Since sleeplessness has befriended me I have begun to admire the stars—
The patterned silver stitches in the blue coat my Beloved wears.
I feel sorry for Sappho that she did not know this Man,
Although he knew her and was inspiring the songs she sang.
In this respect Mira was by the Fates better placed,
Though prejudice maintains it’s merely a matter of taste:
I speak as a woman who also marks the set of the Pleiades,
A woman not quite admitted to the company of ladies.
But then are not all we women sailing in the one boat,
With the storm of desire winding our hair round our delicate throats?
God had to be a Man beautiful beyond compare;
Why then do we listen when our mirrors tell us we are fair?
Sleeplessness is our portion when we cannot see his face;
Admit it! there’s not one of us who would not welcome disgrace.
This poem strikes me as a bit elusive and strange although the gist of it is plain enough.
Longing keeps the poet wakeful at night and he praises the beauty of the night sky as it reveals at least a shadow of the Beloved. He thinks of two female poets who have sung of love. Both are famous but there is a world of difference between them. For only Mirabai, a 16th century princess sang in loving surrender to the God-Man, Krishna, with legendary devotion. Modern critics would only judge her from taste, as being better, rather than seeing the sacred as a central value.
‘The set of the Pleiades’: this marked the onset of winter to the Greeks when the sea became dangerous and voyages were stormy and risky. This female persona that Francis suddenly adopts seems to have a quality of wildness and adventure. She shares with Mirabai a readiness to surrender to the Divine Master and His beauty. He claims that all women however fair and self-admiring really have this desire to be ravished by the beauty of the one lover. They can be ready as the next poem suggests ‘to steer into the teeth of the storm’s violence’.
As lover of the God-Man Francis can imaginatively share this yielding femininity.