The HyperTexts

Famous Drinking Poems
Famous Drinking Songs

Which poets wrote the all-time best poems about drinking? Which songwriters produced the best songs ever written about drinking? This page attempts to answer such critically important questions, providing toast-worthy examples! These are just one person's opinions, for whatever they're worth.Michael R. Burch, editor, The HyperTexts

Top Ten Songs about Drinking

"Auld Lang Syne" by Robert Burns (written as a poem by Scotland's most famous poet, then set to the music of a Scottish air)
"John Barleycorn" by Robert Burns
"Another Auld Lang Syne" by Dan Fogelberg and "Taxi" by Harry Chapin (tie)
"Red Red Wine" by Neil Diamond (covered in a reggae version by UB40)
"Tequila" by the Champs
"Margaritaville," "Why Don't We Get Drunk (and Screw)" and "A Pirate Looks at Forty" by Jimmy Buffet
"Spill the Wine" by Eric Burdon and War
"One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer" by John Lee Hooker
"I Drink Alone" by George Thorogood and the Destroyers
"Midnight Choir" (the "Mogen David" song) by Larry Gatlin and the Gatlin Brothers

"Strawberry Wine," written by Matraca Berg and Gary Harrison, would be near the top of my list, if not for unfortunate chorus "Green on the vine, like strawberry wine." Of course wine doesn't grow on the vine! Otherwise, it's a lovely, touching song about growing up and "feeling the heat" of young love. My favorite line from a drinking song is: "Will they have Mogen David in heaven, sweet Jesus? If they don't, who the hell wants to go?" Who indeed?

Honorable Mention: "Lines on Ale" by Edgar Allan Poe, "There’s a Tear in My Beer" by Hank Williams Sr., "Family Tradition" by Hank Williams Jr., "All My Rowdy Friends Are Coming Over Tonight" by Hank Williams Jr., "If Drinking Don’t Kill Me (Her Memory Will)" by George Jones, "I Think I’ll Just Stay Here and Drink" by Merle Haggard, "Alabama Song" (aka "Alabama Whisky Bar") by Jim Morrison and the Doors, "Tubthumping" by Chumbawamba, "Gin and Juice" by Snoop Dogg, "Brass Monkey" by the Beastie Boys, "Doh, Re, Me" by Homer Simpson, "Ninety-Nine Bottles of Beer on the Wall" by Anonymous (an early 20th century American folk song of uncertain origins), "The Boys Are Back in Town" by Thin Lizzy, "Escape" (aka "The Piña Colada Song") by Rupert Holmes

Top Ten Poems about Drinking

"Song to Celia" ("Drink to me only with thine eyes") by Ben Jonson
"Terence, this is stupid stuff" by A. E. Housman
"My Papa's Waltz" by Theodore Roethke
"The Rubaiyat" by Omar Khayyam
"The Tavern" by Rumi
"I taste a liquor never brewed" by Emily Dickinson
"His Confession" by the Archpoet (surely the best quasi-religious defense of drinking in the history of poetry!)
"The Pelagian Drinking Song" by Hilaire Belloc
"Aubade" by Philip Larkin
"Be Drunk" and "The Soul of Wine" by Charles Baudelaire

Honorable Mention: "Lines on Ale" by Edgar Allen Poe, "the suicide kid" by Charles Bukowski, "Scrambled Eggs and Whiskey" by Hayden Carruth, "Drinking Song" by J. K. Stephen, "A Drinking Song" by William Butler Yeats, "A Drinking Song" By George Etherege, "The Old Stone Cross" by William Butler Yeats, "Ode to Wine" by Pablo Neruda, "California Plush" by Frank Bidart, "The Drunken Fisherman" by Robert Lowell, "Tavern" and "Love Is Not All" by Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Vintage" by Amy Lowell, "A Glass of Beer" by David O’Bruadair

I went to the worst of bars
hoping to get
but all I could do was to
get drunk
—An excerpt from "the suicide kid" by Charles Bukowski

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.
—An excerpt from "Terence, this is stupid stuff" by A. E. Housman

