||Beer, by Charles Bukowski,
from Love is A Mad Dog From Hell (1920-1994)
I don’t know how many bottles of beer
I have consumed while waiting for things
to get better
I don’t know how much wine and whisky
I have consumed after
splits with women—
waiting for the phone to ring
waiting for the sound of footsteps,
and the phone to ring
waiting for the sounds of footsteps,
and the phone never rings
until much later
and the footsteps never arrive
until much later
when my stomach is coming up
out of my mouth
they arrive as fresh as spring flowers:
“what the hell have you done to yourself?
it will be 3 days before you can fuck me!”
the female is durable
she lives seven and one half years longer
than the male, and she drinks very little beer
because she knows it’s bad for the figure.
while we are going mad
they are out
dancing and laughing
with horny cowboys.
well, there’s beer
sacks and sacks of empty beer bottles
and when you pick one up
the bottle fall through the wet bottom
of the paper sack
spilling gray wet ash
and stale beer,
or the sacks fall over at 4 a.m.
in the morning
making the only sound in your life.
rivers and seas of beer
the radio singing love songs
as the phone remains silent
and the walls stand
straight up and down
and beer is all there is.
||The Tavern, by Jalal ad-Din Muhammad Rumi (1207-1273)
All day I think about it, then at night I say it.
Where did I come from, and what am I supposed to be doing?
I have no idea.
My soul is from elsewhere, I’m sure of that,
And I intend to end up there.
This drunkenness began in some other tavern.
When I get back around to that place,
I’ll be completely sober. Meanwhile,
I’m like a bird from another continent, sitting in this aviary.
The day is coming when I fly off,
But who is it now in my ear who hears my voice?
Who says words with my mouth?
Who looks out with my eyes? What is the soul?
I cannot stop asking.
If I could taste one sip of an answer,
I could break out of this prison for drunks.
I didn’t come here of my own accord, and I can’t leave that way.
Whoever brought me here will have to take me home.
This poetry. I never know what I’m going to say.
I don’t plan it.
When I’m outside the saying of it, I get very quiet and rarely speak at all.
We have a huge barrel of beer, but no cups.
That’s fine with us. Every morning
We glow and in the evening we glow again.
They say there’s no future for us. They’re right.
Which is fine with us.
||A Glass of Beer, by David O’Bruadair (1625-1698)
The lanky hank of a she in the inn over there
Nearly killed me for asking the loan of a glass of beer;
May the devil grip the whey-faced slut by the hair,
And beat bad manners out of her skin for a year.
That parboiled ape, with the toughest jaw you will see
On virtue’s path, and a voice that would rasp the dead,
Came roaring and raging the minute she looked at me,
And threw me out of the house on the back of my head!
If I asked her master he’d give me a cask a day;
But she, with the beer at hand, not a gill would arrange!
May she marry a ghost and bear him a kitten, and may
The High King of Glory permit her to get the mange.
||Beer, by George Arnold (1834-1865)
With my beer
While golden moments flit:
And, as they fly,
Sit, idly sipping here
O, finer far
Than fame, or riches, are
The graceful smoke-wreathes of this cigar!
Weep, wail, or sigh?
What if luck has passed me by?
What if my hopes are dead,—
My pleasures fled?
Have I not still
Of right good cheer,—
Cigars and beer
Go, whining youth,
Go, weep and wail,
Sigh and grow pale,
Weave melancholy rhymes
On the old times,
Whose joys like shadowy ghosts appear,
But leave me to my beer!
Gold is dross,—
Love is loss,—
So, if I gulp my sorrows down,
Or see them drown
In foamy draughts of old nut-brown,
Then do wear the crown,
Without the cross!
||The Empty Bottle, by William Aytoun (1813-1865)
Ah, liberty! how like thou art
To this large bottle lying here,
Which yesterday from foreign mart,
Came filled with potent English beer!
A touch of steel — a hand — a gush —
A pop that sounded far and near —
A wild emotion — liquid rush —
And I had drunk that English beer!
