The whale-way is unending, and the nights on the wide plain are harsh;
But fear sits on affection’s fences and there is much binding in mood’s marsh.
Whether one’s flesh feeds fishes, turns to dust or becomes green sod,
The journeys from now to then will be but a crying to God.
Our cherished persons are masks we put on to take off,
And at each Curtain fools applaud our acting, or scoff.
Yet take courage O my immortal soul,
Your hardships are millions of stars’ immediate goal.
One comes to realize that one has been guilty of every crime;
Best to hold one’s accomplishments as trash under the broom of time.
God is deaf, or if he hears, has a memory like a sieve;
But for the slightest service the Master never neglects to give.
The journey to the beloved Master’s door is the best pilgrimage;
If one faces bravely the hardships of the way he will give one courage.
In Stanza 1 is a poetic description of the Way, its tedium and hardships in line 1, and in line 2 the subjective reactions which accompany it, fear accompanying our relationships and moods which keep bogging us down. ‘Much binding in mood’s marsh’ as well as suggesting how we get bogged down in moods is also an echo of a popular BBC comedy, “Much Binding in the Marsh” that ran from 1940-1954, so possibly conveys the notion of humour helping here. ‘Whale-way’ is an example of kenning, a poetic device in Old Norse and Anglo Saxon poetry where a compound poetic metaphor replaces a single noun. Here it stands for the sea. Francis would have found it in Beowulf and in the Norse Sagas. It suggests something of the endurance these ancient heroes needed. The wide Australian plains can seem featureless and directionless, and are cold and friendless at night.
Stanza 2 insists that the reality of our end is God, not the trappings of our physical deaths. This is the uncompromising message if we take seriously the revelations of the God-Men. We are in our cherished selves mere players on a stage in Stanza 3.
Stanza 4 comforts us that compared to those great furnaces of fusion, the stars, at least we are near the final act.
To know that we have ‘been guilty of every crime’, is a reminder not to be proud, but it is not so much the breast beating of a sinner, but a recognition we have participated in the unfolding of the unlimited lila of God’s Infinitude.
Stanza 6 states God ‘has a memory like a sieve’. Maybe this is mostly a comfort because it generally means forgets everything, I guess a sieve can also filter out much gross matter just as the broom of time sweeps away all our follies. At any rate the Divine Master always gives his Grace for real service.
We end the poem on an upbeat note. We will triumph in the journey because of His help.