The House of Wine

Harivansh Rai Bachchan
1907 – 2003



Distilled from all my hopes and dreams,
This Wine is yours, my Dearest Dear;
To you I proffer now the Cup
Unsullied, and the liquor clear;
Before it goes to every nation,
My House of Wine shall honour you
Before the thirsty crowd draws near.


Should you be thirsty, I will fire
The world, distil its sap away,
The I will lift the Cup for you
And like a handmaid dance and play.
In lavish showers of tender sweetness
I drained my life for your completeness:
Now as an offering at your feet
This world, your House of Wine, I lay.


Beloved, you are Wine to me
And like an empty Cup I pine,
But I am filled with you and thus,
A drinker, you your lips incline;
I am your Goblet overbrimming;
You drink me up with senses swimming;
We are together mutually
Yes, each to each a House of Wine.


I have pressed the Wine of images
From my emotions’ tender vine;
The poet is the Handmaid now
Who offers many a flowing line;
And in the Cup where millions drink
The Wine I press can never sink.
My readers are my thirsty Guests,
My book of Verse a House of Wine.


Still more sweet Wine from my sweet thoughts
I daily press as I have pressed;
With this sweet Wine I fill the Cup,
That thirsty Cup, my heart’s unrest;
Where my imagination lingers
It lifts the Cup in magin fingers;
I drink; and lo! I am myself
The House, the Handmaid and the Guest.


The drinker leaves his home to find
The House of Wine, but does not know
The way, and fears achievement must
Be but for an instructed few;
And each from whom he asks the way
Has something new and strange to say;
In fact, you reach the House of Wine
By any path you may pursue.


Alas! how much of life has gone
Seeking the House of my intent!
But as I walk, the guides I meet
Still speak of distant merriment!
I scarcely dare pursue my yearning
But want the courage for returning;
The House of Wine is still remote
And leaves me in bewilderment.


Go on with endless faith, invoking
Wine honeyed, potent, sweet and clear;
The glorious Cup, and do not fear;
Imaginary Wine receiving,
Create the Saki by believing;
Press on, O wayfarer, and then
The House of Wine will soon appear.


When thirst itself is Wine, and when
The lips create the Cup they crave,
When reverie constructs in flesh
The long-desired Maiden-slave,
There in the pilgrim heart’s desire
The piercing pang becomes a spire;
Where is no Handmaid, Wine or Cup,
The mind sustains an architrave.


Listen! the gurgling in the Cups,
The sounds of drunken merriment!
The Saki moves to music, shakes
Each tinkling golden ornament.
Now we are near the destination
And hear the merry conversation;
Listen! and now we can perceive
The House of Wine, the drifting scent.


When two convivial Goblets kiss
We hear the chiming jal-tarang;
The Girl with tinkling ornaments
Moving creates a Veena’s twang;
Sometimes the Pakhavaj is heard
When riot earns reproachful word;
And thus the Wine can fire our hearts
Sooner amid the lively clang.


Studded with gems, the Cup is held
In red-stained palm; and on her head
The golden-sunburnt Maiden wears
A scarf of silk like Wine, deep red;
The Guests are bright in varied hue
In purple turbans, gowns or blue;
Here, rivalling the stormy bow,
The spectrum of the House is spread.


Reluctantly the Cup will come
Into your hands, and at the brink
All woman-like, the Wine retreats
Before the longing lips may drink
Often before she tilts the vial
The Saki mocks with soft denial;
Be not surprised, O traveler,
When House and Handmaid seem to shrink.


This Wine resembles fire, and yet
Do not refer to it as flame
Nor call the bubbles at the brim
Blisters of frustrated love and shame:
Where your dead memories serve and languish
This Wine will make you drunk with anguish;
And can a man take pleasure thus,
My House of Wine is for that same.


My Goblet is not cool, O Guest,
Nor is it cooling Wine within;
Refreshment dwells not here, as in
The Cups and Wine that worldlings win!
The Cup, my heart of hot desire!
My burning words, the Wine of fire!
And he is welcome to my House
Who does not fear a scalded skin!


Behold, the Wine is blazing now
Which we, the Guests, have seen in flow;
The Goblet will not cool your lips
But burn them with its ardent glow;
Yet give two drops! for such my yearning
I care not though my bones are burning!
The drunkards who must haunt this House
Are those who were created so.


He who has calcined all the creeds
With fire from his burning breast,
Who quits the temple, mosque and church
A drunken heretic, unblest,
Who sees the snares, and now comes running
From Pandit’s, Priest’s and Mullah’s cunning,
He, and he only, shall today
Be in my House a welcome Guest.


Who has not kissed with trembling lips
The juice of apple-tree and vine,
Who, drinking, has not felt such joy
That trembling was its outward sign.
Who has not drawn the Maiden, blushing,
Close and then closer still to crushing,
Wasting his fragile House of Life
Has never known the House of Wine.


The Saki seems to pray; the Wine
Seems water drawn at Ganga’s brink;
Like prayers upon a rosary
I hear the Goblets when they clink;
This is a mantra we are chanting,
“Thake this!” “take more!”—by which enchanting
Shiva incarnate moves in me,
This House his temple where I drink.


The temple gongs hung mute and still,
The image sat, unwreathed with rose,
And the Muezzin locked the mosque
And stayed at home for his repose;
The royal treasury and tower
Were robbed and razed by hostile powers;
The Guests were drinking in the House,
The House of Wine that would not close.


Great houses fail for heirs, until
None of their name is left to moan;
Palaces where the Handmaid danced
Stand joyless; hollow and alone;
Kingdoms collapse in anarchy
And kings may lose their destiny;
But men will always drink, and thus
My House is never overthrown.


Death as the Handmaid will remain
When earth and sky to crumbling quake;
The springs of feeling fail, but Wine
And poison flow, our thirst to slake;
Although there is no festive laughter,
Unknown the ways of the Hereafter,
On burning ghats and in my House
Something will still remain awake.


Because the Goblem moves and leaps
Like youth, the world is cold with scorn;
It hates the reckless drunken one,
Her whom bright paint and gilt adorn;
No one in harmony has seen them!
There was no love-match made between them!
The world grows old, the House of Wine
Is fresh, eternally reborn.


Who has not tasted Wine at all
In this my House, will mock. He raves.
But once he tastes, those lips are locked;
Rebellious once, he falters, craves
The Wine and Goblet like the others;
Rebels and slaves are then as brothers;
My House has overcome the world
And all mankind shall be its slaves.


The Wine-shop welcomes cheerfully;
The world is chilly outside air;
And in its fog, Muharram lowers
While here the fires of Holi flare;
Wine knows no earthly troubles, given
Direct, unstained, from highest heaven;
Plaints of Muharram fill the world
But Id is celebrated there.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.