And what remains? — An empty shell!
A lifeless form both sad and queer,
A temple where no god doth dwell —
The simple memory of beer!
||Get Drunk!, by Charles Baudelaire (1821-1867)
Always be drunk.
The great imperative!
In order not to feel
Time’s horrid fardel
bruise your shoulders,
grinding you into the earth,
Get drunk and stay that way.
On beer, poetry, virtue, whatever.
But get drunk.
And if you sometimes happen to wake up
on the porches of a palace,
in the green grass of a ditch,
in the dismal loneliness of your own room,
your drunkenness gone or disappearing,
ask the wind,
ask everything that flees,
everything that groans
everything that speaks,
ask what time it is;
and the wind,
will answer you:
“Time to get drunk!
Don’t be martyred slaves of Time,
On beer, virtue, poetry, whatever!”
||From The Hour Before Dawn, by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
A great lad with a beery face
Had tucked himself away beside
A ladle and a tub of beer,
And snored, no phantom by his look.
So with a laugh at his own fear
He crawled into that pleasant nook.
‘Night grows uneasy near the dawn
Till even I sleep light; but who
Has tired of his own company?
What one of Maeve’s nine brawling sons
Sick of his grave has wakened me?
But let him keep his grave for once
That I may find the sleep I have lost.’
What care I if you sleep or wake?
But I’ll have no man call me ghost.’
Say what you please, but from daybreak
I’ll sleep another century.’
And I will talk before I sleep
And drink before I talk.’
Had dipped the wooden ladle deep
Into the sleeper’s tub of beer
Had not the sleeper started up.
Before you have dipped it in the beer
I dragged from Goban’s mountain-top
I’ll have assurance that you are able
To value beer; no half-legged fool
Shall dip his nose into my ladle
Merely for stumbling on this hole
In the bad hour before the dawn.’
Why beer is only beer.’
||Lines on Ale (1848), by Edgar Allen Poe (1809-1849)
Fill with mingled cream and amber,
I will drain that glass again.
Such hilarious visions clamber
Through the chamber of my brain.
Quaintest thoughts, queerest fancies
Come to life and fade away.
What care I how time advances;
I am drinking ale today.
||Excerpted from Terence, This Is Stupid Stuff, poem LXII in
A Shropshire Lad (1896), by A.E. Housman (1859-1936)
Why, if ’tis dancing you would be,
There’s brisker pipes than poetry.
Say, for what were hop-yards meant,
Or why was Burton built on Trent?
Oh many a peer of England brews
Livelier liquor than the Muse,
And malt does more than Milton can
To justify God’s ways to man.
Ale, man, ale’s the stuff to drink
For fellows whom it hurts to think:
Look into the pewter pot
To see the world as the world’s not.
And faith, ’tis pleasant till ’tis past:
The mischief is that ’twill not last.
Oh I have been to Ludlow fair
And left my necktie God knows where,
And carried half way home, or near,
Pints and quarts of Ludlow beer:
Then the world seemed none so bad,
And I myself a sterling lad;
And down in lovely muck I’ve lain,
Happy till I woke again.
Then I saw the morning sky:
Heigho, the tale was all a lie;
The world, it was the old world yet,
I was I, my things were wet,
And nothing now remained to do
But begin the game anew.
||John Barleycorn, by Robert Burns (1834-1865)*
[This version is from 1782]
There was three kings into the east,
Three kings both great and high,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn should die.
They took a plough and plough’d him down,
Put clods upon his head,
And they hae sworn a solemn oath
John Barleycorn was dead.
But the cheerful Spring came kindly on,
And show’rs began to fall;
John Barleycorn got up again,
And sore surpris’d them all.
The sultry suns of Summer came,
And he grew thick and strong;
His head weel arm’d wi’ pointed spears,
That no one should him wrong.
The sober Autumn enter’d mild,
When he grew wan and pale;
His bending joints and drooping head
Show’d he began to fail.
