G M Hopkins “To R.B.”

Friday October 18

At the History of Technology Annual Meeting in Porland ME last week I got talking with a younger colleague about some of the demanding challenges of adult commitments. Somewhere in that conversation I mentioned the Jesuit Poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. She asked me to send her some of his six “terrible sonnets” which take the reader into some of the terrible places of those commitments.

Here’s one. Poem # 51 from GMH’s brief extant collection. “To R.B.” R.B. in the title is Robert Bridges, who in the early 20th century collected and published the first compendium of Hopkins’ poems. Bridges was poet laureate of England at the time. While Hopkins was alive (d. 1889) Bridges repeatedly demonstrated both his friendship and his lack of comprehension of Hopkins’ sprung rhythm revolution in poetic rhythm and cadence. But he kept all GMH’s poems.

It’s about writer’s block experienced as mystical anguish.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89). Poems. 1918.

51 To R. B.

THE fine delight that fathers thought; the strong
Spur, live and lancing like the blowpipe flame,
Breathes once and, quenchèd faster than it came,
Leaves yet the mind a mother of immortal song.
Nine months she then, nay years, nine years she long
Within her wears, bears, cares and moulds the same:
The widow of an insight lost she lives, with aim
Now known and hand at work now never wrong.
Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this;
I want the one rapture of an inspiration.
O then if in my lagging lines you miss
The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation,
My winter world, that scarcely breathes that bliss
Now, yields you, with some sighs, our explanation.


Have a good weekend. May the Tigers claw back from the wall.

john sj

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