Francis follows an intense path of devotion, a path of pure bhakti. He comes back time and again to the plight of his longing for the Beloved, always with something fresh to say.
Here he says that whatever the torments of the quest which can seem so barren of reward, it cannot efface the memory of the Beloved’s kiss, not a literal kiss but the touch of His presence, expressed in a lover’s terms. Even extreme longing is preferable to the dryness of unlove, for the torment of dissatisfaction points to the reality of union.
The third verse explains that the opacity of the world reflects his own blindness, yet he knows that he is only sustained in existence by God’s compassion.
His tears continue even though he knows the evanescence of all emotions and even though he knows that such longing is a vital part of the direct path to God. Such knowledge of the preciousness of affliction, even that, cannot cure the pain of longing, verse 5.
The touching message of the last two stanzas is that he is content to wait until the wondrous experiences of this divine advent are finally wound down. He no longer needs even the ecstasies of the winecup , only the embrace of union into the Beloved.
It is the Beloved who lights the fire that sustains us:
Long ago this futile quest would have been relinquished,
But the fire lit by one kiss could not be extinguished.
Love does seem to run dry, yet the breathtaking centrality of this meeting to our little lives!
The barrenness of unlove is worse than the dryness of love’s draught.
The act of Creation was only to bring our meeting about.
This world of illusion is part of the Master’s mercy –
I have seen that God modeled the world in the shape of ignorance;
But also, that by my Master’s compassion is my continuance.
In the next two stanza griefs transformed by love:
Although I cry I know that the world’s tenderest affections
Are as dew in the sun: that in love’s pain is love’s pure directions.
In reality, separation is but union’s prediction.
So love’s tears are pearls, and rubies are the heart’s affliction.
(A neat inversion in that last line).
In the last two stanzas the elegiac note is enriched by the longed for meeting. Old fashioned imagery like the ‘sower’ recalls Jesus’ parable of the sower (Mt13:3…):
When the harvest is gathered, and the song of the grinder is low,
And the plough is broken, and the sower goes out no more to sow,
And the doors are shut in the street along which you used to go,
Come to me then, Beloved, and kiss me again, and love’s secret at last I shall know.