Just in time for Valentine’s Day, this month we will take a diversion from the usual hard science topics relating to wine and health and look at wine’s affinity with love and long life. Some of the most famous writers have penned paeans to wine, including the Chilean poet Pablo Neruda, winner of the Nobel Prize for literature. His 1954 Ode to Wine weaves a numinous daydream about life with sensuous romance: “…wine, starry child of the earth” he writes, “full of wonder, amorous” and “…at the least, you must be shared.” No drinking alone for this guy, not if there is a friend or lover to celebrate with. He goes on: “My darling, suddenly/the line of your hip/becomes the brimming curve/of the wine goblet,/your breast is the grape cluster,/your nipples the grapes,/the gleam of spirits lights your hair,” and finally “your love is an inexhaustible/cascade of wine,/light that illuminates my senses,/the earthly splendor of life.”
Irish poet William Butler Yeats, himself a 1923 literature Nobel laureate, had a more direct approach: “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 sigh.”
Yeats and Neruda may both have been inspired by the nineteenth century French poet Charles Beaudelaire, whose poem The Soul of Wine finds a promise of health, happiness, and rekindled romance: “One eve in the bottle sang the soul of wine:/Man, unto thee … I sing a song of love and light divine” imploring “Glorify me with joy and be at rest.” Wine continues its enchanting serenade: “To thy wife’s eyes I’ll bring their long-lost gleam,” before concluding “I flow in man’s heart as ambrosia flows … from our first loves the first fair verse arose.”
Beaudelaire’s American contemporary Ralph Waldo Emerson invokes a more mystical air in Bacchus: “Wine of wine,/blood of the world … that I, intoxicated … may float at pleasure through all natures” calling it “food which can teach and reason.” Emerson connects wine to a collective consciousness of memories: “I thank the joyful juice/for all I know;/winds of remembering/of the ancient being blow” then beseeching “Pour, Bacchus! The remembering wine/retrieve the loss of me and mine … A dazzling memory revive.”
Around the same time on the other side of the world, Chinese poet Li Quingzhao also arouses a sense of reverie in her poems on wine: “After drinking wine at twilight/under the chrysanthemum hedge … I cannot say it is not enchanting.” The tradition of wine poetry in China goes back more than a millennium to the 8th century bard Li Bai, who celebrated drinking: “Since heaven and earth love the wine,/need a tippling mortal be ashamed?” Wine, says Bai, “has the soothing virtue of a sage” noting “both the sage and the wise were drinkers,” closing with “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.”
And who doesn’t recognize the refrain of the Persian poet Omar Khayyam? “A book of verses underneath the bough/a flask of wine, a loaf of bread and thou/beside me singing in the wilderness/and wilderness is paradise now.” Come to think of it, that may have been the inspiration for the quote attributed to Martin Luther: “Who loves not wine, women and song, remains a fool his whole life long.”
So here’s to love, long life, and happiness. Cheers!