Day 37 7th April Gerard Manley Hopkins
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame
Once I had read the first line of the above poem I was hooked on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, though his unusual rhythms and complex style does not always make him the easiest to read. Each poem, however, is full of strong emotion in describing both the beauty and the pain of life; and Hopkins experienced both in his rich but turbulent life.
Gerard Manley Hopkins was an English priest born in 1844. He was brought up an Anglican, but opted to join the Roman Catholic church when pursuing ordination, which in the end was probably not the best choice for him, especially as he joined the very strict Jesuit order. He was regularly posted in very tough areas, which he had no choice about, and his sensitive personality was not suited to this ministry. This played a big part in his ongoing health issues and bouts of depression, and he sadly died when posted in Dublin, aged only 44.
Before being ordained he was a prolific poet but after ordination he chose, or was encouraged, to give up writing poetry which left him somewhat bereft, because it was his primary way of expressing himself. He began writing poetry again after reading about a disaster at sea in which a ship was wrecked leaving 157 passengers drowned, including 5 Franciscan nuns. Hopkins was so affected by the tragedy that his superior suggested he wrote a poem about it. He did. It is a lengthy poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland” which became one of his most famous poems, though not one of my favourites! This opened a window once again for him to express his faith, and also his love of God’s creation, in poetry. He went on to produce some of the most beautiful, if complex, poetry ever written. However, as with many artists over the years, he did not live to see how popular and influential it was to become.
His poetry often expressed what he called “inscape”, a word he used to describe God’s imminent presence in all created things. Nothing is just as it appears on the outside; everything has a greater depth, and in that depth lies the glory of God. So kingfishers catching fire, and dragonflies drawing flame, describes not only their vibrant colours but also their divine energy, which gives them life. Today take time to look at the things around you, look beyond the surface, and remind yourself that they contain the vibrancy of God, as do you.
Some poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
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.
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.
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: