Mar 17 2023

Emily Dickinson – I taste a liquor never brewed

Published by at 9:12 am under Celestial Drink,Poetry

I taste a liquor never brewed
by Emily Dickinson

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl —
Not all the Vats upon the Rhine
Yield such an Alcohol!

Inebriate of Air — am I —
And Debauchee of Dew —
Reeling — thro endless summer days —
From inns of Molten Blue —

When “Landlords” turn the drunken Bee
Out of the Foxglove’s door —
When Butterflies — renounce their “drams” —
I shall but drink more!

Till Seraphs swing their snowy Hats —
And Saints — to windows run —
To see the little Tippler
Leaning against the — Sun —

— from The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson, Edited by Thomas H. Johnson

/ Image by Matheus Ferrero /

I taste a liquor never brewed —
From Tankards scooped in Pearl…

This poem should be read alongside the ecstatic wine poems of the Sufi saints.

None but the drunkard knows
      the tavern’s secrets —
how could the sober unveil
      the mysteries of that street?
~ Fakhruddin Iraqi

So let him weep for himself,
      one who wasted his life
            never having won a share
      or measure of this wine.
~ Umar ibn al-Farid

Wine… Why do so many mystics from all traditions talk of wine and drunkenness when speaking of ecstatic states of enlightenment? How do I, as a person who does not drink alcohol, understand this sacred wine fixation? Is it just a universally agreed upon metaphor to shock the orthodox? Well, yes, but it is more than that. The mystic’s wine is not wine, yet it is also more than a game of words. This wine is subtle but very real. It can be experienced in a profound, even physical manner.

Inebriate of Air — am I —
And Debauchee of Dew —

In certain states, a flowing substance is felt upon the palette, with a taste of ethereal sweetness that can be compared with wine or honey. This is the amrita of yogis, the ambrosia of the Greeks, the prophetic mead of the Norse shamans, the awen of the druids. There is a sensation of drinking a subtle liquid, accompanied by a warming and expanding of the heart. The attention blissfully turns inward, the eyelids grow pleasantly heavy and the gaze may become unfocused. A giddy smile naturally spreads across the face for no apparent reason. When the ecstasy comes on strongly, the body can tremble, sometimes the consciousness even leaves the body.

With these experiences, it not only makes sense for mystics to use the language of wine. Observers sometimes mistake this state for actual drunkenness.

This is the drink of initiation.

To many modern commentators, Emily Dickinson was a victim of unfulfilled love, a recluse who had become obsessed with death. I read this poem and I hear the words of a radiant awakened soul, someone ecstatically reeling through endless summer days.

Have a beautiful day discovering that sweet, secret dew!

Recommended Books: Emily Dickinson

The Longing in Between: Sacred Poetry from Around the World (A Poetry Chaikhana Anthology) The Complete Poems of Emily Dickinson This Dance of Bliss: Ecstatic Poetry from Around the World Women in Praise of the Sacred: 43 Centuries of Spiritual Poetry by Women The Enlightened Heart: An Anthology of Sacred Poetry
More Books >>

Emily Dickinson, Emily Dickinson poetry, Secular or Eclectic poetry Emily Dickinson

US (1830 – 1886) Timeline
Secular or Eclectic
Christian : Protestant

Emily Dickinson was born in 1830 to a prominent family in Amherst, Massachusetts. Few of her poems were published during her lifetime, the bulk of her poetry having been discovered after her death in the 1880s. Despite this anonymity during her lifetime, Dickinson has come to be regarded as one of the greatest of American poets. Her unusual use of rhyme, meter, and grammar anticipates modernist trends in 20th century poetry.

She attended Amherst Academy and a year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary.

While at the seminary, Dickinson famously refused to participate in the show of evangelical conversion sweeping through her community at the time. Much of her poetry, however, meditates on heaven and the inner life, often contrasting the private moment against public religious convention. She was clearly a critic of the common practice of religion, leading many to casually label her as an atheist, yet there is no denying that she experienced a rich inner life that she understood in religious terms. While unconventional by the religious standards of her day, the argument can be made that she was a deep mystic. If one reads her poetry side-by-side with the poet-saints of India, for example, the parallels in metaphoric language and insight become obvious.

Following her return from Mount Holyoke, Emily Dickinson almost never left Amherst again, rarely even leaving the grounds of her family home. Later in life she took to dressing entirely in white.

Much is made of Dickinson’s reclusive life, the fact that she never married, and the focus on death in much of her poetry, leading to descriptions of her as a morbid, sexually repressed recluse. One can see her in this way; or, recognizing the depth of her mysticism, we can imagine that she cultivated a self-defined monastic life of contemplation and poetry.

More poetry by Emily Dickinson

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One Response to “Emily Dickinson – I taste a liquor never brewed”

  1. Carolon 19 Mar 2023 at 3:48 am

    Thank You Ivan for this poem by Emily Dickinson. I was given a book, years ago, of
    selected poems of Emily Dickinson and that started my love of poetry. This poem
    was not included in that volume, and perhaps I would not have understood it years
    ago. Now, I am enjoying her poetry all over again and do appreciate this poem as
    well. Thank You for sharing this poem!

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