Apr 08 2022
Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine
English version by Bernard Lewis
Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine.
Make haste, the heavenly sphere knows no delay.
Before this transient world is ruined and destroyed,
ruin me with a beaker of rose-tinted wine.
The sun of the wine dawns in the east of the goblet.
Pursue life’s pleasure, abandon dreams,
and the day when the wheel makes pitchers of my clay,
take care to fill my skull with wine!
We are not men for piety, penance and preaching
but rather give us a sermon in praise of a cup of clear wine.
Wine-worship is a noble task, O Hafiz;
rise and advance firmly to your noble task.
— from Music of a Distant Drum: Classical Arabic, Persian, Turkish & Hebrew Poems, Translated by Bernard Lewis
/ Image by Jessica.Tam /
I have been witnessing an ecstatic sky ballet during the past few days. Here in Colorado, we have been getting high winds lately. Most sane land creatures, humans included, have kept hidden in their dens and holes and houses. But I, not always being so sane, have been going for walks with my fluffy dog, Apollo. While the pathways of our walk have been empty, I’ve watched as the birds delight in the strong currents of air. One day recently I looked up to watch as perhaps three dozen large hawks rode the wind, hardly ever needing to flap their wings, catching thermal columns and circling around as a group, Sufis of the sky, whirling round and round.
Another day I saw a curious group of white birds forming two, sometimes three groups, gliding together and apart, forming patterns of shared movement. At first I mistook them for seagulls, but seagulls are usually more independent in their movements, kiting and turning and challenging one another as individuals. This group of birds was engaged in a communal dance of shared movement. I then saw that they were thicker bodied, with their heads cocked back slightly and resting on their shoulders even in flight — and I realized that they were pelicans! We tend to think of pelicans as awkward when they walk, but in the sky and on water, they have an elegance and grace. In the air this day they danced as a group in balletic arcing movements.
Even on the most blustery of days, we might just look up and witness a heavenly dance…
It has been far too long since we last featured a poem by the great Hafiz. So today’s poem, the ecstatic words of Hafiz glow like wine in sunlight
Wine, as I have often pointed out, is a metaphor for the bliss experienced in the presence of the Beloved, in the presence of God. So, when Hafiz opens this verse with the line, “Cupbearer, it is morning, fill my cup with wine,” he is proclaiming that enlightenment, the dawn, is upon him — quick, bring the divine bliss also and make me worthy to meet the Beloved!
And that stunning line, “Before this transient world is ruined and destroyed, / ruin me with a beaker of rose-tinted wine…” Hafiz is inviting total self-annihilation in the bliss of divine communion, saying he must experience it while alive. He wants to be so completely “drunk” on the presence of God within, that all of his personal sense of self dissolves.
When he tells us to “pursue life’s pleasure, abandon dreams,” Hafiz is using the common Sufi device of equating self-abandonment and sacred practices with earthly indulgence. He is not advocating hedonism. But this one parallel exists between the hedonist and the saint that the Sufis capitalize on — you must step outside of society’s norms. You must be willing to abandon everything, every aspiration and thought, every fixed perception of reality, every “dream,” for the “pleasure” of the divine embrace.
The next section, “and the day when the wheel makes pitchers of my clay, / take care to fill my skull with wine!” has a very precise mystical meaning. The “clay” he speaks of is the earthen nature of the physical body. To make “pitchers” of that clay is to purify it and form it — in order to receive the heavenly wine. Hafiz specifically wants his skull to be filled with wine. The skull is often described as the true cup that holds the divine nectar. On an energetic level, this is where the sacred drink — the wine, or amrita (or the “tea” that gave the Poetry Chaikhana it’s name) — is first received. When it is imbibed, it can then be felt in the throat, before it descends and warms the heart and belly, finally spreading throughout the entire body and awareness.
Hafiz then declares he would rather listen to a “sermon in praise of a cup of clear wine” than follow “piety, penance and preaching” for “Wine-worship is a noble task…” Here, he is poking fun at blind religious formalism. He is reminding us that true holiness comes from the direct experience of ecstatic communion — the drinking of wine — not from merely following prescribed actions that make us seem to others to be devout.
Understanding this, Hafiz exhorts himself — and us — to “rise and advance firmly” in that “noble task” of “wine-worship.” The rising he speaks of also has a specific meaning, for there is often a sensation of an energy that rises or bubbles up which accompanies the blissful drinking of the mystic’s wine. It begins in the seat and rises up through the crown. Sometimes this rising is compared with a fountain or a spring. At other times it is called a fire since the body may feel as if it is delightfully burning up. In the terminology of Yoga, this is the Kundalini Shakti, but it is a universal experience, and Hafiz knows it must fully rise and advance for the Cupbearer to fill the cup with wine.
(And I say all this as someone who has never drunk alcohol in his life. Go figure.)
If you are looking for versions of Hafiz by Daniel Ladinsky, click here.