How easy was wayfaring with the crackling fire mocking
The rising wind outside, and glinting on a silk stocking.
Our host was very expert in mixing drinks
And in promoting from the conversation double thinks.
He talked as though he knew all states and stations
And all our ardencies, hopes and frustrations.
I did not realize that he was God playing a game
Till I saw him standing aloof like a column of flame—
A flame in grief because of our cupidity,
Our bauble values and general stupidity.
The rage of a thousand wasted lives torrented in my breast,
And I knew that only at his feet would I ever again find rest.
He glanced at me sideways with a glance remote yet warm
Which said, You will only find me out there in the midst of the storm.
Armchair travelling can seem a pleasant addition to life’s security, comfort and sensual pleasures. We are offered a tempting variety of experiences (mixed drinks) and all sorts of enticing subtleties (double thinks). It sounds ready made for all the richness of our natures, as our guide impresses us with his knowledge.
But like the ancient Israelites we will have many years of wandering in a wilderness, where God manifested himself as a column of flame to guide them through the night. The poem is imaging the radical otherness of the divine. Cleansing fire has to be His manifestation to cleanse us of greeds and folly. (see too poem 18)
In the second last stanza the poet switches to a personal note with real feeling, the self-lacerating rage at his wasted lives and he turns in dependence to the Master. Only by struggling with the storm of the exposed journey will the Master be found.
The host, the Master, may entice us in our armchair but He only reveals His true nature out here in the storm.