Jamshyd and Kaikobád away.
X
Well, let it take them! What have we to do
With Kaikobád the Great, or Kaikhosrú ?
Let Zál and Rustum bluster as they will,
Or Hátim call to Supper - heed not you.
XI
With me along the strip of Herbage strown
That just divides the desert from the sown,
Where name of Slave and Sultan is forgot -
And Peace to Mahmúd on his golden Throne!
XII
A Book of Verses underneath the Bough,
A Jug of Wine, a Loaf of Bread - and Thou
Beside me singing in the Wilderness -
Oh, Wilderness were Paradise enow!
XIII

Some for the Glories of This World; and some
Sigh for the Prophet's Paradise to come;
Ah, take the Cash, and let the Credit go,
Nor heed the rumble of a distant Drum!

[The Second Edition has a stanza here that runs:-

Were it not Folly, Spider-like to spin
The Thread of present Life away to win
What ? for ourselves, who know not if we shall
Breathe out the very Breath we now breathe in.
]

XIV
Look to the blowing Rose about us - "Lo,
Laughing,"
she says, "into the world I blow,
At once the silken tassel of my Purse
Tear, and its Treasure on the Garden throw."
XV
And those who husbanded the Golden grain,
And those who flung it to the winds like Rain,
Alike to no such aureate Earth are turn'd
As, buried once, Men want dug up again.
XVI
The Worldly Hope men set their Hearts upon
Turns Ashes - or it prospers; and anon,
Like Snow upon the Desert's dusty Face,
Lighting a little hour or two - is gone
XVII
Think, in this batter'd Caravanserai
Whose Portals are alternate Night and Day,
How Sultán after Sultán with his Pomp
Abode his destin'd Hour, and went his way.
XVIII
They say the Lion and the Lizard keep
The Courts where Jamshyd gloried and drank deep:
And Bahrám, that great Hunter - the Wild Ass
Stamps o'er his Head, but cannot break his Sleep.
XIX
I sometimes think that never blows so red
The Rose as where some buried Cæsar bled;
That every Hyacinth the Garden wears
Dropt in her Lap from some once lovely Head.
XX
And this reviving Herb whose tender Green
Fledges the River-Lip on which we lean -
Ah, lean upon it lightly! for who knows
From what once lovely Lip it springs unseen!
XXI
Ah, my Beloved, fill the Cup that clears
TO-DAY of past Regrets and future Fears:
To-morrow! - Why, To-morrow I may be
Myself with Yesterday's Sev'n thousand Years.
XXII
For some we loved, the loveliest and the best
That from his Vintage rolling Time hath prest,
Have drunk their Cup a Round or two before,
And one by one crept silently to rest.
XXIII
And we, that now make merry in the Room
They left, and Summer dresses in new bloom,
Ourselves must we beneath the Couch of Earth
Descend - ourselves to make a Couch - for whom ?
XXIV
Ah, make the most of what we yet may spend,
Before we too into the Dust descend;
Dust into Dust, and under Dust to lie,
Sans Wine, sans Song, sans Singer, and - sans End.
XXV
Alike for those who for TO-DAY prepare,
And those that after some TO-MORROW stare,
A Muezzin from the Tower of Darkness cries,
"Fools! your Reward is neither Here nor There."
XXVI
Why, all the Saints and Sages who discuss'd
Of the Two Worlds so wisely - they are thrust
Like foolish Prophets forth; their Words to Scorn
Are scatter'd, and their Mouths are stopt with Dust.

Dervishes - Isfahan, 17th century

XXVII
Myself when young did eagerly frequent
Doctor and Saint, and heard great argument
About it and about: but evermore
Came out by the same door where in I went.
XXVIII
With them the seed of Wisdom did I sow,
And with mine own hand wrought to make it grow;
And this was all the Harvest that I reap'd -
"I came like Water, and like Wind I go."
XXIX
Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.
XXX
What, without asking, hither hurried Whence ?
And, without asking, Whither hurried hence!
Oh, many a Cup of this forbidden Wine
Must drown the memory of that insolence!
XXXI
Up from Earth's Centre through the Seventh Gate
I rose, and on the Throne of Saturn sate,
And many a Knot unravel'd by the Road;
But not the Master-knot of Human Fate.
XXXII
There was the Door to which I found no Key;
There was the Veil through which I might not see:
Some little talk awhile of ME and THEE
There was - and then no more of THEE and ME.
XXXIII
Earth could not answer; nor the Seas that mourn
In flowing Purple, of their Lord forlorn;
Nor rolling Heaven, with all his Signs reveal'd
And hidden by the sleeve of Night and Morn.
XXXIV

Then of the THEE IN ME who works behind
The Veil, I lifted up my hands to find
A lamp amid the Darkness; and I heard,
As from Without - "THE ME WITHIN THEE BLIND !"

