Edmund Sullivan was an illustrator active around the turn of the 20th century, a time which saw many innovations in the print industry. These innovations made possible more rapid reproductions and easier printing, which in turn made possible the explosion of illustrated magazines at the time.
Sullivan illustrated a translation of the Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam by Edward Fitzgerald in 1913. It was Sullivan’s illustration of the Skeleton with Roses that Alton Kelley and Stanley Mouse colored and added lettering to in 1966, which became one of the most-recognized icons of the Grateful Dead.
The Rubaiyat itself is a collection of quatrains written during the course of Omar Khayyam's life - May 31, 1048 to December 4, 1131. Khayyam was a Persian poet, mathematician and scientist. The original illustration depicts Fitzgeralds translation of Khayyam's quatrain number 26; note how similar it is to Grateful Dead lyrics:
Oh, come with old Khayyam, and leave the wine
To talk; one thing is certain, that life flies;
One thing is certain, and the rest is lies;
The flower that once has blown forever dies.
Each line reminds me of a different Grateful Dead lyric. First off, this Grateful Dead verse from Brown-eyed Women echoes in my mind:
Delilah Jones was the mother of twins
two times over and the rest were sins
Raised eight boys, only I turned bad
Didn't get the lickings that the other ones had
This Grateful Dead verse from Franklin's Tower also comes to mind:
In Franklin's Tower the four winds sleep
Like four lean hounds the lighthouse keep
Wildflower seed in the sand and wind
May the four winds blow you home again
As does this from Eyes of the World:
There comes a redeemer
and he slowly too fades away
There follows a wagon behind him
that's loaded with clay
and the seeds that were silent
all burst into bloom and decay
The night comes so quiet
and it's close on the heels of the day
And one last reference from Terrapin Station:
Let my inspiration flow
in token lines suggesting rhythm
that will not forsake me
till my tale is told and done
While the firelight's aglow
strange shadows in the flames will grow
till things we've never seen
will seem familiar
I recently purchased a copy of Fitzgerald's Rubaiyat on E-bay from a seller who sent me the following remarkable note:
"The book has a special feel in some unique and difficult in words to explain way. I suppose it's ordinary looking like any other book, but somehow does have an energy I sense when holding it. Dealing with books quite often, every once in awhile, one comes along that seems to have a soul, or a life of it's own. It's just something unseen that I can sense is there. This happens to be one of those rare special volumes. I assure you that you will find this book quite interesting.
"Once in a while
you can get shown the light
in the strangest of places
if you look at it right."