Thursday, April 24, 2014

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I've said before that I'm more into fiction than I am poetry, which is probably a bit unusual for someone who spent too many years studying English literature. But there are a few poets I treasure--Emily Dickinson and Yeats come to mind, and I've told you before about my affinity for Philip Larkin. Another one is Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest who wrote gorgeous poetry back in the nineteenth century, but struggled throughout his adult life with the conflict between his nearly irrepressible desire/need to write poetry and the humility and self-abnegation he felt his religious calling required. I could go on and on, but if you're interested, there's lots of info about him out there on the web.

Anyway, I was reminded of him earlier this week and since then lines from his poems have been floating around in my head, so I thought I would share a couple with you. It was hard to pick just two. Google "Pied Beauty" and "God's Grandeur" if you want to read more. I'm not always sure exactly what he means (who is "him" in "half curls earth for him"? the beholder? the behold-ee?) but it's just so stunningly lovely to read. I think of his poems as poetry of incarnation--the Divine made manifest around us.


Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
  Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
  Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
  Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
  And eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a 
Rapturous love's greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

And the azurous hung hills are his world wielding shoulder
  Majestic - as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! - 
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
  Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
  And hurls for him, O half curls earth for him off under his feet.

To Christ Our Lord

I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
  dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
  Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
  As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
  Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
  Buckle! And the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous. O my chevalier!

  No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
  Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.


  1. Hopkin's untitled poem referred to as "Carrion Comfort" came very close to saving my life at a time when I was struggling with my faith in God and with depression. Hopkins chooses not to feast on despair --that carrion comfort.
    Hurrahing in Harvest is a new blessing for me. Thanks for that!!

    1. I had to google Carrion Comfort, I'm not sure I've ever read it. Love the beginning:

      NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
      Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
      In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
      Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

      "not choose not to be"-- that is excellent. But after that, wow, that is one dense poem. I'll chew on it for a few days and see if I can parse it better.

    2. I had to memorize it to fully get it. I was in a very despairing place, so the first lines grabbed me. It is worth fighting through.

  2. I can see it now. You are going to make me read, and possibly like, poetry.

  3. It was the first part that drew me. We were studying it during my summer with Wheaton-in-England. It wasn't until I'd practically memorized it that I untangled most of the things Hopkins is saying. It was worth the effort.