What a great phrase “Love Street” is. According to noted authority on Francis, Sam Saunders, Francis began by calling it “Lovers’ Lane” but then no doubt taking his cue from Hafiz changed it to Love Street.
That day when you first opened your door to me in Love Street!
Your glances were the promise of summer heavy with grapes and wheat.
This is a strong poem and easily carries along its six stresses per line. Strong, but like so many of the poems it deals with a “liminal” situation, a threshold. Francis frequently uses images of the shore between land and sea or the tavern threshold between us and the Beloved. Here the drama is in the balance between the memory of the presence and then the continuing absence of the Beloved. Yet this poem makes a strong affirmation that sweeps away any doubt or frustration.
The poem opens with the promise of spiritual fruition. But as Francis insistently reminds us the spiritual life is not a reaping but a stripping away. The second verse conveys the bliss but also the dissolution takes place when divine and human meet. No easy abundance but a dearth, as the following verse evokes an Australian summer of drought.
Smiling you poured out for me a little glass of wine;
And I left my lips on your doorstep, and my eyes in the dust to shine.
How powerful was that sip as shown by the extravagance of the language. Extravagant but effective and fresh, embodying for us the experience. Then comes the dramatic contrast:
Summer came round all right – with dust-storms darkening the skies,
And every fence wearing a woollen coat, and the crows’ harsh cries.
Suddenly the realism of an Australian summer drought where the lambs die from the crows and the wool dryly festoons the wire fences. A parched land, where the absence of life giving rain stands for the barren feeling of separation from the loving presence. Next, a switch of metaphors:
My grief has turned the plain into a sea; my sighs are ships message-freighted to you.
But I know that beyond all seasons’ betrayal is the night I have awaited from you.
Grief makes us lose our bearings in the flux of time. The long lines scurry along like wafted thought. Night is traditionally the time of uniting of lovers and eagerly awaited. Here I think it conveys something more, the extinction of self. He is adrift on a sea of longing. It is a longing that waits not for a foison of abundance but in the serene knowledge of a night beyond all sensory things.
But the thought will not restore him to the tavern:
Soft breeze, though you carry my tale to my Beloved’s feet
You must pass on – you may not linger in that holy street.
And now the integrity of the poet’s experience reasserts itself with a strong attack on those proud of just living in the mind. The followers of intellect are described in the last two verses, firstly in terms of a failed dry crop that has been ploughed back into the soil. They are the ones who approach God in terms of their own judgments. They are the ones who like Jesus’ ‘evil and adulterous generation’ (Mt 12:39) are looking for a sign. They demand miracles but are not open to the miraculous taste of the divine within the cup of the heart. Baba’s miracle is the inner one and one sip will outweigh all doubt.
How the awakened heart suffers! At the heart of the path are the clashing opposites of experience. This poem is even more dramatic and passionate than the last couple. But waste not pity on the poet, he is alive whilst all those head-trippers might as well be dead.
God pity those who still question whether your ‘doctrine’ is sound.
They are so earth-sunk that only their dried ears stick up out of the ground.
If your beloved is God, they mumble, let him give us a sign.
So I tell them (though they can’t hear) of the Miracle of the Glass of Wine.
Meher Baba had said that those who try to attain God through mind are like people trying to see with their ears!