The mighty education of the soul; training in patience began even way back in the stone state! This was the first necessary quality in the immense journey to the ‘rosegarden’s gate’. The rose garden is the dwelling place of the Beloved in the long medieval poem La Roman de la Rose, and more importantly in Saadi’s wonderful Persian poem The Gulistan.
And the whole process is conducted by the Beloved out of His Compassion! What joy for our primitive consciousness to dance in the wind in the ecstasy of movement. Then in verse 3 to learn the wonder of lowliness as a creepy-crawly, bowed ‘prostrate’.
Movement in water taught us to ‘imbibe’ the fluidity of water, ready to later drink His Ocean. As birds we learnt the art of ascent towards Him.
All this is described in first person singular terms, Francis’ personal realization. The poem as a whole links our individual experience to the revealed cosmic epic.
The vivifying nature of animal passion is neatly captured in the description ‘earth-hugging’.
And then the hammer blow of the final verse which returns him once more to stone! We avoid any facile notion of a triumphant progress of upward enlightenment such as was current very much at the time the poem was written in the writings of the Jesuit Teilhard de Chardin. Francis understood how impressionistic and metaphorical, how much a ‘teaching story’ Meher Baba’s account of evolution is in God Speaks.
We are turned to stone to be chiselled to dust. The poet’s own labours with ringing steel on Sydney sandstone gave him much experience of this sort of music.
Only in man-shape can we be conscious of God’s design.
I began life as a stone. That was when I learnt how to wait.
Without patience I wouldn’t have arrived at the rosegarden’s gate
Then the Beloved split the stone with his compassionate glance,
And I sprang up as a grass-blade in my first ecstatic dance.
Then He advanced me to worm-state to crawl on the forest floor:
By that lowliness I am now prostrate in front of His door.
Next He formed me into a fish that I might imbibe the notion
Of water and one day long to return to the divine ocean.
Next He gave me a bird-form to conquer distance with strong wing-beat,
And loving space and freedom, to soar to find them at His feet.
Then He clothed me with earth-hugging flesh to know animal passion
So that one day I would approach and adore him in man-fashion.
Now He has given me man-shape and turned me back into stone
Singing under blows on my way to dusthood before his throne.