Puzzled? And well we might be as Francis swerves from his usual hard edged clarity. Had he been drinking? Most likely not, he was pretty abstemious. But he is conveying in this poem a moment of intoxication with the divine, bursting through and immanent in the present moment. This is not incoherence for the sake of novelty or of being contemporary. It is in fact a new way for him to express that the Beloved is indeed all in all.
Firstly we notice how the regular pattern of the verse has relaxed into three sentences of informal structure and unrhymed.
The first gives images of the power of the flux. We are deliberately disoriented. What shakes the sand, the power of the waves? And whose fingers are these? What creates and washes away? And then the rollers which we might think waves are suddenly part of a primitive washing machine, time squeezing flat all flesh in this wringer. We have plunged into a violent and surrealistic world.
The beach trembling under your fingers
the wave erasing the pattern of your careful nails;
Time’s rollers are laundry-ringers
coiling clothes of flesh into baskets.
An unguent is a soothing and healing ointment. Here the bizarre comparison is made with the proud beauty of the yacht. So there is more majesty in God’s healing touch than in the yacht, symbol of earthly pleasure and mastery. And next God’s descent is more inevitable and irresistible than spring itself. And then another impetuous leap to make this Beloved beyond all earthly beauty, yet there in earth itself.
The yachtsman and his sails are not so proud
as the least of your unguents;
nor is spring so urgent as your impetuous brow;
never has woman been endowed
with your earth-warm purity.
Finally, journeys to and from are irrelevant because of the immanent marvel of His presence here and now, symbolized in action by His kiss. There is nothing to be gained when freedom is here, now. Goings and comings, the long journey of evolution if you like, are imposed on us by our incapacity to achieve the true drunkenness of surrender in the moment. They are the way time humbles (snubs) all our pretences that we in ourselves can do it.
Any thought of ships and journeying would be
a blasphemy after being given the Freedom of your Kiss.
Only drunkenness can settle the arguments
of goings and becomings —
Time’s snubs to pretence — and establish the eternal Now
of your beauty. That; and This.
You still don’t see? Thou art That. Thou art also This. Thou art Everything. If you can’t see this you are just not drunken enough.
Hasn’t my poem been able even to give you the tiniest glimpse of the Eternal Moment? Can’t you see this is what poetry might be able to do for Baba?
(This is what I imagine Francis as saying).