Wine in the Poetry of Rumi

Everyone has an alcohol problem. Because of the nature of humans and the nature of alcohol, it is bound to be a problem. People love to indulge to excess and alcohol is destructive in excess. Societies that have developed cultures that reject alcohol likely have the smallest alcohol problem. Societies that drink in moderation have moderate alcohol problems. Societies with rampant binge drinking have the most significant alcohol problem.

You might argue that the failure of prohibition refutes my argument. In reality, it serves as an illustration of the argument. It is only when a society’s “culture” rejects alcohol that the society can progress beyond it. In prohibition, a minority political movement inspired the government to legislatively ban alcohol. Yet mainstream culture at the time still embraced alcohol as a necessary part of life so a binge society binged even more in the face of a statutory prohibition.

The Sufi poet Rumi used wine as a metaphor in his work. The intoxication of wine can represent the ecstasy of uniting with God. The fermentation of the grape reflects the development of the soul. Grape juice is cheap; good wine tends to be expensive. The unrefined soul has much less value than the soul refined by discipline and contemplation.

Rumi wrote:

“You only need smell the wine
For vision to flame from each void–
Such flames from wine’s aroma!
Imagine if you were the wine.”

This makes me think of a “contact high.” A contact high occurs when a non-user of drugs feels light-headed or even intoxicated because of the smell or smoke of a drug. I believe Rumi  is talking about the ecstasy of union with the Divine. Just being near the people who have immersed themselves in God makes a person feel some of the intensity of that experience.

One of the Noble Companions of Prophet Muhammad (S), Hanzala (R), said that when he was in the company of the Prophet, he felt his faith soar. He disliked being away from him because he felt his faith plummet.


Rumi waxes eloquently about the glory of God. He says the prince and the wise man are veils. Furthermore, the “wine of love” removes these veils. He invites people to drink with both eyes and “both heads.” These two heads may be the physical head of the body and the metaphysical head of the soul.

Does Rumi’s work glorify wine? It depends on whether you interpret him literally or figuratively.  He certainly describes wine, intoxication, and fermentation in glowing words and phrases. But if the wine is always a metaphor, he is not telling people to drink, but rather encouraging them to get closer to God.

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