Poem 58

This continues the mood. To be aware of the immensity of our journey through time is to be free from it, to realize a present moment that is not under the tyranny of desire.

To remain still, though busy, with no thoughts behind or before, singing the Beloved’s beauty:
This is the sole occupation of the Love Street dust-dwellers, their only duty.

No thoughts behind – yet the clear knowledge of the divine wayfaring;
No thoughts before – because of the Beloved’s infinite caring.

In the next stanzas he takes images from both the Quran (Surah 6.59, ‘not a leaf falls’) and the Bible (Mt. 10:29 ‘not a sparrow falls’) to forcefully convey Baba’s new message, God not just as watchful providence but as the very being and presence that partakes in everything that happens.

Not a leaf trembles nor a sparrow falls except by His trembling and falling;
Not a lover sings nor a loved one calls except by His singing and calling.

Nothing at all can be, nor appear as a dream, without His being and dreaming.
We know that he is absolute being, but we only see His seeming.

The last three stanza bring out something of the paradoxes that the poet (and we) face in acknowledging that all is done by the omniscient and omnipresent God. Our singing is an actionless action but this homage of our understanding prostrated before him is all we can do.

We have busied ourselves in the world all our lives – but songs are our only cash;
And what will they buy except maybe one day the Beloved’s whim’s lightning-flash?

Maybe is maybe; as far as we’re concerned our songs have only entertainment value.
Sometimes He rewards us with wine – but sufficient is his permission to continue.

After a billion years of wayfaring it is no hardship continuing to wait.
Keeping busy in song-stillness, with no thoughts behind or before, it is never late.

What a distance this is from Shelley’s proud claims ‘poets are the unacknowledged legislators of the world.’ The Promethean pride in man and the despairing cynicism left when it collapsed are superseded in Francis’ devotion. It is a devotion which does not make claims on the divine. Again cheerful humour is the concluding note; having waited so long filling in a timeless moment is no great hardship.

Sometimes the moment may bring us a sip of wine but that depends on God’s pleasure, not ours. Freedom lies in not having thought trapped in memory or desire, the freedom to be in the present.

All this is expressed by Francis with great economy. The more we grant his poems concentrated attention the more he can pass on a complex experience directly to us. This is not ‘art for art’s sake’, it is art for salvation. Not since Herbert and Vaughan in the seventeenth century has mainstream English poetry tried such a thing, to liberate us from our egoic grasping selves into God.