For those who respond from their hearts to the teachings of Meher Baba, the understanding, interpreting and engaging with Francis’ verse is rewarding fun because we have some knowledge of the wonderful wholeness of which it is a part. We can recognise that we are in the same boat as he is – sympathize with his predicament, laugh with his rueful humour, rejoice with his hard won conviction. What insights we can share from within this extraordinary perspective!
The young banana plants are birds with green wings rising from the ground;
Such was my spirit when I still thought that beloved God could be found.
As Robert Rouse tells us, the opening metaphor comes from a letter his wife Lorna wrote to Francis from Avatar’s Abode. As he finely says, Francis “constructed a ghazal that compared the eagerness of youth to the more mature realization, that spirituality is a waiting game, dependent on His grace – in the meantime, we ready ourselves through work, work dedicated to Him, whatever work that happens to be. Francis sent the poem to Lorna as a gift, to thank her for her inspirational image.” (The Water Carrier p.67)
The note of chastened wisdom that is struck in the first poem is characteristic of the whole volume. These are songs of experience which carry both lament and affirmation. The beautiful opening image is one of ascending, upward to God from earth, reaching towards Him in a romantic response to natural beauty. The countering of this in the second line pulls us up short, it sounds such a note of disillusionment.
But what happens next is that Francis expresses his destitution through imagery of striking richness and originality:
Now that I have strained the universe through my heart-sieve without finding a trace
Of his Reality, I have ceased from search and await his date of Grace.
Out there is nowhere, nothing – only the Beloved’s shadow
Embroidered with star-stitches which the darkness causes to glow.
The vivid image of the heart sieve conveys the long process we need to learn that the universe is only illusion. ‘Heart-sieve’ is a powerful physical image making us feel the shaking through of all outward experiences. Nothing is caught by the sieve of the heart and it remains empty awaiting the Beloved. Even the spectacular garment of the night sky shows only empty opposites. But this does not negate the utter wonder of the whole void process because through it God, as us, comes to find Himself:
When God first threaded our souls on his breath for a necklace,
He gave every one his own beauty and His singing-place.
Stanza 4 with a wonderful original metaphor of stitching (following on from the ‘embroidery’ of the previous stanza) again has that physical immediacy for an imagined cosmology. I suspect that the capital letter in ‘His’ is a typo as the meaning is better without the word referring to the Divine.
With the first breaking of His Silence there streamed forth the light which became my eyes;
When He breaks his Silence this time may I be hurled beyond mere paradise.
In unforgettable words the poem affirms we each are made to sing our unique song, but it is a song to praise His descending Grace, not our ascending efforts. The streaming forth of the light energy of creation becoming not just the jellied orbs of our eyes but their miraculous conscious seeing as well. The wonder of the Beloved is beyond any experience, even that of paradise. Being hurled when Baba breaks His Silence might make us wonder what sort of event the poet expected. But what really is the breaking of His Silence? Why does he say ‘every one’ and not ‘everyone’?
The Fall is the only knowledge we need, not the Biblical fall into sin but the great fall of the One into the fractured mirror of creation, the immensity of the gulf between our contingent selves and the Beloved. This opening of a ‘Pandora’s box’ is the ‘one error’ referred to in the next stanza.
The cup of wine in the final verse is of course a draught of inspiration, but for us Westerners so much more – the sacrament that conveys the actual Presence of God in the present moment. This is what the verse seems to fashion for us, something that will carry a taste at least of this inebriating fragrance. More than this though, we all have to fashion a container by the work of our hands, not necessarily through poetry. The New Life must be lived and it is the labour phase of the New Life that Baba has left for us to live; this work can hollow out our hearts as a cup to receive His Grace. The paradox conveyed is that only the wisdom that one has learnt to bear His absence can feel His Presence. God reveals Himself only to the patient.
Overall the poem conveys something of the flavour of Meher Baba’s New Life. There are no shortcuts to being in His Company, only patient sacrifice and the accepting of the helplessness of our own efforts.
All works are but attempted corrections of one initial error.
This is the sum of knowledge: Truth is in the dust before the Master’s door.
Since hands must work, use them to fashion a cup for wine.
Then await His favour, and all other offers decline.
This ‘one initial error’ is the creation. “Creation is really a mighty joke, but the laugh is at my own expense – and now the joke is proving a burden on my chest.” (The Everything and the Nothing, 41) It is a fortunate fall because it leads to the coming miracle, “My miracle will be to make you become me.”(Listen Humanity, 86). This is indeed a hurling beyond mere paradise.
The clarity and the wise acceptance conveyed are helped in the series of calm rhyming statements.
The regular metre helps too; by this I mean that it works best with six stresses in each line. You may not agree but try marking out the accented syllables and see how this regularity gives the poem poise when read aloud. In the short last line this gives it the emphasis of finality.