Feb 17 2010

The Celestial Drink 6: The Tavern

Published by at 4:59 pm under Celestial Drink,Poetry

/ Photo by mattcameasarat /

In sacred wine poetry, the tavern is constantly evoked.

the tavern:
I learned the inside way
from a licensed guide.

Old Man Love:
“Come in, come in:
don’t loiter around
cups of pain.

The saki:
“Drink, drink!”
and he embraced me
so close…

both one
or one disguised
as two?
Nothing remains:
I know nothing:
all HIM
Nasimi: canceled out
in the beauty
of the

– Imadeddin Nasimi (1369? – 1418)

The Drunken Universe: An Anthology of Persian Sufi Poetry
Translated by Peter Lamborn Wilson / Translated by Nasrollah Pourjavady

The tavern can be understood in a few ways.

On a social level, the tavern is the gathering place for the lovers of wine. The tavern is where mystics meet. It is the Sufi house of zikr. It is where Hindu bhaktis sing their bhajans. It is the Buddhist Sangha, the Christian fellowship. It is the kiva and the campfire. It is the circle of true seekers, deep thinkers – and wine drinkers.

/ Photo by indigoprime /

But understood esoterically, the tavern is the place within oneself where the many disparate and scattered parts of the individual come together in a unified whole to become drunk on the free-flowing Celestial Drink. Yogis sometimes identify the tavern energetically with either the brow or crown chakra, Sufis are more likely to locate it in the heart. Both are correct. The union of self first occurs in the radiance of the crown, but then it settles into the heart where it rests in easy majesty. There the scattered selves join together into one whole Self, in harmonious, single-voiced song…

The Tavern Haunters

Being a tavern haunter means
Being sprung free of yourself.

The tavern is where lovers tryst,
Where the bird of the soul comes to rest
In a sanctuary beyond space and time.
The tavern haunter wanders lonely in a desert
And sees the whole world as a mirage.
The desert is limitless and endless —
No one has seen its beginning or its end,
And even if you wandered in it a hundred years
You would not find yourself, or anyone else.
Those who live there have no feet or heads,
Are neither “believers” nor “unbelievers.”
Drunk on the wine of selflessness,
They have given up good and evil alike.
Drunk, without lips or mouth, on Truth
They have thrown away all thoughts of name and fame,
All talk of wonders, visions, spiritual states,
Dreams, secret rooms, lights, miracles.

The aroma of the Divine Wine
Has made them abandon everything;
The taste for Annihilation
Has sent them all sprawling like drunkards.
For one sip of the wine of ecstasy,
They ahve thrown away pilgrim staff, water jar, and rosary.
They fall, and then they rise again,
Sometimes bright in union,
Sometimes lost in the pain of separation;
Now pouring tears of blood,
Now raised to a world of bliss,
Stretching out their necks like racers;
Now, with blackened faces, staring at a wall,
Or faces reddened with Unity, chained to a gibbet;
Now whirling in mystic dance,
Lost in the arms of the Beloved,
Losing head and foot like the revolving heavens.
Every passage that the Singer sings them
Transmits the rapture of the invisible world,
For mystic singing is not only words and sounds;
Each note unveils a priceless mystery.

They have thrown away their senses
And run from all color and perfume,
And washed in purified wine
All the different dyes: black, green, or blue.
To them, devotion and piety are only hypocrisy;
They are weary of being either masters or disciples;
They have swept the dust of dunghills from their souls,
Without telling even a tiny part of what they see,
And grasped in bliss at the swirling robes of drunkards.
They have drunk one cup of the pure wine
And have become — at last, at long last — real Sufis.

– Mahmoud Shabistari (1250? – 1340)

Perfume of the Desert: Inspirations from the Sufi Wisdom
by Andrew Harvey / Eryk Hanut

The Cupbearer

In the Tavern, someone serves the Drink: The saqi or the cupbearer.

/ Photo by Robert Couse-Baker /

Tonight the Saki with its red-stained ruby lips
Pours wine for the luxury of every drunk,
And sates every reveler’s taste.

As Hayati has drunk his ecstasy,
Her soul now satisfied by the wine of his pure heart,
How can she drink any other nectar?

– Bibi Hayati (? – 1853)

The Shambhala Anthology of Women’s Spiritual Poetry
Edited by Aliki Barnstone

Although standing a bit apart, the cupbearer is complicit in our illicit bliss.

O saki, fill a cup
      with that wine:
my heart, my religion
      my sweet life.
Can drinking be my liturgy?
      Then my Faith
will be to sip the Beloved
      from this chalice.

– Fakhruddin Iraqi (? – 1289)

Fakhruddin Iraqi: Divine Flashes (Classics of Western Spirituality)
by William Chittick / Nasr Seyyed Hossein

Who is the cupbearer? He is often seen as an expression of the Beloved, a form of God.

The round of a cup
      has made the people drunk
but my drunkenness is in
      the one who passes the cup around.

– Qushayri (d. 1074)

Early Islamic Mysticism: Sufi, Quran, Miraj, Poetic and Theological Writings (Classics of Western Spirituality)
by Michael A. Sells

On a more personal level, the saqi can be understood to be one’s spiritual teacher, a shaykh or guru – the one who gives the initiation which brings the blissful substance.

At dusk, at dawn I gaze upon your beauty —
A dazzling spectacle of rising moon and sun.

So far, the wayfarers have not discovered your footprints:
They stand staring at the stepstone of your door

Your glance of abundant grace did not satisfy;
We with the seeing eye know a glance from a glance.

Saqi, they’ve just arrived and taken their seats;
How is it that they’ve already gained intimacy?

Some you inspire with the madness of prostration:
They cannot tell their heads from your door.

Saqi, whoever comes by even a tinge of awakening
We see sitting in your assembly, oblivious to this world.

Men who are maddened by the thought of the goal
See not fellow travelers — they are intent on the road.

Master, in what strange state your Darshan lives:
We always see his eyes moist with tears.

– Darshan Singh (1921 – 1989)

Love’s Last Madness: Poems on a Spiritual Path by Darshan Singh
Translated by Barry Lerner / Translated by Harbans Singh Bedi

/ Photo by pasotraspaso /

Quiet, humble devotion may be the way on the outside, but inwardly be bold, be brash! Swagger into the tavern and call out, “O Saki, fill the cup!”

One response so far

One Response to “The Celestial Drink 6: The Tavern”

  1. Mohini Pandyaon 18 Dec 2012 at 8:25 am

    Dear Mr. Ganger, I came to your poetry chaikhana several years accidentally by searching the poem of one sufi saint and I emailed to Mr. SHAH who is my spiritual brother. Now he regularly e-mailing me your commentary on the poem which I enjoying very much. My spiritual master was sufi master and I always enjoyed his work. Thanks a lot for your insight to each poem which helps me to climb the ladder of spirituality. Marry Christmas and Happy new year. Love Mohini .

Trackback URI | Comments RSS

Leave a Reply