Sunday, August 21, 2005

a taste of wine

I bring wine from my love, who lights my heart,

I bring the love-fire that burns in my chest;

May they hide from all eyes, till the end of time,

The nightmare I lived those nights until dawn.

#1307: From Rumi's Kolliyaat-e Shams-e Tabrizi

Search word: wine

I decided to continue to explore the theme of wine today. Yesterday I sought Rumi's thoughts on dreams and today he refers to one long nightmare he experienced before the arrival of dawn and its enlightenment. Like so many mystics, Rumi maintains a cheerful, hopeful, uplifting tone in all of his verses. Here he hints at the dark times that preceded this joyfulness.

In a comment, segovius points out that "the wine metaphor is used by Rumi (and other Sufis such as Khayyam) as a stand-in for Sufism itself". I have some problems with this equation because "Sufism" can mean different things, some political, some spiritual, some general, some specific. In Rumi, it might refer to a spiritual message but he was a Muslim, after all, and Islam does not encourage separation of spiritual from political reality. It's all one world and one reality, created by the one deity.

In most of Rumi's verses, I detect as I can here, very easily, a double layer of meaning. He speaks about hiding a nightmare but the very words reveal the nightmare. He therefore combines or unites yet another pair of opposites: hiding and revealing. By pushing our imaginations forward to "the end of time" and placing the nightmare in the past, Rumi also juxtaposes future and past and joins them similarly. As I read him, then, the nightmare is ever-present as is the enlightenment.

Dante (1265-1321) lived just after Rumi (1207-1273) and he also wrote about the journey to heaven that passes through hell and purgatory. When viewed through the lens of linear time, this story suggests that we start out in ignorance and hell, work through our errors, and arrive eventually at an enlightened state that is pretty well permanent. In the Oriental perspectives a more circular sense of time is emphasised as in the famous saying attributed to Wu Li:
Before enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.
After enlightenment, chop wood and carry water.

Rumi seems, in this verse, to superimpose the images of wine, love, light and warmth over a fleeting reference to a nightmare that is revealed to be hidden beneath or behind the other. I get the impression that the two sets of images are co-eternal but to say so too openly might be seen as heretical and politically dangerous. Again, Rumi uses these devices to allow a simultaneous cover-up and revelation. It is in Purgatory that Dante finds the most poets and I'm inclined to think that this is the place where the greatest truth lies. To come to love that oh-so-human state that lies between the extremes of heaven and hell is the most authentic discovery.

Having drunk from the wine flask of Rumi's life experience, I will now continue with my day and, a little later on, I hope to sip from a glass of literal red.


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