Thursday, 10 December 2015

Wine - a poetic tasting.

According to Persian mythology, wine was discovered by a woman. She drank the fermented juice from grapes stored in a jar, went to sleep, and surprisingly woke up cured of a headache, instead of suffering from the world's first hangover as one might have expected. The classical period of Arab civilisation spawned a rich corpus of Bacchic poetry, which had its roots in pre-Islamic Arabia.  

(Last night I could not sleep) so give me to drink of the
maiden wine who has donned the grey locks of old age
whilst still in the womb;
A wine which (when poured) is replenished with youth…
One preserved for a day when its seal is pierced, though
             It is the confidant of Time itself;
It has been aged, such that if it were possessed of an
            eloquent tongue,
It would sit proudly amongst people and tell a tale of an a
             ancient time.  

‘Khamriyya’, The Encylopedia of Islam (new edn.) vol.iv (Leiden, 1978). 998 -1009  

My father kept a copy of The Rubayat of Omar Kyam with him,  throughout his five years of service with the Royal Corps of Signals during WW2.  After visiting the following verses, I am not surprised that he became a publican, he liked a drink but never before 9 in the evening and never to excess.  

And David’s lips are locket; but in divine
High-piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!” the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers t’ incarnadine. 

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. 

Whether at Naishapur 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.

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.” 

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. 

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. 

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. 

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,
Was never deep in anything but–Wine. 

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! 

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. 

Wine became the drink of the gods, whether they were Egyptian, Sumerian, or Greek: The early eities of wine were often women, since they were also associated with fertility. The symbolism of wine, as well as its effect, became potent as it was adopted into religious ritual. Another source of potent images, the sea, which was crucial to early transport and communication, was given the feminine gender by the Greeks. When the ancient Greek poet Homer sang of "the wine-dark sea" he was linking two forces central in Mediterranean life to create an image which continues to have great emotive power.

 Li Qingzhao was a Chinese poet of the Song dynasty. Born in Zhangqiu into a family of scholars, Qingzhao was unusually outgoing and knowledgeable of a woman of noble birth. Before she got married, her poetry was already well known within elite circles. Marrying Zhao Mingcheng in 1811, his absences for work fuelled a lot of her poetry, which is often imbued with yearning and explores the effects of wine on her thoughts and feelings.

Light mists and heavy clouds,
melancholy the long dreay day,
In the golden censer
the burning incense is dying away.

It is again time
for the lovely Double-Nith Festival;
The coolness of midnight
penetrates my screen of sheer silk
and chills my pillow of jade.

After drinking wine at twilight
under the chrysanthemum hedge,
My sleeves are perfumed
by the faint fragrance of the plants.

Oh, I cannot say it is not enchanting,
Only, when the west wind stirs the curtain,
I see that I am more graceful
than the yellow flowers.

And by all accounts, the Victorian romantic poets drank a surfeit of wine on their tours of Europe.  This extract from John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale. 

O, for a draught of vintage! That hath been
Description:’d a long age in the deep-delved earth,
Tasting of Flora and the country green,
Description:, and Provencal song, and sunburnt mirth!
O for a beaker full of the warm South,
Description: of the true, the blushful Hippocrene,
Description: beaded bubbles winking at the brim,
Description: purple-stained mouth;
Description: I might drink, and leave the world unseen,
Description: with thee fade away into the forest dim. 


I am not going to attempt to compete with any of the aforementioned poets but will end with a newly acquired poem, by Chilean poet and Nobel Prize for Literature winner, Pablo Neruda. It is a deep, rich poem with subtle hints of plum and Autumn fruits... 

Ode to Wine

Wine color of day
wine color of night
wine with your feet of purple
or topaz blood,
starry child of the earth,
wine, smooth as a golden sword,
soft as ruffled velvet,
wine spiral-shelled and suspended,
loving, of the sea,
you’ve never been contained in one glass,
in one song, in one man,
choral, you are gregarious
and, at least, mutual
on your wave
we go from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy graves,
and we weep transitory tears,
but your beautiful spring suit is different,
the heart climbs to the branches,
the wind moves the day,
nothing remains in your motionless soul.

Wine stirs the spring,
joy grows like a plant,
walls, large rocks fall,
abysses close up, song is born.
Oh thou, jug of wine, in the desert
with the woman I love,
said the old poet.
Let the pitcher of wine and its kiss to the kiss of love.
My love, suddenly,
your hip
is the curve of the wineglass
filled to the brim,
your breast is the cluster,
your hair the light of alcohol
your nipples, the grapes
your navel pure seal stamped on your belly of a barrel,
and your love the cascade of unquenchable wine,
the brightness that falls on my sense
the earthen splendour of life. 
But you are more than love,
burning kiss
of ignited heart-
vino de vida, you are also
fellowship, transparency,
chorus of discipline abundance of flowers.
I love the light of a bottle of intelligent wine
upon a table
when people are talking,
that they drink it,
that in each drop of gold
or ladle of purple,
they remember that autumn worked
until the barrels were filled with wine
and let the obscure man learn,
in the ceremony of his business,
to remember the soil and his duties,
to propagate the canticle of the fruit. 

Pablo Neruda. 1954
Raise your glasses, lads and lasses.  Thanks for reading - Adele