This bubble with which the poem opens is not your ordinary bubble of worldly illusions. A bubble of unreality it still is but one called forth by the poet’s sigh, that is, by his loving pity for the procession of sham glory in worldly battles. Irony is evident in the second verse as he describes bombs as being ‘crafted’ and the lads as drafted, the horrors of modern war far removed from chivalric battles. The ‘high’ songs here are very different from the call to ‘arise!’ in verse 5 where the true height is reached by abasing the self, down into dust. Poetry loves the paradoxes of the spiritual path.
Verse 3 is an abrupt switch to a day vision, with more irony. Those who come to God’s garden to enjoy do not realize the beauty is inseparable from suffering. To accept the Beloved’s invitation is an invitation to a beheading – our own. We are told sardonically we will be free of all our lacks. Of course the truth is there in verse 6 where we lose and lose but welcome loss. To be removed from the wheel of senseless suffering also involves suffering, draining the cup of loss.
In the last verse the poet is admonished in a down to earth way. The cup of suffering must be emptied and even the glass washed, before the wine-master will fill it with his true vintage. It is of course the heart which must be emptied of all else than the Beloved. ‘Handsome’ here suggests more than pleasing looking but also distinguished, impressive and substantial.
One night in a wine-bubble blown by my sigh
I saw the procession of nations go by.
How brave were their flags! How finely their spears and bombs were ‘crafted’!
How high the songs of the widows-to-be of the lads drafted.
You who come out for the day to enjoy the garden of God,
How could you know that the roses have been painted with my blood?
Come unto the Beloved all you whose necks are ready for the axe.
With one stroke you’ll be free from wants, grievances and lacks.
The wheel of the law goes on turning until you stop the thing.
To stop it, awake! arise! And become dust and sing.
I wake up each morning wondering what loss is in store for me today,
What loss the Beloved has planned to entice me further along the way.
Not until you have drunk the last drop of loss, Francis, and washed the glass
Will the handsome wine-master fill it from his special cask.