The Cup

Sweet is the Folk’s drink. I tell of its flavour,

And I mean not wine nor mean I honey,

But an Ancient Draught beyond my power to describe,

For words ever fail Beauty’s describer.

Its cup is like it, can also be drunk,

Sufficient unto itself, and needing naught else.

I marvel at this cup that itself quencheth thirst,

And of itself goeth the round, from lover unto lover.

Of its qualities is magic that is graven round its rim:

To gaze on this seal is to be emptied of all strength.

Wondrous that I have not uttered its secret.

Other than me, drinking it, would neither fast nor pray.

If the prayer-leader beheld its beauty’s light

He would bow down to it rather than towards Mecca.

If the learned in mid lesson scented its perfume

They would cease teaching on the instant without delay.

If the pilgrim is full course between Safa and Marwah

Sighted its splendour he would stop, nor go round

The Ancient House, nor kiss the Black Stone.

Nay, the rim of this cup demandeth to be kissed

Where each one seeth, in his mirrored self,

The meaning of his quest. How shall he be restrained

Who thought himself vile and is become full of hounour?

He must needs break all bounds in exultation and joy.

This an ancient wine, most rare to drink;

It inciteth to no harm; fear no bemusedness.

In it is no heat, nor any cold,

Nor cloudeth it the wits, causing them to falter.

Subtle it is, elusive, beyond my powers to describe,

For words ever fail Beauty’s describer.

[From the translation of Martin Lings in Sufi Saint of the Twentieth Century]

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