from the “Khamriyyah”

translated from the Arabic by Leonard Chalmers-Hunt

They are not wisest who are conscious most
That without worldly power, life’s end is lost,
Let lisping lips be offered by a child,
The heart with Wisdom would be reconciled.

Sometimes when in the city’s marketplace
I’ve chanced to greet a friend’s familiar face,
Where the white mosque o’er those who sell and buy
Lifts shining minarets to meet the sky.

When questioned oft by folk incredulous,
My answers they’ve rebuked as nebulous.
“Tell us,” said they, “the secrets of a wine
Which warms the heart, and makes the eye to shine!”

Not of fermented wine that Vision clear!
Soft as the morn! but not of atmosphere!
Bright as Arabia’s Sun! but not of fire.
Spirit of Beauty! drawing nigh and nigher.

It “is”! and “was,” and brooded o’er the deep
Till Thought and Purpose caused the void to leap
When Time and Space were not, but a great Calm
Profound Solemnity!—and then Life’s Balm.

Forth at a “Word” inscrutable in Might,
Created worlds rolled onward thro’ the night.
Dwelling alone, some wiser Law to teach,
Veiled from all things, yet immanent in each!

O, the desire of my toil-stainèd soul!
To rest beneath what seems an endless goal,
To breathe new life, nor doubtfully despond
Of clasping yet once more friends gone beyond!

For Time’s a thought of space, which men call years,
Fulfilled, when Love shall dry the mourner’s tears,
From seed to blade, from blade to ripen’d sheaf,
No parting is; with one who shareth grief!

Would I might feel that Sense, which strengthens sight
Which teacheth simple hearts to praise aright,
Then heart would join with lips at shadow-fall
And frail hands stretch to One who loveth all!

So rich in virtue is that gracious Wine!
That one who knoweth not Its name Divine
Should but hear it, ne’er would be afraid
To speak his love, e’en as a man to maid.

He who fills oft the Cup of mortal fire,
Drinks to himself unquenchable desire!
But he who hearkens to the Seer’s advice,
Tastes the ripe Vintage of Its Paradise!

This poem is in the public domain. Published in Poem-a-Day on April 16, 2023, by the Academy of American Poets.