Song of The Alleycat
by Tom Merrill

O give me a bottle
And let me forget
All of this struggle
And passion to get;

Presume no desire
To pull in the fight;
O give me a bottle,
And bid me goodnight.

by Philip Larkin

I work all day, and get half-drunk at night.
Waking at four to soundless dark, I stare.
In time the curtain-edges will grow light.
Till then I see what’s really always there:
Unresting death, a whole day nearer now,
Making all thought impossible but how
And where and when I shall myself die.
Arid interrogation: yet the dread
Of dying, and being dead,
Flashes afresh to hold and horrify. ...

by Michael R. Burch

after Philip Larkin's "Aubade"

It is hard to understand or accept mortality—
such an alien concept: not to be.
Perhaps unsettling enough to spawn religion,
or to scare mutant fish out of a primordial sea

boiling like goopy green tea in a kettle.
Perhaps a man should exhibit more mettle
than to admit such fear, denying Nirvana exists
simply because we are stuck here in such a fine fettle.

And so we abide . . .
even in life, staring out across that dark brink.
And if the thought of death makes your questioning heart sink,
it is best not to drink
(or, drinking, certainly not to think).

A Drinking Song
by William Butler Yeats

Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.

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.
—An excerpt from "The Old Stone Cross" by W. B. Yeats

Lines on Ale
by Edgar Allan Poe

Filled 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.

NOTE: Edgar Allan Poe may have drank himself to death. The Baltimore Ravens are named after his famous poem "The Raven."

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!!!

A Glass of Beer
by David O’Bruadair

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.

Lines on Ale
by Edgar Allen Poe

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.

Li Qingzhao was a Chinese poet of the Song dynasty. Born in Zhangqiu into a family of scholars, Qingzhao was unusually outgoing and knowledgeable of a woman of noble birth. Before she got married, her poetry was already well known within elite circles. Marrying Zhao Mingcheng in 1811, his absences for work fuelled a lot of her poetry, which is often imbued with yearning and explores the effects of wine on her thoughts and feelings.

Light mists and heavy clouds,
melancholy the long dreary day;
In the golden censer
the burning incense is dying away.
It is again time
for the lovely Double-Night Festival;
The coolness of midnight
penetrates my screen of sheer silk
and chills my pillow of jade.
After drinking wine at twilight
under the chrysanthemum hedge,
My sleeves are perfumed
by the faint fragrance of the plants.
Oh, I cannot say it is not enchanting,
Only, when the west wind stirs the curtain,
I see that I am more graceful
than the yellow flowers.
Li Qingzhao

John Barleycorn
by Robert Burns

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!

American poet, literary critic and travel writer Bayard Taylor was born to Quaker parents in Pennsylvania in 1825. He published his first anthology aged 19 in 1844, using the money he made from the book to fund his travels around Europe.

I’ve drunk Sicilia’s crimson wine!
The blazing vintage pressed
From grapes on Etna’s breast,
What time the mellowing autumn sun did shine:
I‘ve drunk the wine!
I feel its blood divine
Poured on the sluggish tide of mine,
Till, kindling slow, Its fountains glow
With the light that swims
On their trembling brims,
And a molten sunrise floods my limbs!

Divine Apollo!
Then thou thy lute shalt twine
With Bacchic tendrils of the glorious vine
That gave Sicilian wine:
And henceforth when the breezes run
Over its clusters, ripening in the sun,
The leaves shall still be playing,
Unto thy lute its melody repaying,
And I, that quaff, shall evermore be free
To mount thy car and ride the heavens with thee!
Bayard Taylor

Born in China in 701, Li Bai is regarded as a pivotal figure in the Chinese poetry of the mid-Tang dynasty, which is often referred to as the Golden Age of China. During his lifetime, Bai wrote over 1,000 poems, many of which celebrate wine, song and friendship. Legend has it that Bai drowned when he reached from his boat in a bid to grasp the moon’s reflection in the river.

