This is a poem to Baba in His aspect as Shiva, the beautiful and terrible destroyer of all to bring new birth. It is an expression of pure bhaktic devotion, a wish to be annihilated in the Beloved. Such a state has rarely been touched on in the West except for a few mystics.
To match the intensity of the ending – ‘So I desire my work to perish and life to be swallowed by death’, we need to go back to the book of Job –“Let the day perish wherein I was born… Let that day be darkness’. (3:3,4). Here of course it is the suffering of love that destroys the separate self rather than outer torments from God.
Intense feeling makes him wish to go beyond the conventions of art, needing ‘no map of the way’ and discarding symbols such as diving for the pearl at the ocean’s floor. Such stuff melts away in his burning love.
He is overwhelmed by the unreality of everything except the Beloved and wishes to undo creation because his own identity seems just a false name (‘pseudonym’) of God. At least that what seems to be said but at a deeper level he is saying all that is valid in my work is really His authorship, there is no space for anything that is not that. As in so much real poetry there is a double meaning, both a wish for destruction and an affirmation of wonder at God’s design. Seeing forms as the ‘signature’ of God hearkens back to the seventeenth century German mystic who wrote the book The Signature of All Things.
The short lines of the fourth stanza still have the same four beats per line of the rest of the poem and give a sense of the rapid blows of the opposites. The immediate learning from the opposites is our path. Then we do not need theoretical understanding (stanza 5).
Baba is both the ocean of everything as well as the pearl hidden within this ocean. Both are ‘tear-drops on my Beloved’s cheek’ – symbols of the Beloved’s compassionate sorrow. We are sustained not by any quest for a pearl of knowlede but by Baba’s loving suffering.
In an extremely moving final stanza Francis feels as weak and insignificant as a fly’s breath, too weak to stop the Beloved’s sorrow, and asks for death. This has to be responded to with spiritual understanding.
Let my life and work vanish back into the Primal Night
From which the suns sprung — suns, molten blackness lit by love’s light.
The shape of things is merely the signature of my Beloved’s whim.
There is no space left anywhere for my name — except as His pseudonym.
There is not a grain of sand or a sun outside His universal design;
There is not a word that can be improved by any commentary of mine.
Peace and war, loving-kindness and cruelty,
Are kisses and clubs on the road to Reality:
Let both these be increased enough, and I’ll need no map of the way
With place-names in Sanskrit or Persian, nor songs like an ass’s bray.
And for heaven’s sake stop all talk about the ocean and the pearl you seek:
Both the ocean and the pearl are two tear-drops on my Beloved’s cheek.
I would brush those tears away, but my hand has no more strength than a fly’s breath;
So I desire my work to perish and life to be swallowed by death.