Monday September 8 – Gerard Manley Hopkins – “The Holy Ghost over the bent world…”
Last evening I had two poems queued up for this week, both good ones and new to me. This morning I found myself hankering for Gerard Manley Hopkins, sj. Like any great poet, Hopkins takes the reader deep into beauty and the wear of living, using strong words to connect our imaginations to both realities.
A reminder: Hopkins prefers the Anglo-Saxon side of English and comes to it with respect for hard edged language. I’m including his explanation, writing to friend and later England’s Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges, of how difficult his poetry can be. Actually, his explanation of the difficulty makes for demanding reading itself — “. . . a subtle and recondite thought . . . ”
Have a good day.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.
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.
Hopkins’ poems are [in]famous for the density of their vocabulary. If you want to catch all the descriptive meaning packed in these 16 sonnet lines, bring your dictionary. Hopkins’ life-long friend Robert Bridges often ground his aesthetic teeth at what seemed to him to be unnecessary complexity. On November 6, 1887 Hopkins wrote Bridges, attempting to explain the density of his poetic language; Try reading GMH’s explanation out loud, for that matter, try reading The Windhover out loud as the poet intended.
“Plainly if it is possible to express a subtle and recondite thought on a subtle and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way and with great felicity and perfection in the end, something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process, and this may be the being at once, nay perhaps even the being without explanation at all, intelligible.”