In the Bible and in many other traditions we have the story of a time of innocence or golden age before a fall into separation from the divine, and in the Indian traditions there is a general recognition we are in the Dark Age or Kali Yuga. Francis takes up this theme of a time when we did not have to labour to win through to God or have the horrors of modern war.
However he does not call this ancient time the Golden Age, instead saying the Sun Age. This is because he is making the bold statement that now, the present moment is the Golden Age, since the God-Man’s grace is here to transmute us. It is not a matter for searching (lamps) or regret (sorrow) but to rejoice in being a lover of the Real in the present.
We look back from our dark times to the sunlit ages of substance and ripe days
When we spoke the language of the heart and knew beast- and bird-talk; and labour was praise.
And God was not a hard Bargainer nor the doctors’ Abstraction;
And there was no Beloved to seek, for love had not to be won.
The ‘Doctors’ are of course the theological doctors of the church. God has been seen as having to be earned or as an idea rather than a person. The next line though prepares us for the twist the poem takes for it is our privilege to seek the Beloved; out of the difficulty of our darkness is His shining. God only incarnates when things are really bad.
Wars were there – they began in the Beginning with the Word’s Great Strife –
But not crucifixion on barbed wire and bombs to roast one alive.
The ‘Great Strife’ is the great dynamic inversion of divinity into the Nothing at creation. But modern war is something different. Francis had lived through two World Wars and the overshadowing menace of nuclear destruction.
Now God has to be born as a Man every few hundred years
To break through our brain-fog, re-light our eyes and wipe away their tears.
The expression ‘wipe away their tears’ is an echo of the beautiful verses about the coming of the Lord in our midst in Revelations 21, 3-4: “…and he shall dwell with them, and they shall be his peoples, and God himself shall be with them, and be their God: and he shall wipe away every tear from their eyes; and death shall be no more;…” Putting it with ‘brain-fog’ brings it nicely down to the plain speaking of Francis.
We cannot go back to the Sun Age; and though our times are raw and thin,
We can make God-man our divine beloved to die for and win.
In which case we will become greater than the pure men of old –
For to love God-Man perfectly is to turn lead into gold.
Let him finish quickly with the matter of lamps and sorrow:
For the lover is a man of today, not of tomorrow.
We don’t need to be searching through obscurity with lamps (our eyes are re-lighted) nor do we benefit from lamenting, for we are most fortunate. This is very close to Dr Ghani’s The Song of the New Life where “we invite all calamities and difficulties…to live in the active present…the present enjoyment of suffering”. Our dark times are lit by His truth.