Top 10 wine poems
Wine and poetry have long enjoyed a happy relationship, the one often fuelling the other. But while wine has served as a poet’s muse since time immemorial, a number of scribes have gone a step further and penned odes to wine, from English romantic poet Percy B. Shelley rhapsodising about the vine’s “kindling clusters” to Chilean poet Pablo Neruda describing wine as the “starry child of the earth with your feet of purple or topaz blood.”
Persian philosopher, astronomer and poet Omar Khayyam was so taken with the charms of the fermented grape that he dedicates a large number of his verses to the subject, where he extols the virtues of wine as a life force and something that should be enjoyed in order to make the most of our time “before we too into the dust descend.” Read on for our round up of the top ten wine poems. If we’ve missed off any gems, let us know in the comment box below.
10: A Drinking Song, William Butler Yeats
Dublin-born poet William Butler Yeats won the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1923 for his poetry, and was the first Irishman to be honoured with the award. Fascinated by the occult, mysticism and astrology, Yeats was inspired and informed by the poets of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood, and Percy B. Shelley. In 1880, he and Ernest Rhys co-founded the Rhymers’ Club, a group of London-based poets who regularly met in a Fleet Street tavern to recite their verse, referring to the group as the “Tragic Generation” in his autobiography.
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
9: The Vine-Shroud, Percy Bysshe Shelley
Percy Bysshe Shelley is regarded as one of the finest lyric poets in the English language. A contemporary of fellow English Romantic poets John Keats, Lord Byron, Mary Shelley and William Blake, sadly for Shelley, he didn’t achieve fame in his lifetime, with recognition for his poems, such as Ozymandias and To a Skylark, only arriving after his tragic death just a month before his 30th birthday when he drowned in a storm on the Gulf of Spezia in Liguria. A political and social radical, many publishers declined to print Shelley’s work for fear of being arrested for blasphemy.
Flourishing vine, whose kindling clusters glow
Beneath the autumnal sun, none taste of thee;
For thou dost shroud a ruin, and below
The rotting bones of dead antiquity.
8: Intoxicated under the shadow of flowers, Li Qingzhao
The only female poet in our line up, brought to our attention by Judy Leissner of Grace Vineyards, Li Qingzhao was a Chinese poet of the Song dynasty. Born in Zhangqiu into a family of scholars, Qingzhao was unusually outgoing and knowledgeable of a woman of noble birth. Before she got married, her poetry was already well known within elite circles. Marrying Zhao Mingcheng in 1811, his absences for work fuelled a lot of her poetry, which is often imbued with yearning and explores the effects of wine on her thoughts and feelings.
Light mists and heavy clouds,
melancholy the long dreay day,
In the golden cencer
the burning incense is dying away.
It is again time
for the lovely Double-Nith Festival;
The coolness of midnight
penetrates my screen of sheer silk
and chills my pillow of jade.
After drinking wine at twilight
under the chrysanthemum hedge,
My sleeves are perfumed
by the faint fragrance of the plants.
Oh, I cannot say it is not enchanting,
Only, when the west wind stirs the curtain,
I see that I am more graceful
than the yellow flowers.
7: Château Margaux, Francis Saltus Saltus
American poet Francis Saltus Saltus was born in New York City in 1849 and was the leader of a group of bohemians in New York who used to meet at Billy Mould’s bar in Manhattan’s University Place. The group had a taste for both absinthe and the exotic, with one contemporary describing Saultus as like “a Greek god gone to ruin.”
Inspired by Edgar Allen Poe and Charles Baudelaire, his verses reflect a decadent, erotic temperament, leading his poems to be described as having “the perfume of exquisite sadness.” There isn’t a record of how frequently Sautlus got to enjoy the Bordeaux first growth to which the poem is dedicated, though we’re hoping a decent amount made it across the pond to New York.
There is a power within the succulent grape
That made thee, stronger than all human power.
It baffles death in its exulting hour,
And leaves its victim fortune to escape.
