What God or gods or men will care to hear our tale—
Blind witless fellows on waves’ way who weep and rail?
On land we neither cut our names in permanent stone,
Nor scrawled them in dust for wind to whip into a tune.
Neither our song stirred the hearts of men, nor washes
Your beloved feet—but stains them where it splashes.
We were foolish enough to think that from sin’s ore
We could smelt gold for a ring which you would wear.
We would gladly regress millions of years could our lips
Become a pearl-shelled cup from which your lover sips.
We would go back even to stone if we could trust
That sometime your mercy did turn us into singing dust.
Once we knew you, could see you—ah! love’s glad day.
Now our eyelids feel the sting of seaspray.
These rhyming couplets each with its definite and complete statement are a vehicle which conveys the uncompromising integrity and leanness of Francis’ vision. To seek God is to lose him as owned treasure, as object of personal fulfilment. This is not gorgeous poetry giving us a ‘pearl-shelled cup’ from which to sip. Added to this is a plainness of diction with a preponderance of one syllable word and a bit of alliteration echoing the great Old English poem “The Seafarer” that Pound translated so well.
Why sea faring? The ocean is the immensity of the infinity of God, trackless and disorienting. These ‘blind witless fellows’ have been driven to become restless adventurers. But you won’t get any patting on the back here. Don’t dare think of yourself as an epic hero. We are not even achievers of great art nor have we been able to fully surrender (stanza 2). Our impurities are still part of us, so that no wondrous alchemy can transform our offering into gold. Our songs are hardly inspiring nor have we purified the feet – the message – of God. In fact we stain them, dirt, sweat and tears perhaps (stanza 3). We might vainly wish to regress millions of years to have a clean slate but that is not on (stanza 5). The difficulty of trusting in stanza 6 is not a moral failing but our basic existential situation, our limited creaturehood. We end the poem having only our longing.
This is not a poem of complaint, it is an appraisal of our predicament which the poet shares. This is NOT your captain speaking hoping you enjoy a smooth flight. The modern world values contentment and good adjustment. Here our tormented restless is our precious treasure.
The poem is very much a continuation of the first poem.