Friday, March 17, 2006

wine overflowing

Was such a drunk ever seen in the tavern of love,

Or such broken and shabby old vats to hold the wine?

The courtyard's awash in wine, overflowing the sky --

Was such a full cup ever seen in a drunkard's hand?

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

Key word: drunk

The wine is truly flowing today, indeed even overflowing. Not just across the surface of the earth but across the heavens as well. I rediscover the idea of decay here in the old wine vats, "broken and shabby", and I think of the expression "old wine in new bottles". Here, of course, the wine is pretty vigorous and the vats crumbling, so there is an echo of the Gospel passages on new wine in old bottles:

Matthew 9:14-17 (King James Version)

Then came to him the disciples of John, saying, Why do we and the Pharisees fast oft, but thy disciples fast not?

And Jesus said unto them, Can the children of the bridechamber mourn, as long as the bridegroom is with them? but the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken from them, and then shall they fast.

No man putteth a piece of new cloth unto an old garment, for that which is put in to fill it up taketh from the garment, and the rent is made worse.

Neither do men put new wine into old bottles: else the bottles break, and the wine runneth out, and the bottles perish: but they put new wine into new bottles, and both are preserved.

Christians understand this as referring to the new blood or message of Jesus that needed a new container, the New Covenant expressed through the New Testament, in contrast to the old container, the Old Covenant expressed through the Old Testament.

Rumi would have been quite familiar with these Christian allusions and I see clearly between the lines here. Shams is the source of the plentiful wine but it cannot be contained or expressed through the existing medium, the shabby and fragmentary Quran expressing the limited Islamic doctrines. Much much more was opened up through his encounter with Shams and much much more needed to pour out of his soul, and all this inside new containers, these simple rhyming and metrical verses, at first these Shams quatrains but later the rhyming couplets of the Mathnawi. Keep it simple, keep it entertaining, keep it driving along. That was how Rumi was to spread the word, the message of Shams.

There is a similar phenomenon today in the miraculous popularity of two major (and by now very rich) authors: JK Rowling and Dan Brown. Both bring magic and esoteric knowledge onto centre stage, both invite their readers to explore these lost traditions in more depth and detail, both seduce into these hidden worlds. They might both be doing it quite as consciously as was Rumi seven centuries ago. Today there is the printed book and the follow-on movie, but in Rumi's day there was no printing press so that catchy rhymes and rhythms were needed to keep a message alive, easy to memorize and pass on.

In Rumi's case it is most likely that the spiritual message came first and needed a container, the wine started to flow and needed new vats. In Dan Brown's case, it seems pretty clear that his wife, Blythe, is passionate about getting a feminist-spiritual message across. An easy-to-read thriller is the means for achieving that. I'm not well enough acquainted with Rowlings to know where her motivation lies. It appears to be one of drawing these young children back to book reading with an opening up to alchemy and the dark arts being of secondary importance. It doesn't matter, though: the wine will flow either way.




At Saturday, 18 March, 2006, Blogger Bob Hoeppner said...

I read somewhere, maybe in Fromm, that the turning of water into wine symbolized something, but I no longer remember exactly what.

At Saturday, 18 March, 2006, Blogger Arizona said...

No, neither do I ... except that wine is more spiritually potent than water, of course.


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