[The Second Edition version is :-

Then to the rolling Heav'n itself I cried,
Asking"What Lamp has Destiny to guide
Her little Children stumbling in the Dark ?"

And
"A BLIND UNDERSTANDING !" Heav'n replied.]



XXXV
Then to the Lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean'd, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur'd - "While you live,
Drink! - for, once dead, you never shall return."
XXXVI
I think the Vessel, that with fugitive
Articulation answer'd, once did live,
And drink; and Ah! the passive Lip I kiss'd,
How many Kisses might it take - and give!
XXXVII
For I remember stopping by the way
To watch a Potter thumping his wet Clay:
And with its all-obliterated Tongue
It murmur'd -"Gently, Brother, gently, pray!"
XXXVIII
And has not such a Story from of Old
Down Man's successive generations roll'd
Of such a clod of saturated Earth
Cast by the Maker into Human mould ?
XXXIX
And not a drop that from our Cups we throw
For Earth to drink of, but may steal below
To quench the fire of Anguish in some Eye
There hidden - far beneath, and long ago.
XLI
Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow's tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress-slender Minister of Wine.
XLII

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press,
End in what All begins and ends in - Yes;
Think then you are TO-DAY what YESTERDAY
You were - TO-MORROW you shall not be less.

XLIII
So when that Angel of the darker Drink
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your Soul
Forth to your Lips to quaff - you shall not shrink.
XLIV

Why, if the Soul can fling the Dust aside,
And naked on the Air of Heaven ride,
Were't not a Shame - were't not a Shame for him
In this clay carcase crippled to abide ?

XLV
'Tis but a Tent where takes his one day's rest
A Sultán to the realm of Death addrest;
The Sultán rises, and the dark Ferrásh
[tent-pitcher]
Strikes, and prepares it for another Guest.
XLVI

And fear not lest Existence closing your
Account, and mine, should know the like no more;
The Eternal Sáki from that Bowl has pour'd
Millions of Bubbles like us, and will pour.

XLVII
When You and I behind the Veil are past,
Oh, but the long, long while the World shall last,
Which of our Coming and Departure heeds
As the Sea's self should heed a pebble-cast.
XLVIII

A Moment's Halt - a momentary taste
Of BEING from the Well amid the Waste -
And LO! - the phantom Caravan has reach'd
The NOTHING it set out from - Oh, make haste!

[The Second Edition version is :-

One Moment in Annihilation's Waste,
One Moment, of the Well of Life to taste -
The Stars are setting, and the Caravan
Draws to the Dawn of Nothing - Oh make haste!
]

XLIX
Would you that spangle of Existence spend
About THE SECRET - quick about it, Friend!
A Hair perhaps divides the False and True -
And upon what, prithee, may life depend ?
L
A Hair perhaps divides the False and True,
Yes; and a single Alif were the clue -
Could you but find it - to the Treasure-house,
And peradventure to THE MASTER too;
LI

Whose secret Presence, through Creation's veins
Running Quicksilver-like eludes your pains;
Taking all shapes from Máh to Máhi
[fish to moon]; and
They change and perish all but He remains;

