Because you are the way as well as the goal, we rejoice;
Because you are the song, in our hearts is always your voice.

Because you are merciful we pray that our enemies
May never know our hardships: the miles of dust on our knees

(Since we became footless); the ache of emptiness
(Since we became headless before your peremptoriness).

Sisyphus had it easy—at least he got his stone nearly to the top;
We go a yard forward, then there is a crevasse into which we drop.

Tantalus was denied water—but of thirst he had only a slight notion;
Wine is poured into our cups—and its bubbles become an ocean:

What was a proffered beaker becomes a breaker that dumps us sprawling
Into the boiling surf with a gutful of salt water to stop our calling.

May our enemies never know our hardships. Yet we rejoice,
For we were free men who became your slaves out of free choice.


A little humorous hyperbole here I suspect. After all most Lovers of God do not feel worse off than Sisyphus and Tantalus, those mythical figures of everlasting punishment and frustration. But very real feeling too as the lover from the very intensity of his love suffers being unable to attain the Beloved.

If Francis could accept and rejoice that God is indeed both the way and the goal he might go beyond the hymning of hardship. But we have to remember that he is writing from within certain poetic traditions. On the one hand is Vaishnavite devotional poetry of self-abasement before the beloved, and on the other the tradition of Persian Sufi poems which deal with things like Majnun’s desperate suffering for Laila.

The conclusion of the poem affirms a rejoicing in the freedom of being a slave. How vivid the images are of the ocean of bubbles of illusions that keep the wine out of reach and the being dumped in boiling surf.

» ghazal #41 »