The Contest of Wine and Water

The Contest of Wine and Water

(trans. John Addington Symonds)

Laying truth bare, stripped of fable,
Briefly as I may be able,
With good reasons manifold,
I will tell why man should never
Copulate, but rather sever,
     Things that strife and hatred hold.

When one cup in fell confusion
Wine with water blends, the fusion,
     Call it by what name you will,
Is no blessing, nor deserveth
Any praise, but rather serveth
     For the emblem of all ill.

Wine perceives the water present,
And with pain exclaims, “What peasant
   Dared to mingle thee with me?
Rise, go forth, get out, and leave me!
In the same place, here to grieve Mme,
     Thou hast no just claim to be.

“Vile and shameless in they going,
Into cracks thou still art flowing,
     That in could holes thou mayst lie;
O’er the earth thou ought’t to wander,
On the earth thy liquor squander,
     And at length in anguish die.

“How canst thou adorn a table?
No one sings or tells a fable
     In thy presence dull and drear;
But the guest who erst was jolly,
Laughing, joking, bent on folly,
     Silent sits when thou art near.

“Should one drink of the to fulness,
Sound before, he takes an illness;
     All his bowels thou dost stir;
Booms the belly, wind ariseth,
Which, enclosed and pent, surpriseth
     With a thousand sighs the ear.

“When the stomach’s so inflated,
Blasts are then ejaculated
     From both draughts with divers sound;
And that organ thus affected,
All the air is soon infected
     By the poison breathed around.”

Water thus wine’s home-thrust warded:
“All thy life is found and sordid,
     Sunk in misery, steeped in vice;
Those who drink thee lose their morals,
Waste their time in sloth and quarrels,
     Rolling down sin’s precipice.

“Thou dost teach man’s tongue to stutter;
He goes reeling in the gutter
     Who hath deigned to kiss thy lips;
Hears men speak without discerning,
Sees a hundred tapers burning
     When there are but two poor dips.

“He who feels for the soul’s hunger
Is a murderer or whoremonger,
     Davus Geta Birria;
Such are they whom thou dost nourish;
With thy fame and name they flourish
     In the tavern’s disarray.

“Thou by reasons they badness
Art confined in prison sadness,
     Cramped and small thy dwellings are:
I am great the whole world over,
Spread myself abroad and cover
     Every part of earth afar.

“Drink I yield to palates burning;
They who for soul’s health are yearning,
     Need the aid that I have given;
Since all pilgrims, at their praying,
Far or near, I am conveying
     To the palaces of heaven.”

Wine replied: “What thou hast vaunted
Proves thee full of fraud; for granted
     That thou carries ships o’er sea,
Yet thou then dost swell and riot;
Till they wreck thou hast no quiet;
     Thus they are deceived through thee.

“He whose strength is insufficient
Thee to slake with heat efficient,
     Sunk in mortal peril lies:
Trusting thee the poor wretch wanted,
And through thee at length attaineth
     To the joys of Paradise.

“I’m a god, as that true poet
Naso testifies; men owe it
     Unto me that they are sage;
When they do not drink, professors
Lose their wits and lack assessors
     Round about the lecture-stage.

“‘Tis impossible to sever
Truth from falsehood if you never
     Learn to drink my juices neat.
Thanks to me, dumb speak, deaf listen,
Blind folk see, the senses glisten,
     And the lame man finds his feet.

“Eld through me to youth returned,
While thine influence o’erturneth
     All a young man’s lustihead;
By my force the world is laden
With new births, but boy or maiden
     Through thy help was never bred.”

Water saith: “A god thou!   Just men
By thy craft become unjust men,
     Bad, worse, worst, degenerous!
Thanks to thee, their words half uttered
Through drunken lips are stuttered,
     And thy sage is Didymus.

“I will speak the truth out wholly:
Earth bears fruit by my gift solely,
     And the meadows bloom in May:
When it rains not, herbs and grasses
Dry with drought, spring’s beauty passes,
     Flowers and lilies fade away.

“Lo, they crooked mother pining,
On her boughs the grapes declining,
     Barren through the dearth of rain;
Mark her tendrils lean and sterile
O’er the parched earth at their peril
     Bent in unavailing pain!

“Famine through all lands prevaileth,
Terror-struck the people wailers,
     When I chose to keep away;
Christians kneel to Christ to gain me,
Jews and Pagans to obtain me
     Ceaseless vows and offerings pay.”

Wine saith: “To the deaf thou’rt singing
Those vain self-laudations flinging!
     Otherwhere thou hast been shown!
Patent ’tis to all the races
How impure and foul they place is;
     We believe what we have known!

“Thou of things the scum and rotten
Sewer, where ordures best forgotten
     And unmentioned still descend!
Filth and garbage, stench and poison,
Thou dost bear in fetid poison!
     Here I stop lest words offend.”

Water rose, the foe invaded,
In her own defense upbraided
     Wine for his invective base:
“Now at last we’ve drawn the curtain!
Who, what god thou art is certain
     From they oracle’s disgrace.

“This thine impudent oration
Hurts not me; ’tis desecration
     To a god, and fouls his tongue!
At the utmost at nine paces
Can I suffer filthy places,
     Fling far from me dirt and dung!”

Wine saith: “This repudiation
Of my well-weighed imputation
     Doth not clear thyself of crime!
Many a man and oft who swallowed
Thine infected potion, followed
     After death in one day’s time.”

Hearing this, in stupefaction
Water stood; no words, no action,
     Now restrained her sobs of woe
Wine exclaims, “Why art thou dumb then?
Without answer? Is it come then
     To thy complete overthrow?

I who heard the whole contention
Now declare my song’s intention,
     And to all the world proclaim:
They who mix these things shall ever
Henceforth be accursed, and never
     In Christ’s kingdom portion claim.