Poem 34

My journey to you had been through thousands of trials requiring thousands of courages;
And you asked me, when I arrived, did I know about the rising price of cabbages.

I had pierced my heart with holes, making it a flute for your pleasure;
And found I should have made it into a cup, for wine is your treasure.

I came to you in rags, and found you surrounded by the well-dressed.
I acquired wealth; and you said, “By poverty is one’s worth assessed.”

You did not speak in parables, but discoursed in plain speech;
But your simplest words were utterly beyond my reach.

You said, “Hang around. One day I will make you a leader of a host.”
And I found myself one of a witless crowd crying, Lost, lost, lost!

Somehow the days run on into months and the years pass
And I still stand at your door with a held-out empty glass:

Yet at your word the universe of stars streamed out to light
Only my path to you, Beloved, and our secret night.

The deliberate bathos of the opening makes for lines everyone remembers and enjoys. There is a fine contrast between epic imagination and finding the Avatar in the midst of the ordinary, a lesson many have to learn. A central concern of the poetry is to disabuse us of any notion that the efforts we make under our own steam do much good. Our initiatives and judgments have finally to be discarded. We get it wrong because the Master delights in confounding our expectations just as also does this poem. Verse 2 suggests a contrast between asceticism and divine revelling, but as verse 3 states the Master is beyond all opposites. He is also beyond cleverness and ambition.

The tone of the poem is deliberately light and playful but then in verse 6 we realise the underlying seriousness, we have been left without the anticipated rewards and time has passed and we remain as supplicants. At times we seem to be reduced to spiritual beggary.

Then comes the final verse. Here there is a wonderful effect with the skilful use of the run on line

Yet at your word the universe of stars streamed out to light
Only my path to you, Beloved, and our secret night.

All discouragement and suffering is suddenly swept away in the intensity of this inner rendezvous. Its directness emphasised by the commas before and after ‘Beloved’. The lord of the universe creates the universe to recognise Himself as us, us as Himself, a wonderful darkness beyond even created light.

The mind’s thoughts are banished in the heart’s knowledge.