Wine / When poetry takes to grapes

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ALL writers have a Vogon nightmare. Vogons are the creation of Douglas Adams.

Richard Calver.
Richard Calver.

In Adams’ “Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy” they are responsible for the destruction of the Earth. They are also the third worst poets in the universe but, even with that rating, sufficiently bad that members of the audience died of internal haemorrhaging during a recitation by their poet master Grunthos the Flatulent.

In my recent search for the muse when taken by wine, I hoped to the heavens that the Vogon affliction would not be the order of the day either for me in my musings and writing or in the search for what it is about wine that inspires the poetic and where best is that connection expressed?

Alas, I found a lot of material that was frankly poor. One even associated the art of what is in truth distilling with some sort of sci-fi time burn:

Ripened grapes turned to wine.

Brandy’s wine, burned in time.

–Brenda Meier-Hans

But, sorry, Brenda, it’s actually not wine, it’s a spirit, and rhyming the word “wine” with “time” is banal. Brandy is a spirit distilled from wine or even fruit juice. And if it’s burning then it’s probably not very good brandy.

I must say though that I did enjoy the short and distinct: “Wine is bottled poetry”, a remark attributed to Robert Louis Stevenson. That statement has enough resonance and ambiguity to stand as its own poem. But the real inspiration induced by wine is its affiliation with love and its connection with emotions that are generally buried in our day-to-day lives.

For in loosening the inhibitions wine permits the saying of what is often ordinarily unsayable but should be more often expressed. Perhaps as Zart has remarked, you lose wisdom with love, the same affliction as with too much wine:

The first sign of love is the last of wisdom.

The Greeks knew the connection between love and wine and the loosening of inhibitions: Dionysus was the god of fertility and wine. That connection has lived on over the centuries. As Ogden Nash said: “Candy is dandy but liquor is quicker.”

From Ogden Nash to perhaps my favourite poet, Pablo Neruda, is a stretch both of genre and mood. But where Nash makes a joke that holds the attention, Neruda’s “Ode to Wine” makes me glory in the way that language can capture and hold what we sometimes feel in the moments that truly count, where the notion of what holds each of us together is expressed sublimely, where his metaphors of love and wine cut through.

I hope this extract will show you what I mean:

A jug of wine, and thou beside me
in the wilderness,
sang the ancient poet.
Let the wine pitcher
add to the kiss of love its own.

My darling, suddenly
the line of your hip
becomes the brimming curve
of the wine goblet,
your breast is the grape cluster,
your nipples are the grapes,
the gleam of spirits lights your hair,
and your navel is a chaste seal
stamped on the vessel of your belly,
your love an inexhaustible
cascade of wine,
light that illuminates my senses,
the earthly splendor of life.

It is that earthly splendour that the Vogons could never master. But something we all should cherish: raise your glass.


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