If heaven loved not the wine,
A Wine Star would not be in heaven;
If earth loved not the wine,
The Wine Spring would not be on the earth.
Since heaven and earth love the wine,
Need a tippling mortal be ashamed?
The transparent wine, I hear,
Has the soothing virtue of a sage,
While the turgid is rich, they say,
As the fertile mind of the wise.
Both the sage and the wise were drinkers,
Why seek for peers among gods and goblins?
Three cups open the grand door to bliss;
Take a jugful, the universe is yours.
Such is the rapture of the wine,
That the sober shall never inherit.
Li Bai

English poet, playwright and literary critic Ben Jonson is best known for his satirical plays and is generally regarded as the second most important English dramatist after William Shakespeare. Educated at Cambridge, Jonson’s poetry is informed by his classical learning.

Song to Celia
by Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyes,
And I will pledge with mine;
Or leave a kiss but in the cup,
And I’ll not look for wine.
The thirst that from the soul doth rise,
Doth ask a drink divine;
But might I of Jove’s nectar sip,
I would not change for thine.

I sent thee, late, a rosy wreath,
Not so much honouring thee,
As giving it a hope,
that there It could not withered be:
But thou thereon didst only breathe,
And sent’st it back to me;
Since when, it grows and smells,
I swear, not of itself, but thee!

The Soul of Wine
by Charles Baudelaire

One eve in the bottle sang the soul of wine:
”Man, unto thee, dear disinherited,
I sing a song of love and light divine
Prisoned in glass beneath my seals of red.
“I know thou labourest on the hill of fire,
In sweat and pain beneath a flaming sun,
To give the life and souls my vines desire,
And I am grateful for thy labours done.
For I find joys unnumbered when I lave
The throat of man by travail long outworn,
And his hot bosom is a sweeter grave
Of sounder sleep than my cold caves forlorn.
“Hearest thou not the echoing Sabbath sound?
The hope that whispers in my trembling breast?
Thy elbows on the table! gaze around;
Glorify me with joy and be at rest.
“To thy wife’s eyes I’ll bring their long-lost gleam,
I’ll bring back to thy child his strength and light,
To him, life’s fragile athlete I will seem
Rare oil that firms his muscle for the fight.
“I flow in man’s heart as ambrosia flows;
The grain the eternal Sower casts in the sod
From our first loves the first fair verse arose,
Flower-like aspiring to the heavens and God!”

Ode to Wine
by Pablo Neruda

Wine color of day
wine color of night
wine with your feet of purple
or topaz blood,
starry child of the earth,
wine, smooth as a golden sword,
soft as ruffled velvet,
wine spiral-shelled and suspended,
loving, of the sea,
you’ve never been contained in one glass,
in one song, in one man,
choral, you are gregarious
and, at least, mutual.
memories on your wave
we go from tomb to tomb,
stonecutter of icy graves,
and we weep transitory tears,
but your beautiful spring suit is different,
the heart climbs to the branches,
the wind moves the day,
nothing remains in your motionless soul.
Wine stirs the spring,
joy grows like a plant,
walls, large rocks fall,
abysses close up, song is born.
Oh thou, jug of wine, in the desert
with the woman I love,
said the old poet.
Let the pitcher of wine and its kiss to the kiss of love.

My love, suddenly,
your hip
is the curve of the wineglass
filled to the brim,
your breast is the cluster,
your hair the light of alcohol
your nipples, the grapes
your navel pure seal stamped on your belly of a barrel,
and your love the cascade of unquenchable wine,
the brightness that falls on my sense
the earthen splendor of life.

But not only love,
burning kiss,
of ignited heart-
vino de vida, you are also
fellowship, transparency,
chorus of discipline abundance of flowers.
I love the light of a bottle of intelligent wine
upon a table
when people are talking,
that they drink it,
that in each drop of gold
or ladle of purple,
they remember that autumn worked
until the barrels were filled with wine
and let the obscure man learn,
in the ceremony of his business,
to remember the earth and his duties,
to propagate the canticle of the fruit.

A man of many talents, Persian poet, philosopher, astronomer and mathematician Omar Khayyam is thought to have written over a thousand four-line verses known as Rubaiyat, which were translated into English by Edward Fitzgerald in the mid-19th century. Wine features prominently in Khayyam’s poetry, with the enclosed stanzas offering a snapshot into his relationship with the drink, which he saw as a life force to be enjoyed during our brief time on earth.

