How can you even think of yourself as a poet
Unless when the banjos ring you can heel-and-toe it?

Poetry’s in drunkenness—a lunatic distilling
Words from blood for a beloved who is never willing;

Whose eyes say, Love me—but who looks askance
At the poor singing fool’s slightest advance;

Who hides the mystery of the stars in a wisp of hair,
Whose mouth (when given) is honey hiding stings of despair.

Are you willing, friend, to dedicate your verse
To one whose smile denies song’s very purpose?

Yet, when the fool is silent, says, Has my beauty
Become so poor that you’ve forgotten your duty?

I tell you, dream not of a white-sheeted scented bed:
In the dust of Lovers’ Lane must roll the poet’s head.


Opening with a nice bouncing conversational tone, 4 beats to the line and then carrying us into the world of the poet’s imagery. This is the world of the desperation of the courtly lover tradition where the unapproachable and idealized beloved is beseeched for favour. The beloved attracts and repulses at the same time. In the face of this tantalizing the poet becomes a singing fool. Even his song seems derided by the one who is beyond all words. Yet he is berated if he neglects his duty to sing praises.

This was part of a convention between the sexes but Francis has found it eminently suitable for approaching his master and of course found precursors like Hafiz among the Sufi poets as well in addressing God in this fashion.

The poet’s head must roll in the dust, perhaps in drunken ecstasy, most likely after beheading. Quite a dramatic contrast with the opening of the poem but not a lament, the poet seems to be enjoying his predicament.

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