I suppose my gallows-humor will not be much relished
By those who like the bare facts of love clothed and embellished.
I am referring to those who prefer tea-talk wayfaring
To the raft and the wave, to blistered feet and sightless staring.
But hasn’t Jesus already told them, Not peace, but a sword?
Do they expect less than death from this Man of the Silent Word?
Jesus was God Absolute—but the Same One here now
Must turn over a vaster anti-God acreage with his plough.
By God! this is no time for talking about how sweetly love grew;
If you escape the bombs, don’t look back—this Man will be stalking you.
For what else do you think he comes to this rotten muck-heap of places?
Do you think he enjoys our stinking breaths and desire-swollen faces?
When you talk tea-talk about love and the beloved you would own,
Each verb you use is a hammer on each coffin-nail of a noun.
‘Gallows-humor’ is grim and ironical humour in a desperate or hopeless situation. The savage and satirical tone of the poem does qualify for this description. The God-Man takes on scary and apocalyptic dimension.
The irony becomes even stronger in the last stanza. The approach to the God of judgment as a cosy bit of prettified speculation, that can be possessed by the self-satisfied soul, is an imprisonment in one’s self constructed coffin.
The poem itself acts as a hammer on the brain. The violent imagery conveys the need for the ploughing in of all our corruption.
Francis was a man of action, hating mere chattering schools of “torpid, indoors, tea-tabular felicity”. The path is a purgation to be suffered and endured. He acts as a correction to the whole New Age paradigm of self flowering and to the academic appropriation of religious studies. He was capable of a Beckettian hatred of hypocrisy.
The Jesus quotation is Matthew 10; 34.