And David’s lips are locket; but in divine
High-piping Pehlevi, with “Wine! Wine! Wine!
Red Wine!” the Nightingale cries to the Rose
That sallow cheek of hers t’ incarnadine.

Come, fill the Cup, and in the fire of Spring
Your Winter-garment of Repentance fling:
The Bird of Time has but a little way
To flutter–and the Bird is on the Wing.

Whether at Naishapur or Babylon,
Whether the Cup with sweet or bitter run,
The Wine of Life keeps oozing drop by drop,
The Leaves of Life keep falling one by one.

Then to the lip of this poor earthen Urn
I lean’d, the Secret of my Life to learn:
And Lip to Lip it murmur’d–“While you live
Drink!–for, once dead, you never shall return.”

Perplext no more with Human or Divine,
To-morrow’s tangle to the winds resign,
And lose your fingers in the tresses of
The Cypress–slender Minister of Wine.

And if the Wine you drink, the Lip you press
End in what All begins and ends in–Yes;
Think then you are To-day what Yesterday
You were–To-morrow You shall not be less.

So when that Angel of the darker Drink
At last shall find you by the river-brink,
And, offering his Cup, invite your
Soul Forth to your Lips to quaff–you shall not shrink.

For “Is” and “Is-not” though with Rule and Line
And “Up” and “Down” by Logic I define,
Of all that one should care to fathom,
Was never deep in anything but–Wine.

And lately, by the Tavern Door agape,
Came shining through the Dusk an Angel Shape
Bearing a Vessel on his Shoulder; and
He bid me taste of it; and ’twas–the Grape!

The Grape that can with Logic absolute
The Two-and-Seventy jarring Sects confute:
The sovereign Alchemist that in a trice
Life’s leaden metal into Gold transmute.
―Omar Khayyam

Drinking Song
by J. K. Stephen

There are people, I know, to be found,
Who say, and apparently think,
That sorrow and care may be drowned
By a timely consumption of drink.

Does not man, these enthusiasts ask,
Most nearly approach the divine,
When engaged in the soul-stirring task
Of filling his body with wine?

Have not beggars been frequently known,
When satisfied, soaked, and replete,
To imagine their bench was a throne
And the civilised world at their feet?

Lord Byron has finely described
The remarkably soothing effect
Of liquor, profusely imbibed,
On a soul that is shattered and wrecked.

In short, if your body or mind
Or your soul or your purse come to grief,
You need only get drunk, and you'll find
Complete and immediate relief.

For myself, I have managed to do
Without a recourse to this plan,
So I can't write a poem for you,
AAnd you'd better get someone who can.

The Pelagian Drinking Song
by Hilaire Belloc

Pelagius lived at Kardanoel
And taught a doctrine there
How, whether you went to heaven or to hell
It was your own affair.
It had nothing to do with the Church, my boy,
But was your own affair.

No, he didn't believe
In Adam and Eve
He put no faith therein!
His doubts began
With the Fall of Man
And he laughed at Original Sin.
With my row-ti-tow
He laughed at original sin.

Then came the bishop of old Auxerre
Germanus was his name
He tore great handfuls out of his hair
And he called Pelagius shame.
And with his stout Episcopal staff
So thoroughly whacked and banged
The heretics all, both short and tall --
They rather had been hanged.

Oh he whacked them hard, and he banged them long
Upon each and all occasions
Till they bellowed in chorus, loud and strong
Their orthodox persuasions.
With my row-ti-tow
Their orthodox persuasions.

Now the faith is old and the Devil bold
Exceedingly bold indeed.
And the masses of doubt that are floating about
Would smother a mortal creed.
But we that sit in a sturdy youth
And still can drink strong ale
Let us put it away to infallible truth
That always shall prevail.

And thank the Lord
For the temporal sword
And howling heretics too.
And all good things
Our Christendom brings
But especially barley brew!
With my row-ti-tow
Especially barley brew!

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