Love is a lamp of God, I am its moth

by Seyh Galib

English version by Bernard Lewis
Original Language Turkish

Love is a lamp of God, I am its moth;
love is a shackle, my heart is its crazy captive.

Since becoming a sharer in the secret of your glance
my heart became a friend of the friend, a stranger to the stranger.

Making no difference between dry piety and endless carouse --
such is the libertine way of the masters of ecstasy.

The black soil of the reveler's world is full of abundance,
the sun of wisdom rises in the tavern jar.

He drinks the wine mingled with poison of the glance of those eyes;
I could be tipsy from the languor of those blue eyes.

Take care, do not neglect that sleeping dagger,
its tale is always the gossip of death.

Galib, enter the secluded palace of pleasure and see its secret,
the wise way of the daughter of the vine is something else.

-- from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis

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Commentary by Ivan M. Granger

This poem, like much of Sufi poetry, uses a language of the profane to describe oneness with God as the Divine Beloved. Galib speaks of revelry and carousing, of taverns and "the daughter of the vine."

It is partly because of these sorts of metaphors that uptight Victorian Europe chose to view the Muslim world as one of licentiousness and excess -- quite the opposite of the modern Western prejudice that imagines all Muslims to be religious extremists. Both perspectives represent a profound misunderstanding of the deep wisdom being expressed through this sort of language.

Wine, as I have said elsewhere, is a common metaphor for the subtle and "intoxicating" drink of bliss. For many mystics it is an actual sensory experience that is sweet on the palate and warms the heart. The resulting flood of energy in the body can be so intense that it often causes trembling or even jerking body movements, occasionally unconsciousness, suggesting drunkenness to a spectator.

the sun of wisdom rises in the tavern jar.

But it is in the wine glass, the "tavern jar," that the "sun of wisdom rises." By immersing oneself in that ecstasy, false concepts are washed away and true knowing emerges.

This image of a cup or glass containing the sun has even more meaning for Sufis -- it is an evocation of the Muslim symbol of the star and crescent. Picture in your mind the rim of a glass catching the light -- that is the crescent -- and within it is held the star or sun. One way Sufis understand this symbol is that the star is the dawning light of enlightenment, and the crescent is the rim of the glass of bliss-bestowing wine. (The crescent is also the rim of the sky and the open boundaries of the heart... giving us enlightenment within the individual soul and within the world of being.)

He drinks the wine mingled with poison of the glance of those eyes;
I could be tipsy from the languor of those blue eyes.


As in many sacred traditions, the Sufis often describe the interaction between the ego-self and the Divine as a game of love. Thus, Galib writes of eyes that make the "reveler" tipsy. A glance from those eyes causes him to drink "wine mingled with poison." Why poison? The wine of divine union awakens sweet ecstasy, but because such a divine glance leads to the death of the ego, that sweetness is also likened to poison. When we finally notice the Beloved's glance -- poof! -- suddenly only the Beloved remains!

Galib, enter the secluded palace of pleasure and see its secret,
the wise way of the daughter of the vine is something else.


This is what it means to truly enter the "secluded palace of pleasure." But are we ready to see its secret?



Recommended Books: Seyh Galib

Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems





Love is a lamp of