Thy cheering drops can magically drape
Atrocious thoughts of doom with bloom and flower,
Turning to laughing calm care’s torment sour,
And flooding dreams with many a gentle shape.
Extatic hope and resurrection lie
In thy consoling beauty, and whene’er
Pale mortals sip thee, bringing soothing peace,
I see a blue and orange-scented sky,
A warm beach blest by God’s untainted air,
Circling the snowy parapets of Nice!
6: Wine: a vindication, Li Bai
Born in China in 701, Li Bai is regarded as a pivotal figure in the Chinese poetry of the mid-Tang dynasty, which is often referred to as the Golden Age of China. During his lifetime, Bai wrote over 1,000 poems, many of which celebrate wine, song and friendship. Legend has it that Bai drowned when he reached from his boat in a bid to grasp the moon’s reflection in the river. In the following poem, Bai justifies his love of wine, urging people not to be ashamed about enjoying the nectar of the gods.
If heaven loved not the wine,
A Wine Star would not be in heaven;
If earth loved not the wine,
The Wine Spring would not be on the earth.
Since heaven and earth love the wine,
Need a tippling mortal be ashamed?
The transparent wine, I hear,
Has the soothing virtue of a sage,
While the turgid is rich, they say,
As the fertile mind of the wise.
Both the sage and the wise were drinkers,
Why seek for peers among gods and goblins?
Three cups open the grand door to bliss;
Take a jugful, the universe is yours.
Such is the rapture of the wine,
That the sober shall never inherit.
5: Sicilian Wine, Bayard Taylor
American poet, literary critic and travel writer Bayard Taylor was born to Quaker parents in Pennsylvania in 1825. He published his first anthology aged 19 in 1844, using the money he made from the book to fund his travels around Europe. Many of his poems were inspired by his journeys to Egypt, Palestine and around the Med. The following poem pays homage to Sicilian wine, from Etna no less.
I’ve drunk Sicilia’s crimson wine!
The blazing vintage pressed
From grapes on Etna’s breast,
What time the mellowing autumn sun did shine:
I‘ve drunk the wine!
I feel its blood divine
Poured on the sluggish tide of mine,
Till, kindling slow, Its fountains glow
With the light that swims
On their trembling brims,
And a molten sunrise floods my limbs!
Then thou thy lute shalt twine
With Bacchic tendrils of the glorious vine
That gave Sicilian wine:
And henceforth when the breezes run
Over its clusters, ripening in the sun,
The leaves shall still be playing,
Unto thy lute its melody repaying,
And I, that quaff, shall evermore be free
To mount thy car and ride the heavens with thee!
4: Song to Celia: Drink to me only, Ben Jonson
English poet, playwright and literary critic Ben Jonson is best known for his satirical plays Every Man in His Humour, Volpone and The Alchemist and is generally regarded as the second most important English dramatist after William Shakespeare. Educated at Cambridge, Jonson’s poetry is informed by his classical learning. In his Song to Celia, which appears in Volpone, Jonson describes his love for Celia as like a thirst “that form the soul doth rise.”
Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sip,
I would not change for thine.
I sent thee, late, a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee,
As giving it a hope,
that there It could not withered be:
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when, it grows and smells,
I swear, Not of itself, but thee!
3: The Soul of Wine, Charles Baudelaire
French poet, essayist and art critic Charles Baudelaire is best known for his anthology Les Fleurs du Mal, published in 1857, which formed an important part of both the Symbolist and Modernist movements. Dealing with themes relating to decadence, eroticism and the changing nature of beauty in 19th century Paris, the poems influenced the likes of Arthur Rimbaud and Paul Verlaine. In his poem The Soul of Wine, wine’s spirit sings to its imbiber, promising health, wealth and happiness.
One eve in the bottle sang the soul of wine:
”Man, unto thee, dear disinherited,
I sing a song of love and light divine-
Prisoned in glass beneath my seals of red.