LII
A moment guess'd - then back behind the Fold
Immerst of Darkness round the Drama roll'd
Which, for the Pastime of Eternity,
He doth Himself contrive, enact, behold.
LIII
But if in vain, down on the stubborn floor
Of Earth, and up to Heav'n's unopening Door,
You gaze TO-DAY, while You are You - how then
TO-MORROW, when You shall be You no more ?
LIV
Waste not your Hour, nor in the vain pursuit
Of This and That endeavour and dispute;
Better be jocund with the fruitful Grape
Than sadden after none, or bitter, Fruit.
LV
You know, my Friends, with what a brave Carouse
I made a Second Marriage in my house;
Divorced old barren Reason from my Bed,
And took the Daughter of the Vine to Spouse.
LVI
For "IS" and "IS-NOT" though with Rule and Line
And "UP-AND-DOWN" by Logic I define,
Of all that one should care to fathom, I
Was never deep in anything but - Wine.
LVII
Ah, but my Computations, People say,
Reduced the Year to better reckoning ? - Nay,
'Twas only striking from the Calendar
Unborn To-morrow and dead Yesterday.
LVIII
And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and 'twas - the Grape!
LIX
The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that - in a trice
Life's leaden metal into Gold transmute:
LX
The mighty Mahmúd, Allah-breathing Lord,
That all the misbelieving and black Horde
Of Fears and Sorrows that infest the Soul
Scatters before him with his whirlwind Sword.
LXI
Why, be this Juice the growth of God, who dare
Blaspheme the twisted tendril as a Snare ?
A Blessing, we should use it, should we not ?
And if a Curse - why, then, Who set it there ?
LXII
I must abjure the Balm of Life, I must,
Scared by some After-reckoning ta'en on trust,
Or lured with Hope of some Diviner Drink,
To fill the Cup - when crumbled into Dust!
LXIII
Oh threats of Hell and Hopes of Paradise!
One thing at least is certain - This Life flies;
One thing is certain and the rest is Lies;
The Flower that once has blown for ever dies.
LXIV
Strange, is it not ? that of the myriads who
Before us pass'd the door of Darkness through,
Not one returns to tell us of the Road,
Which to discover we must travel too.
LXV

The Revelations of Devout and Learn'd
Who rose before us, and as Prophets burn'd,
Are all but Stories, which, awoke from Sleep
They told their comrades, and to Sleep return'd.

LXVI
I sent my Soul through the Invisible,
Some letter of that After-life to spell:
And by and by my Soul return'd to me,
And answer'd "I Myself am Heav'n and Hell:"
LXVII
Heav'n but the Vision of fulfill'd Desire,
And Hell the Shadow from a Soul on fire,
Cast on the Darkness into which Ourselves,
So late emerged from, shall so soon expire.
LXVIII

We are no other than a moving row
Of Magic Shadow-shapes that come and go
Round with the Sun-illumined Lantern held
In Midnight by the Master of the Show;

LXIX

But helpless Pieces of the Game He plays
Upon this Chequer-board of Nights and Days;
Hither and thither moves, and checks, and slays,
And one by one back in the Closet lays.

Persian Original of LXIX

LXX
The Ball no question makes of Ayes and Noes,
But Here or There as strikes the Player goes;
And He that toss'd you down into the Field,
He knows about it all - HE knows - HE knows!
LXXI

The Moving Finger writes; and, having writ,
Moves on: nor all your Piety nor Wit
Shall lure it back to cancel half a Line,
Nor all your Tears wash out a Word of it.

Persian Original of LXXI

LXXII
And that inverted Bowl they call the Sky,
Whereunder crawling coop'd we live and die,
Lift not your hands to It for help - for It
As impotently moves as you or I.
LXXIII
With Earth's first Clay They did the Last Man knead
And there of the Last Harvest sow'd the Seed:
And the first Morning of Creation wrote
What the Last Dawn of Reckoning shall read.
LXXIV
YESTERDAY This Day's Madness did prepare;
TO-MORROW'S Silence, Triumph, or Despair:
Drink! for you know not whence you came.
Drink! for you know not why you go, nor where.
LXXV
I tell you this - When, started from the Goal,
Over the flaming shoulders of the Foal
Of Heav'n Parwin and Mushtari they flung,
In my predestined Plot of Dust and Soul.
LXXVI
The Vine had struck a fibre: which about
If clings my Being - let the Dervish flout;
Of my Base metal may be filed a Key
That shall unlock the Door he howls without.
LXXVII
And this I know: whether the one True Light
Kindle to Love - or Wrath - consume me quite,
One Flash of It within the Tavern caught
Better than in the Temple lost outright.
LXXVIII
What! out of senseless Nothing to provoke
A conscious Something to resent the yoke
Of unpermitted Pleasure, under pain
Of Everlasting Penalties, if broke!
LXXIX
What! from his helpless Creature be repaid
Pure Gold for what he lent him dross-allay'd -
Sue for a Debt he never did contract,
And cannot answer - Oh the sorry trade!
LXXX
Oh Thou, who didst with pitfall and with gin
Beset the Road I was to wander in,
Thou wilt not with Predestined Evil round
Enmesh, and then impute my Fall to Sin!
LXXXI
Oh Thou, who Man of baser Earth didst make,
And ev'n with Paradise devise the Snake:
For all the Sin wherewith the Face of Man
Is blacken'd - Man's forgiveness give - and take!
LXXXII

As under cover of departing Day
Slunk hunger-stricken Ramazán away,
Once more within the Potter's house alone
I stood, surrounded by the Shapes of Clay.

