Al-Farid: Drunk by my Glance

Here are the opening verses of the Poem of the Sufi Way by Umar Ibn al-Farid, which was recently sampled here.  The poet’s grandson Ali said that al-Farid saw the Prophet Muhammad in a dream, ordering him to name the poem ‘Nazm al suluk.’  Through homophonic wordplay, this can mean ‘Stringing the Strings of Poetry’s Pearls,’ ‘Poem of the Sufi Way,’ or ‘Order of the Spiritual Life.’ The image in the first verse likens the eye to the hand of the cup-bearer, the saki, and the poet tells us that it is not wine that has intoxicated him, but the image of the Beloved, although he conceals this from his companions.  The ‘seclusion of the bridal chamber’ mentioned in the final verse carries some hint of the seclusion of a prolonged solitary retreat. The ‘spy of fortune’ could refer either to the social conventions that rule and restrict human relationships, or to the interference of one’s own narcissistic ego, which usually interferes with our experience of the Real.

Poem of the Sufi Way

The palm of my eye handed me
love’s heady wine to drink,
and my glass was a face
of one revealing loveliness.

Drunk by my glance I caused
my companions to suppose
that drinking their wine
had brought my heart joy.

But by the dark pupils of the eyes
I did without my drinking bowl;
from the eye’s fine qualities, not cool wine,
came my intoxication.

So in the tavern of my drunkenness
was the time of my thanks to brave young men,
for despite my infamy,
I completely hid my love with them.

Then when sobriety ceased,
I sought union with her;
shame’s grip did not seize me
as I stretched out for her.

There was no one present with me there—
no persistent spy of fortune—
in the seclusion of the bridal chamber
where I revealed my all to her.

from Umar Ibn al-Farid – Sufi Verse, Saintly Life
Tr. Th. Emil Homerin

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