The light of poetry has lit all language-camps;
It is time for it to burn in modern English lamps.
But first we will have to chuck out the embalmed muse from its show case
And set our sights on the target of the Beloved’s living face.
If the muse were flesh and blood and we knew her nakedly,
That would be an error the Master could correct easily.
There is no point in pilgrimaging to some distant shrine
When in our own city there is a man selling vintage wine.
Jesus ousted Dionysus because phylloxera had spoilt his vineyards.
And Venus because her hair had lost its sea-tang and smelt of spikenard.
One’s heart must become a sunflower which turns to the source of light—
A rim of yellow petals round a hive of pregnant night.
When gardens of such flowers have been seared and begin to turn into mold,
Someone is given a license to mine a new field of poetry’s gold.
Large claims to be made by an unknown poet!
Just how revolutionary is his poetry? Francis is claiming that the poetry of the English speaking world has become stagnant. He sees all real poetry as an act of worship and praise and indeed this is the way poets have often seen it, dedicating their efforts to the Muse or something higher than themselves. With the new Advent this old worship is now artificial and idolatrous. Even though when he was writing there were many experiments and many poets of great talent writing, he is provocatively claiming that that they are all left behind by a new movement of sacred history.
There is not much that is unique about Francis’ prosody, much of it is quite conservative. What is revolutionary is his insistence on a new psychological openness to God, a new energy of grace. His stance is radical and uncompromising, and put forward with powerful imagery as here.
Poetry in the modern world has been marginalised and restricted to small personal utterances. If it is to really count people will have to take it seriously as a major vehicle of the sacred.
Jesus came as a new vintage replacing the diseased or decadent paganism of the time. The dark centre of the sunflower is the unconscious creativity which turned towards the source of light. But inspiration needs to change. The old muse has become artificial and her worship in cultural idolatry harder to eradicate then sensuality would be.