LXXXIII
Shapes of all Sorts and Sizes, great and small,
That stood along the floor and by the wall;
And some loquacious Vessels were; and some
Listen'd perhaps, but never talk'd at all.
LXXXIV
Said one among them - "Surely not in vain
My substance of the common Earth was ta'en
And to this Figure moulded, to be broke,
Or trampled back to shapeless Earth again."
LXXXV
Then said a Second - "Ne'er a peevish Boy
Would break the Bowl from which he drank in joy;
And He that with his hand the Vessel made
Will surely not in after Wrath destroy."
LXXXVI

After a momentary silence spake
Some Vessel of a more ungainly Make;
"They sneer at me for leaning all awry:
What! did the Hand then of the Potter shake ?"



LXXXVII
Whereat some one of the loquacious Lot -
I think a Súfi pipkin - waxing hot -
"All this of Pot and Potter - Tell me, then,
Who is the Potter, pray, and who the Pot ?"
LXXXVIII
"Why," said another, "Some there are who tell
Of one who threatens he will toss to Hell
The luckless Pots he marr'd in making - Pish!
He's a Good Fellow, and 'twill all be well."
LXXXIX
"Well," murmur'd one, "Let whoso make or buy,
My Clay with long Oblivion is gone dry:
But fill me with the old familiar Juice
Methinks I might recover by and by."
XC
So while the Vessels one by one were speaking,
The little Moon look'd in that all were seeking:
And then they jogg'd each other, "Brother! Brother,
Now for the Porter's shoulder-knot a-creaking!"
XCI
Ah, with the Grape my fading life provide,
And wash the Body whence the Life has died,
And lay me, shrouded in the living Leaf,
By some not unfrequented Garden-side.
XCII
That ev'n my buried Ashes such a snare
Of. Vintage shall fling up into the Air
As not a True-believer passing by
But shall be overtaken unaware.
XCIII
Indeed the Idols I have loved so long
Have done my credit in this World much wrong:
Have drown'd my Glory in a shallow Cup,
And sold my Reputation for a Song.
XCIV
Indeed, indeed, Repentance oft before
I swore - but was I sober when I swore ?
And then and then came Spring, and Rose-in-hand
My thread-bare Penitence apieces tore.
XCV
And much as Wine has play'd the Infidel,
And robb'd me of my Robe of Honour - well,
I wonder often what the Vintners buy
One half so precious as the stuff they sell.
XCVI
Yet Ah, that Spring should vanish with the Rose!
That Youth's sweet-scented manuscript should close!
The Nightingale that in the branches sang,
Ah whence, and whither flown again, who knows!
XCVII

Would but the Desert of the Fountain yield
One glimpse - if dimly, yet indeed, reveal'd,
To which the fainting Traveller might spring,
As springs the trampled herbage of the field!

The Second Edition has a stanza here that
might be the Motto of this Website, and runs:-



XCVIII
Would but some wingèd Angel ere too late
Arrest the yet unfolded Roll of Fate,
And make the stern Recorder otherwise
Enregister, or quite obliterate!
XCIX
Ah Love! could you and I with Him conspire
To grasp this sorry Scheme of Things entire,
Would not we shatter it to bits - and then
Re-mould it nearer to the Heart's Desire!
C
Yon rising Moon that looks for us again -
How oft hereafter will she wax and wane;
How oft hereafter rising look for us
Through this same Garden - and for one in vain!
CI
And when like her, Wine-bearer, you shall pass
Among the Guests Star-scatter'd on the Grass,
And in your joyous errand reach the spot
Where I made One - turn down an empty Glass!
 
Ninth-century Persian plate

TAMÁM

   

 

Original Publisher's Footnote

Umar ibn Ibrahim al-Khayyami is better known to us as Omar Khayyám.
He lived from circa 1048 to 1131, and few today realise how extensive his interests were.

As a mathematician he greatly expanded on al-Khwarizmi's algebraic principles and on Euclid's geometry.