“I know thou labourest on the hill of fire,
In sweat and pain beneath a flaming sun,
To give the life and souls my vines desire,
And I am grateful for thy labours done.
For I find joys unnumbered when I lave
The throat of man by travail long outworn,
And his hot bosom is a sweeter grave
Of sounder sleep than my cold caves forlorn.
“Hearest thou not the echoing Sabbath sound?
The hope that whispers in my trembling breast?
Thy elbows on the table! gaze around;
Glorify me with joy and be at rest.
“To thy wife’s eyes I’ll bring their long-lost gleam,
I’ll bring back to thy child his strength and light,
To him, life’s fragile athlete I will seem
Rare oil that firms his muscle for the fight.
“I flow in man’s heart as ambrosia flows;
The grain the eternal Sower casts in the sod-
From our first loves the first fair verse arose,
Flower-like aspiring to the heavens and God!”
2: Ode to Wine, Pablo Neruda
Born Neftali Ricardo Reyes Basoalto, Chilean poet, diplomat and politician Pablo Neruda adopted his pen name in honour of Czech poet Jan Neruda. Winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1971, Neruda first began writing poems as a teenager, often in green ink, which was his symbol for desire and hope. While still a teenager, he published Twenty Love Poems, which caused controversy due to their erotically charged nature. His 1954 Ode to Wine is similarly sensuous, with Neruda comparing his lover’s breasts to a cluster of grapes.
Wine color of day
wine color of night
wine with your feet of purple
or topaz blood,
starry child of the earth,
wine, smooth as a golden sword,
soft as ruffled velvet,
wine spiral-shelled and suspended,
loving, of the sea,
you’ve never been contained in one glass,
in one song, in one man,
choral, you are gregarious
and, at least, mutual.
memories on your wave
we go from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy graves,
and we weep transitory tears,
but your beautiful spring suit is different,
the heart climbs to the branches,
the wind moves the day,
nothing remains in your motionless soul.
Wine stirs the spring,
joy grows like a plant,
walls, large rocks fall,
abysses close up, song is born.
Oh thou, jug of wine, in the desert
with the woman I love,
said the old poet.
Let the pitcher of wine and its kiss to the kiss of love.
My love, suddenly,
is the curve of the wineglass
filled to the brim,
your breast is the cluster,
your hair the light of alcohol
your nipples, the grapes
your navel pure seal stamped on your belly of a barrel,
and your love the cascade of unquenchable wine,
the brightness that falls on my sense
the earthen splendor of life.
But not only love,
of ignited heart-
vino de vida, you are also
chorus of discipline abundance of flowers.
I love the light of a bottle of intelligent wine
upon a table
when people are talking,
that they drink it,
that in each drop of gold
or ladle of purple,
they remember that autumn worked
until the barrels were filled with wine
and let the obscure man learn,
in the ceremony of his business,
to remember the earth and his duties,
to propagate the canticle of the fruit.
1: The Rubaiyat, Omar Khayyam
A man of many talents, Persian poet, philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyam is thought to have written over a thousand four-line verses known as rubaiyat, which were translated into English by Edward Fitzgerald in the mid-19th century. Wine features prominently in Khayyam’s poetry, with the enclosed stanzas offering a snapshot into his relationship with the drink, which he saw as a life force to be enjoyed during our brief time on earth.
And David’s lips are locket; but in divine
High-piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!” the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers t’ incarnadine.
Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter–and the Bird is on the Wing.
Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.
Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean’d, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d–“While you live
Drink!–for, once dead, you never shall return.”
Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow’s tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress–slender Minister of Wine.
And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press
End in what All begins and ends in–Yes;
Think then you are To-day what Yesterday
You were–To-morrow You shall not be less.
So when that Angel of the darker
Drink At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your
Soul Forth to your Lips to quaff–you shall not shrink.
For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line
And “Up” and “Down” by Logic I define,
Of all that one should care to fathom,
Was never deep in anything but–Wine.
And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas–the Grape!
The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life’s leaden metal into Gold transmute.