A few days ago a few verses of a poem by Ibn al-Farid were posted, and it might be helpful to say something abut the imagery and symbolism.
Central to these verses is the idea of intoxication, meaning a state of freedom from the cares of the world, and from the heavy burden of self. The poet visits a tavern with companions, but he tells us that it is not the wine that has lifted him above the world, but the glimpse of a face. Therefore his eye becomes like the palm of the saki, the one who hands round the wine; what his eye offers him gives more intoxication than the wine–the head-spinning inebriation of love, and the glass or cup from which he drinks is that same face that he sees.
To be effective, poetic imagery has to present an experience that one has had–or that one can imagine–in a way that illustrates another layer of meaning. So, even if we have not sat in a tavern with a group of companions and had our heart broken open by a glance across the room, we can imagine such an event. But if we examine the poem on a spiritual level, we might be left with a question. Sufis often speak of wine as a metaphor for Divine love; it is love that makes us forget ourselves, and love that lifts us above the world. If the poet’s companions were drinking that wine of love, then, what happened to al-Farid? He fell in love without drinking wine–so what is he trying to tell us?
Although it is only incidental to the powerful message of the poem, this point tells us something important about the spiritual journey: that there are stages, and that arriving at a stage of happy ‘drunkenness,’ for example, although certainly an evolutionary advance from what we may have been before, does not mean that we have reached the ultimate goal. No doubt the companions of the tavern felt love, but the poet had a glimpse of the divine face of Beauty, a finer, more direct perception of Reality.
The good student never assumes he has mastered a subject; there is always a further stage. This idea is put very beautifully by Hazrat Inayat Khan in this verse from Vadan, Alankaras:
My ears closed to the disturbing noise of the world,
My eyes turned from all
that was calling me on the Way,
My heart beating the rhythm
of my ever-rising aspiration,
And my blazing soul guiding me on the path,
I made my way through the space.
I went through the thick forests of perpetual desire,
I crossed the running rivers of longing.
I passed through the deserts of silent suffering,
I climbed the steep hills of continual strife.
Feeling ever some presence in the air, I asked,
“Are you there, my love?”
And a voice came to my ears, saying,
“No, still further am I.”