As an astronomer he spent 18 years working in an observatory in Isfahan, where he measured the length of the solar year more accurately than any previous astronomer (at 365.24219858156 days). He also devised a solar calendar with eight leap years every 33 years, a great deal more accurate than the Gregorian correction of the Julian calendar (which was finally promulgated in 1582). Knowing this we can better appreciate:

LVII

Ah, but my Computations, People say,
Reduced the Year to better reckoning ? - Nay,
'Twas only striking from the Calendar
Unborn To-morrow and dead Yesterday.



Dissident Websites' Footnote:-


Edward FitzGerald came from the very wealthy Anglo-Irish Purcell family. A vegetarian who did not like vegetables, nor cared for wine, he was inspired to learn Persian by Edward Byles Cowell, an older intimate, who reportedly disapproved of the superficially-hedonistic slant that his admirer gave the Quatrains.

The young FitzGerald translated them first into mediæval Latin!
The recently-discovered manuscript he worked from was one of collections of quatrains of varying number and quality, traditionally ascribed to Khayyám, though none has ever been securely identified as a work of the great 12th-century mathematician.

FitzGerald never actually spoke Persian, nor did he hear it enunciated by native speakers.

Now numbering over 300, many rubáiyát 'migrated' like hadith from anonymous sources.
The earliest manuscript dates from the XVth century
.
They were the result of literary accretion: any acerbic, sceptic or neo-Epicurean/Diogenean quatrain would almost automatically become one of Khayyám's. The collections were assembled alphabetically and according to end-rhyme.

FitzGerald changed that format, turning a large selection of the rubáiyát into a single long poem beginning with dawn and ending with the arrival of eternal night. In the mid-19th century the thoughts which FitzGerald expressed through Khayyám were revolutionary, and would not even have been put down in a private letter, let alone a brilliant poem of religious, moral, philosophical and intellectual rebellion.
The very first quatrain can easily be seen as anti-monarchist, and the whole tenor of the poem is anti-dogma, anti-religious, even anti-Islamic - which makes the current popularity of Persian collections of the Rubaiyát in Iran decidedly enantiodromic.

It is also a work of literary genius, constructed (in its various editions) with great care and subtlety (with Shakespearean and Biblical references, for example), not to mention a beauty of expression which shows up Ginsberg's Howl (for example) as the utterance of a spoiled and backward infant.

The references to Wine and the Grape can be seen as neo-Epicurean,
but, within the Sufi tradition they are metaphorical and mystical:
the drinking of wine represents the absorption of Understanding (which is a process rather like intoxication), but it also represents itself, for Sufis understand that there is more than one Way, and a little insight might be inspired by the fermented juice of the grape as well as much benefit in mystical companionship
.

FitzGerald is also saying that the seeker-after-truth would find more substance in the grape than in the teachings of the mullahs and imams, or even of the Prophets. Since we are clay and return to clay, he pointed out, we are ideally suited to contain liquids (and each other) rather than gas.

Drunkenness
is the Sufi term (or code) for Wisdom.
The Tavern of Omar Khayyám is the heart, but may also correspond to the
Tekke
or Lodge of the Bektashis - or to the small fellowship of the Aware or Wise.

The first stanza can be interpreted thus:

Awaken from the Unawareness you have been 'educated' into
and let the dawn of Awareness strangle the arrogance of mere knowledge.
Let the cruel light of Wisdom, gentle at first, irradiate your consciousness.

On the other hand, 'The Beloved' might not be Understanding, or a light in our spiritual darkness, a spark in the cramped prison of our awareness - but quite simply a young boy, desired in the natural and Ancient Greek way.

The first edition was published at FitzGerald's expense in London in 1859, and was ignored.
Not one copy was sold.
It was not until Dante Gabriel Rossetti picked up a single remaindered copy for sale at one penny
(returning the next day to buy another, to find that the price had doubled !)
that the work gradually, by word of mouth, entered the public ken, and became the publishing sensation of the 19th century. The most lavish edition was a single copy, bound elaborately with gold leaf, ivory, rubies, pearls, topazes, diamonds, etc. which sank with the Titanic.


more on khayyám




A comparison of different translations of the Rubáiyát

See also my page on the Bektashi Order of Sufis

and the page on
Omar Khayyám and the tradition of Diogenes of Sinope

 


 


Click here for a site comparing all five versions of FitzGerald's translation


FitzGerald on the translation of poetry:

Better a live Sparrow than a stuffed Eagle.


another Sufi page

Click here to download a free Electronic Book of this web-page

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