His colour sicken’d more and more,
He faded into age;
And then his enemies began
To show their deadly rage.
They’ve taen a weapon, long and sharp,
And cut him by the knee;
Then tied him fast upon a cart,
Like a rogue for forgerie.
They laid him down upon his back,
And cudgell’d him full sore;
They hung him up before the storm,
And turned him o’er and o’er.
They filled up a darksome pit
With water to the brim;
They heaved in John Barleycorn,
There let him sink or swim.
They laid him out upon the floor,
To work him farther woe;
And still, as signs of life appear’d,
They toss’d him to and fro.
They wasted, o’er a scorching flame,
The marrow of his bones;
But a miller us’d him worst of all,
For he crush’d him between two stones.
And they hae taen his very heart’s blood,
And drank it round and round;
And still the more and more they drank,
Their joy did more abound.
John Barleycorn was a hero bold,
Of noble enterprise;
For if you do but taste his blood,
‘Twill make your courage rise.
‘Twill make a man forget his woe;
‘Twill heighten all his joy;
‘Twill make the widow’s heart to sing,
Tho’ the tear were in her eye.
Then let us toast John Barleycorn,
Each man a glass in hand;
And may his great posterity
Ne’er fail in old Scotland!
* John Barleycorn exists in many forms, and a number of them I prefer over Burns’ version, but his is the only one I know of done by a true poet. The poem has also been turned into a song recorded by many, many artists, including Traffic, Steeleye Span and Jethro Tull, among others. I also have a children’s book of the story with wonderful woodcuts by artist Mary Azarian. You can read more about the history of this poem and story at my John Barleycorn page.
As usual, it was pretty hard to keep the list to ten, and a great many wonderful poems didn’t make the cut. Here’s a few more that almost made it:
From The Old Stone Cross, by William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)
A statesman is an easy man, he tells his lies by rote.
A journalist invents his lies, and rams them down your throat.
So stay at home and drink your beer and let the neighbors vote.
Old Irish Tale, author unknown
Some Guinness was spilt on the barroom floor
When the pub was shut for the night.
When out of his hole crept a wee brown mouse
And stood in the pale moonlight.
He lapped up the frothy foam from the floor
Then back on his haunches he sat.
And all night long, you could hear the mouse roar,
“Bring on the goddamn cat!”
Doh, Re, Me, by Homer Simpson
Dough, the stuff that buys me beer.
Ray, the guy who brings me beer.
Me, the guy who drinks the beer.
Far, a long way to get beer.
So, I’ll have another beer.
La, I’ll have another beer.
Tea, no thanks I’m having beer.
That will bring us back to…
(reaching the crescendo of his toast,
Homer looks into his beer mug,
which is empty) …DOH!!!
Beers, a spoof of Joyce Kilmer’s Trees (1886-1918)
I THINK that I shall never hear
A poem lovely as a beer.
A brew that’s best straight from a tap
With golden hue and snowy cap;
The liquid bread I drink all day,
Until my memory melts away;
A beer that’s made with summer malt
Too little hops its only fault;
Upon whose brow the yeast has lain;
In water clear as falling rain.
Poems are made by fools I fear,
But only wort can make a beer.
Here’s the original poem:
I THINK that I shall never see
A poem lovely as a tree.
A tree whose hungry mouth is prest
Against the sweet earth’s flowing breast;
A tree that looks at God all day,
And lifts her leafy arms to pray;
A tree that may in summer wear
A nest of robins in her hair;
Upon whose bosom snow has lain;
Who intimately lives with rain.
Poems are made by fools like me,
But only God can make a tree.
And way too long, but quite wonderful is the Finnish epic poem, The Kalevala and it’s hard not to mention the Hymn To Ninkasi, which really deserves to be included.
Send me your favorite beer poems by posting it or a link to it in a comment.
Also, if you have any ideas for future Top 10 lists you’d like to see, drop me a line.