How simple was this matter of love in the beginning—
Glad night, sweet sleep and awaking to the magpies’ singing.
The sun rose each morning as a peal of bells from the sky,
Calling our spirits to another day’s glad journey.
None of us thought that that journey would lead to this bitter
Helplessness, with the stoutest an eyeless palm-joined sitter.
On these plains there is not even silence and peace—but love’s scorn,
And the crack of the Bushman’s voice breaking camp in the chill dawn.
But you can’t go it alone. Go on with him, or return home.
For many a do-it-alone one a sand dune is now his tomb.
We had read about oases and stars like lamps at night;
No one told us of the dust-storms that blot out the sun’s light.
Yet we pity the stay-at-home with his fireside chair—
For him the night wind never comes perfumed with desert-scented hair.
Much Arabic poetry captures the beauty of the desert and Francis too affirms it at the end of the poem. It is partly the beauty of the desert night, sparseness, emptiness and poverty, which is felt in the Australian bush. This vastness is where many become lost and perish without a guide.
In poem after poem Francis points to the gulf between imaginative dream and reality on the path. What begins as a joyful affirmation of a new day in one’s life can turn into a dryness and sense of being abandoned. But there is a hidden glory in our impoverishment.
The Master here is like the head drover implacably driving us on the immense journey. It is not just a journey of pilgrimage. As he says at the beginning it is a matter of love. Ah the perfume in the darkness for these travellers!