1 March 2013

An Incentive to Debauchery

William Ernest Henley (1849-1903), "The Spirit Of Wine," in Songs of the Vine with a Medley for Maltworms, selected and edited by William G. Hutchison (London: A.H. Bullen, 1904), p. 257:
The Spirit of Wine
Sang in my glass, and I listened
With love to his odorous music,
His flushed and magnificent song.

— 'I am health, I am heart, I am life!
For I give for the asking
The fire of my father, the Sun,
And the strength of my mother, the Earth.
Inspiration in essence,
I am wisdom and wit to the wise,
His visible muse to the poet,
The soul of desire to the lover,
The genius of laughter to all.

'Come, lean on me, ye that are weary!
Rise, ye faint-hearted and doubting!
Haste, ye that lag by the way!
I am Pride, the consoler;
Valour and Hope are my henchmen;
I am the Angel of Rest.

'I am life, I am wealth, I am fame:
For I captain an army
Of shining and generous dreams;
And mine, too, all mine, are the keys
Of that secret spiritual shrine,
Where, his work-a-day soul put by,
Shut in with his saint of saints -
With his radiant and conquering self -
Man worships, and talks, and is glad.

'Come, sit with me, ye that are lovely,
Ye that are paid with disdain,
Ye that are chained and would soar!
I am beauty and love;
I am friendship, the comforter;
I am that which forgives and forgets.' —

The Spirit of Wine
Sang in my heart, and I triumphed
In the savour and scent of his music,
His magnetic and mastering song.
Henley's poem is based on Charles Baudelaire's L'Âme du vin, which came into renewed notoriety a few years ago when the U.S. Bureau of Alcohol, Tobacco, Firearms and Explosives prevented a French wine merchant from exporting to the country because he had included several lines from the poem on the label of his Château Haut Gay. The American authorities banned the product on the grounds that Baudelaire's verse was "an incentive to debauchery".