WORLDS OF WIDE SEPARATION: THE ‘CHASM’ POEMS
Dominating this late collection of poems is what we might call the supreme personality of Godhood. Like worshippers of Ram or Krishna, Francis relates to the divine at an intensely personal level, content to bear any burden of separation for the sake of the unimaginable bliss of union. Let us plunge straight in and look at the great ‘chasm poems’ 74-77. Unlike earlier worshippers of past Avatars he has the vastly enlarged perspective of the evolutionary history of himself and his species. This when coupled with the radical demand that Meher Baba made on his followers who wanted to lead a New Life in Him, that they expect no material or spiritual reward, produced poetry of stark surrender and austere beauty, offering a confronting challenge to the reader.
The immensity of a past that had no beginning,
Of a future which will have no end: this is my singing;
This, and the lover who has escaped from illusion and now faces
The fearful chasm between him and where eternal union’s grace is.
This is the theme given by the Beloved wine-master last night
When the song of the demijohn had pushed the world far from our sight.
On a whim the Ocean of Being begot a Sea of Illusion
So that in the everythingness of Is would be nothingness’s inclusion.
Nothing had to be poured into nothing so that nothing would seem
To have real existence. And nothing remained nothing— the Great Dream.
Nothing had to be poured into nothing so that Everything would prove
That the lover has no existence except in the Beloved’s love.
God is. And even the idea of ‘oneness’ betrays a confusion.
Any words, Francis, but, God is the beloved who is, are an intrusion.
A vast perspective can make thing difficult, facing the immensity of time and the unreality of the phenomenal world! At the beginning when he speaks of ‘a past that had no beginning’ he is not speaking of the creation which did have a beginning but of the eternal time of the soul as part of the Infinite. The lover who has escaped from illusion confronts this measureless time. ‘Chasm’ is italicized to draw our attention to the sequence of poems dwelling on this. The abstract frame of this poem contrasts with the more immediate imagery of the next three poems.
The ‘theme’ he announces in verse 3 includes both the illimitable cosmos of verse 1 and the resulting situation of the lover who recognises his own unreality in verse 2.
Spiritual intoxication from the wine-master’s demijohn seems to have revealed naught for his comfort as a poet, just the tangle of contrasting abstract words – everythingness, nothingness, nothing into nothing, which emphasize the discontinuity between the unconditioned Absolute and the illusory dream world of objects.
Yet hidden in this is that even though the words falter and ‘betray a confusion’, lovers still know how wonderful it is to have no existence except the beloved. For inebriates it is not at all a bleak poem. The poem itself will only be an ‘intrusion’ of words unless the reader can participate in it by saying ‘God is the beloved who is’.
The addressing of himself by name at the end is a traditional ghazal touch. Overall the poem has the simplicity and directness of a bard chanting a medieval lay.
Almost every poem bears out the truth of the title of the book.