Here, just before the ‘chasm poems’, Francis returns to his key image of dust which he hymned in 65, 66, and 67. A concrete tangible image like this can be used to build up a wealth of remembrances of Baba. It is a reminder of our utter destitution before our Master; traditionally dust was sprinkled on the head for sorrow and abasement, and used as a symbol of lowly mortality: ashes to ashes, dust to dust. For the poet it is also a reminder of the chasm, the immeasurable gulf between himself and God. Of course to balance this is the joyful knowledge of His presence amongst us, even if not yet seen within us. The traditional symbol is transformed into something positive, not just a reminder of our origins but of our necessary aim, to become as dust under His feet.
In a moment of aberration I thought I saw the Beloved,
Quite forgetting that from my station no glimpse may be had of the Beloved.
Even the dust can only long for sight of that Beloved face.
And I am not dust but still stone: dust is my dwelling-place.
Francis of course had had time of close contact with Baba’s physical presence but we have all felt at moments His intimacy:
True, I have spoken of the Beloved’s smile and of His flashing glance.
These were moments of encouragement to continue my age-long dance.
I have also spoken about nights of song and of the wine He would pour.
Unless sometimes I got drunk, how could I have remained sitting before His door?
We are not able nor ready to see His face, but the mercy of God adopts a human form as Master.
Even the longing to see God is a boon not easily won.
And without the Master’s protection how could you endure that sun?
Now we jump beyond normal thinking to the knife-edge dilemmas of being in love with God:
Not to see the Beloved is to remain among the dead:
To see Him even for one moment is to lose one’s head.
What to say of those who continuously see beloved God’s face –
Who long with the very blood of their souls for union’s Grace?
We can see that there has been quite a leap here from the simple humility at the beginning. Here is no imagined acceptance of sitting by His door with occasional bits of reward. Here the immensity of the encounter with the divine moves into stark impossibilities. We can’t even imagine those higher ones who can live within the tension of beholding His face and still being consumed with longing to be united with Him. Yet the poem manages to convey to us at least a flavour of these immensities.
A successful poem creates for us a tension, a riddling enigmatic openness. The breakthrough when and if it comes will not be through a prose explanation. It will be through new images, questions, odd connections, empathy. It reveals what we only surmised before, it goes beyond imagination and conception by setting up vistas beyond our ordinary practical thinking, even in this relatively non-showy poem by Francis. It works on us at the end with an unanswered question.