Posts tagged ‘Hopkins’

November 10, 2013

be beginning to despair

Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. I heard this recited twice with remarkable mastery by a new friend this past week (once late at night and once early in the morning). These recitations were among top “experiences” of my life thus far.

The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
(Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well)

THE LEADEN ECHO

HOW to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

THE GOLDEN ECHO

Spare!
There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that ’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,
Yonder.

Advertisements
April 12, 2012

a few lilies blow

Heaven—Haven

A nun takes the veil

 
    I HAVE desired to go
      Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
    And a few lilies blow.

    And I have asked to be
      Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
    And out of the swing of the sea.

By Gerard Manley Hopkins.

November 17, 2011

the world is like an oilpress

I’m not sure that Augustine lists some of the most intense and subtle pressures in this world, and I wish that he more fully identified the splendor (or the inevitable response that this splendor elicits from the meek and hungry): the ongoing expression of broken hallelujahs under pressure (as sung about by Leonard Cohen). However, this image of Christ (“another sort of man”) under pressure is profoundly true and echos the “ooze of oil” that is so central an image in the poem “God’s Grandeur” by Hopkins.

Thus the world is like an oilpress: under pressure. If you are the dregs of the oil you are carried away through the sewer; if you are genuine oil you will remain in the vessel. But to be under pressure is inevitable. Observe the dregs, observe the oil. Pressure takes place ever in the world, as for instance, through famine, war, want, inflation, indigence, mortality, rape, avarice; such are the pressures on the poor, the worries of the states: we have evidence of them. …We have found men who grumble under these pressures and who say: “how bad are these Christian times!” …Thus speak the dregs of the oil which run away through the sewer; their color is black because they blaspheme: they lack splendor. The oil has splendor. For here another sort of man is under the same pressure and friction which polishes him, for is it not the very friction which refines him?

From Augustine’s Sermons (ed. Denis, xxiv. 11. and quoted in Meaning in History by Karl Lowith).

July 27, 2011

airy abeles set on a flare

The magi would have understood this imperative to look at the stars. Abeles (or white poplars) are a Eurasian salicaceous tree (Populus alba) having palmately (“like a palm with fingers extended”) lobed leaves covered on the underside with dense silvery-white hairs. Flares are “a fire or blaze of light used especially to signal, illuminate, or attract attention.” These silvery sentinels stand signaling, calling us to notice and take heed.

The Starlight Night

Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
  O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
  The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
  Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
  Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.

Buy then! bid then! — What? — Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
  Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
  Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89) wrote with ecstatic vision and deep hope. This is a poem that I wish to wander through more slowly and more often. Angels and stars frequently overlap in scripture (even as the phrase “heavenly hosts” can mean either the stars or the armies of God, see the passage below). In the stories of Tolkien and Lewis, stars give their daughters in marriage to kings, sing order and beauty into the world and lend their light to the greatest jewels of the gods and elves.

The “heavenly hosts” made famous by English translations of the Bible have two distinct meanings: one is a reference to the stars; the other to God’s celestial armies, presumably of angels. Sometimes the two references seem to merge. In fact, the two meanings of the Hebrew phrase for “host of heaven” … reflect a probable association between angels and stars and planets in the Hebrew imagination. The heavenly hosts of stars, moreover, sometimes have associations of idolatry, since surrounding pagan nations were given to astrology and worship of the heavenly bodies. (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery by Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit and Tremper Longman, page 372.)

Journey of the Magi by Sassetta, c. 1435 (tempera and gold on wood; 8 1/2 x 11 3/4 in.; Metropolitan Museum of Art):

The Starry Night by Van Gogh, June 1889 (oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/4 in.; Museum of Modern Art, New York; completed near the mental asylum of Saint-Remy 13 months before Van Gogh’s death):

June 21, 2011

ooze of oil

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

God’s Grandeur

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

It’s a violation of this blog’s purpose to include much commentary on the passages, but I needed to write a prose reflection on this poem by Hopkins today and will include this gushy first draft (any feedback in the next couple of days will help me improve it before delivery):

Hopkins’ title and first line taken together form a simple chiasm (“God’s grandeur … grandeur of God”) with the “charged world” surrounded and throbbing at the center. Charge is an electrical term. It builds up over time. It is carried, potent and evenly dispersed (yet invisible), throughout the object.

Continuing this electrical (or scientific) language with “flame out,” “shining” and “foil,” we nonetheless shift to natural sunlight as the real source of the bright, piercing light. The world is only a mirror. We notice, too, the first introduction of violence as the cause of the brightness. Shook foil, creased and vibrating, reflects the light with almost overwhelming glory. It is the shaking that releases the potential, the built-up and hidden charge within.

This building up of a charge is echoed with “it gathers to a greatness.” Only now, with the “ooze of oil,” we are shifting to more ancient and agricultural images. “Crushed” is strongly emphasized by its solitary placement at the start of a line. It recalls and even intensifies the violence of “shook.”

Now the images come fast, harsh, jumbled, over-lapping, in a growing pile. “Generations that trod, trod, trod” maintains the agricultural picture (of olives or grapes being pressed under feet). It is fruitful and productive as well as wild, even wanton and destructive. This is an image of judgment, reinforced by the term “rod” in the previous line. Now we see the whole world, along with all of human history, as being charged, full of reflective potential, gathered to a pregnant greatness, ripe with oil for the pressing. At the same time, we (the trodders) are in rebellion against His rod. We do not recognize His bright and potent reign, although the world shines it out, drips with it, bleeds with it.

In this pile of negative and positive images, we feel tension. What is God using to shake out his grandeur, to press out this goodness, to harvest it? Despite (and through) our rebellion, our perverted labors, our abuse, the sufferings of the whole world itself are productive.

As listeners, we are by now involved and implicated in a brutal and ugly scene. This trodding is our own gross and heedless brutality. Even the oil (a source of light and life) is perverted and takes on a sinister sense as we witness a grimy, greasy fouling of the once shimmering foil. No light is reflected now from this crushed and dirty pulp. No longer charged and pregnant, it is violated and exposed by unfeeling generations of well-shod feet.

In the second stanza, we slow down and transition back to the opening lines, recognizing, even amid the bleary mess, a fullness and depth within the world. This being-charged-with-the-grandeur-of-God was too complete to be fully spent (shaken or trodden out). But this second recognition of fullness is less exuberant, more subdued yet more profound. We now face reverent words like “deep down” and “dearest freshness.” After the violence, the ugliness of searing toil, the smell of men who do not reckon with God’s rod, we find that this world cannot be ultimately marred. Whether we use the world well or we abuse her, only God’s grandeur can flame out. She is charged with nothing but goodness. She is fruitful and precious to her very pit.

Finally, blear and smear recurs as the world swoons away in blackness, until over the brown (barren) horizon “springs” a “morning,” a new creation under the hovering wings of the Holy Ghost. This second visitation of the Spirit brings to mind the first brooding of God over the darkness and chaos. But here, at this second dawn or birth, we see for a moment that the agent is, in some subsidiary sense, our own senseless marching, our own brutal trade. Heartless abuse and long suffering, in the deeper goodness of God’s economy, exposes or brings out only God’s grandeur. Christ’s own long-suffering and motherly Spirit puts even our facile abuses to the task of ushering life outward and forward, to the knowing of “dearest freshness deep down things.” Refreshed by the beauty that Hopkins’ language points to so faithfully, we might even be ready to walk unshod over seared and blackened earth. We might lay ourselves down and embrace the charged (and crushed) world with our own warm breasts and tender young wings.

%d bloggers like this: