These are mature men gathered round the camp-fire tonight,
Men with discriminating palates, trained ears and love-sight.
You cannot serve them any old song, any sort of wine,
They are connoisseurs of vintages, tone rhythm and line.
They have been under a master vintner-poet-musician since childhood;
Their ancestors were all hermit-kings, men of fierce spirit and mild blood.
The qualifications for the path of love are these:
A gale of destruction to oneself, to others a soft dawn-breeze.
When a man can suffer heart’s tempests while his forehead smiles
He is fit for sea travel, deserts and mountain defiles.
When he becomes both the fabled lion and lamb at play
He will meet that master who can set his feet on the way:
That master poet-musician who is a seller of old wine
For the price of a love-song that is true in tone, rhythm and line.
Ah yes, but where are they these wise master craftsmen of the art of the way, the inspirers and instructors who use the beauty of rhythm and image to lead others on the way? It would seem that they belong to the past, to the courts of kings.
Francis’ vision here is of what can make possible such aristocrats of the spirit. Behind the skills of these master craftsmen lies nobility of character. Fierceness to self and mildness to others, lion and lamb and so on. True art springs out of such.
Traditional art, like philosophy, was inseparable from goodness, contemplation and the wisdom of living. This assumption would be news for most contemporary purveyors of art and learning.
Our poet paid great attention to ‘tone, rhythm and line’. It need to be read with this constantly in mind. And he doesn’t just mean poetry, but the art of living as well.