Paganistan: Notes from the Secret Commonwealth

In Which One Midwest Man-in-Black Confers, Converses & Otherwise Hob-Nobs with his Fellow Hob-Men (& -Women) Concerning the Sundry Ways of the Famed but Ill-Starred Tribe of Witches.

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A Drinking-Song from the Early Pagan Revival, Circa 1971

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Pagans being pagans, we like to drink, and we like to get drunk. When we are, we like to sing about it.

So pagans have lots of drinking songs.

But, of course—pagans being pagans—it's not quite that simple.


Dewi Brown—Dewi is “David” in Welsh—was an early, founding member of the Pagan Movement in Britain and Ireland, one of the earliest (and most influential) New Pagan organizations in the West. His poem “The Drunkard” was first published in the PM's quarterly, The Waxing Moon, in the Lughnasadh 1971 issue, which is where I first came across it. The poem impressed me at the time; 50 years on, it still does.

(Here let me mention that this particular issue of TWM was my personal introduction to the Pagan Movement, a group that would shape my own nascent paganism and, indeed, the rest of my life—you're reading this now because of it—but that's another story for another night.)

Brown's poem is cast in traditional form: four stanzas, each arranged in two couplets. This form, the poem's rather archaic diction (“sup,” “from out”), and its willingness to controvert standard grammar for the sake of rhyme (“Nor of your beauty can he tell”) give the poem a sense of agelessness, of the pre-modern; almost it reads like one of the 17th century Cavalier poets, perhaps a Robert Herrick.

This dislocation in time is fully intentional. Bad poetry sacrifices anything, even clarity and grammatical integrity, to clinch that rhyme. Brown, though, is fully in control of his medium.

On the surface, “The Drunkard” reads as a secular drunk's tribute to his drug of choice. “Screw 'em all,” he sings to his glass of wine, his sole drinking companion.

But, of course, it's not that simple. That's what makes this such a good poem.


The Drunkard


Now let me drink from out your cup

Where wiser lips than mine did sup

To know the passion that was theirs

And be beheld among their heirs.


In drunkenness let me cavort

While sober men give bad report

Upon this folly, half divine,

That comes from drinking of your wine.


The fool may sneer and wag his head,

But I am living; he is dead.

He never drank as half so well,

Nor of your beauty can he tell.


While priest and scholar, passing by,

Look sullen as a winter sky,

Come, my belov'd, we are enough:

Let blow the winds however rough.


The “you” of this first reading is the drinker's cup itself, the vessel that delivers his disapproved-of happiness.

But let's go deeper. Wine = love is a metaphor as old as poetry, or (at least) as old as wine itself.

Here he's singing to the woman that he's in love with; he's drunk with love. One can read “cup” here in a sexual sense, of course, though the poem's thrust goes rather deeper. Those around him, the powers that be, disapprove of such all-prevailing love, but the singer doesn't care.

There's more. Re-read the poem in a “spiritual” sense. Brown is singing about his paganism. He's singing to the Goddess Herself, She of “the cup of the wine of life.” In fact, the “sober men” of the second stanza allude to Robert Graves' poem “In Dedication,” an account of his own Search for the Goddess:


All saints revile her, and all sober men, ruled by the god Apollo's golden mean.


That's what makes this a specifically pagan drinking song. It's pagan all the way down, from the surface to the depths. Pagans have always understood the sanctity of intoxicants, and honored the “sacred drink.” Used rightly, these gifts of the gods enable us to participate in the very life and bliss of the gods themselves.

I refer to “The Drunkard” as a drinking-song, though it was printed as a poem, without tune attached.

Fear not: With lyrics as good as these, a tune will surely come.

Thanks, Dewi. Fifty years on, your words enrich us all. In your honor, I fill this cup, wishing you life and joy.

Let blow the winds, however rough.










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Poet, scholar and storyteller Steven Posch was raised in the hardwood forests of western Pennsylvania by white-tailed deer. (That's the story, anyway.) He emigrated to Paganistan in 1979 and by sheer dint of personality has become one of Lake Country's foremost men-in-black. He is current keeper of the Minnesota Ooser.


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