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Volume X - Sufi Mysticism

Sufi Poetry

Sufi Poetic Imagery

Sufi poetic imagery stands by itself, distinct and peculiar in its character. It is both admired and criticized for its peculiarity. It is different from the expressions of other poets born in other countries because of its Persian origin and the particular qualities of Persia. These qualities include the fine climate, the ancient traditions, its being the place where, it is said, wine was tasted for the first time. It is a land of luxury, beauty, art and imagination. It was natural that with Persian thinkers of all periods who thought deeply about life, about life's nature and character, that their expressions should become subtle, artistic, fine and picturesque. In short, it is the dancing of the soul. In all other living beings, the soul is lying asleep; but when once the soul has awakened, called by beauty, it leaps up dancing. Then its every movement makes a picture, whether in writing, poetry, music or whatever it may be. A dancing soul will always express the most subtle and intricate harmonies in the realm of music or poetry.

When we read the works of Hafiz and of many other Sufi poets, we shall find that they are full of the same imagery, and this is partly because that was the time of Islam. The mission of Islam had a particular object in view; and in order to attain that object, it had strict rules about life. A free thinker had difficulty in expressing his thoughts without being accused of having done a great wrong towards the religion and the state. These free thinkers of Persia, with their dancing souls and continual enthusiasm, began to express their souls in this particular imagery, using words such as 'the beloved,' 'wine,' 'wine-press,' and 'tavern.' This poetry became so popular that not only did the wise benefit from it, but also the simple ones enjoyed the beauty of its wonderful expressions, which made an immediate appeal to every soul. No doubt souls who were already awakened and those on the point of awakening were inspired by these poems. Souls who were opening their eyes after the deep slumber of many years began to rise up and dance. As Hafiz said, 'If those pious ones of long robes listen to my verse, my song, then they will immediately begin to get up and dance.' Hafiz says at the end of the poem, 'Forgive me, Oh pious ones, for I am drunk just now!'

This concept of drinking is used in various connections and conveys many different meanings. In the first place, imagine that there is a magic tavern where there are many different kinds of wine. Each wine has a different effect upon the person who drinks it. One drinks a wine which makes him light-hearted, frivolous, humorous. Another drinks a wine which makes him sympathetic, kind, tender and gentle. Someone else drinks one which makes him bewildered at everything he sees. Another drinks and finds his way into the ditch. One becomes angry after drinking, while another becomes passionate. One drinks and is drowned in despair. Another drinks and begins to feel loving and affectionate. Yet another drinks a wine that makes him discouraged with everything. Imagine how interested we should all be to see that tavern! In point of fact, we live in that tavern and we see it every day; only, we do not take proper notice of it.

Once I saw a Majzub, a man who pretended to be insane, who, although living in the world, did not wish to be of the world. He stood on the street of a large city, laughing. I stood there, feeling curious to know what made him laugh at that moment. I saw that it was the sight of so many drunken men, each one having had his particular wine.

It is most amusing when we look at it in this way. There is not one single being on earth who does not drink wine, but the wine of one is different from the wine of another. A man does not only drink during the day, but drinks the whole night long. He awakens in the morning intoxicated by whatever wine he has been drinking. He awakens with fear or anger, he awakens with joy, or he awakens with love and affection. The moment he awakens from sleep, he shows what wine he has been drinking.

One might ask why the great Sufi teachers have taken such a great interest in the particular imagery of these poets. The reason is that they found the solution to the problem of life by looking upon the world as a tavern, with many wines and each person drinking a different one. They discovered the alchemy, the chemical process, by which to change the wine that a person drinks and give him another wine to see how this works. The work of the Sufi teacher with his pupils is like that. He first finds out which blend of wine his mureed drinks, and then he finds out which blend he must have.

One might ask, is there then no place for soberness in life? There is, but when that soberness is properly interpreted, then one sees that it too is wine. Amir, the Hindustani poet, has expressed it in verse: 'The eyes of the sober one spoke to the eyes of the drunken one, 'You have no place here, for your intoxication is different from mine.' ' The awakened person seems to be asleep to the sleeping one, and so the one who has become sober also appears to be still drunk. The condition of life is such that no one appears to be sober. It is this soberness which is called Nirvana by Buddhists and Mukti by Hindus. If I were asked if it is then desirable for us to be sober, my reply would be, 'No.' What is desirable is for us to know what soberness is; and after knowing what soberness is, to then take any wine we may choose. The tavern is there, the wines are there.

There are two men, one who is the master of wine, the other who is the slave to wine. The first drinks wine, but wine drinks up the other. The one whom wine drinks up is mortal, and he who drinks wine becomes immortal. What is the love of God? What is divine knowledge? Is it not a wine? Its experience is different, its intoxication is different, for there is ordinary wine and there is most costly champagne. The difference is in the wine.

In the imagery of the Sufi poets, this tavern is the world, and the Saqi is God. In whatever form the wine-giver comes and gives a wine, it is God who comes. In this way, by recognizing the Saqi, the wine-giver, in all forms, the Sufi worships God. He recognizes God in friend and foe as the wine-giver. Wine is the influence that we receive from life, a harmonious influence or a depressing influence, a beautiful influence or one that lacks beauty. When we have given in to it, then we become drunk, then we become addicted to it, then we are under its influence. However, when we have sought soberness, then we have risen above it all, and then all wines are ours.

checked 18-Oct-2005