August 10, 2023


Are You Grieving?: The prayerful poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins embraces a saving romance with the eternal. (Casey Chalk, Aug 9, 2023, American Conservative)

If we are game, the return on investment is substantial. Consider the first half of Spring and Fall:

Márgarét, áre you gríeving

Over Goldengrove unleaving?

Leáves like the things of man, you

With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?

Ah! ás the heart grows older

It will come to such sights colder

By and by, nor spare a sigh

Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;

And yet you wíll weep and know why.

There's the end-rhyme and the invention of a new word ("unleaving"). Pausing to dream of autumn, Hopkins's words seem the perfect accompaniment to a leisurely stroll through some quiet wood resplendent in reds, oranges, and yellows, the leaves crisp and crackling under your shoes. And simultaneously, the English cleric widens the imaginative aperture, comparing those dead leaves to our own lives, and reminding readers that the cynical passing of years, can, if we are not careful, anesthetize us to the wonders of creation all around us.

Hopkins's genius is however far more than clever wordplay and arresting reflections on the natural order. The palpable melancholy pulsating through his poems, and his attempts to contemplate and counter that feeling, is deeply relevant for the contemporary Anglophone world, and particularly its youth, suffering unprecedented levels of depression, anxiety, and suicidal ideation. In Carrion Comfort, we read:

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.

Though he is tempted to revel in self-pity and spiritual darkness, to despairingly untwist his very person, Hopkins refuses. He can preach truths to his heart that conjure up hope, that repudiate the suicidal temptation "not to be." We should be distributing copies of Hopkins to euthanasia-friendly Canada!

Of course, given Hopkins's vocation, religious imagery is embedded in many of his poems. Though, as Ordway observes, these are communicated not via pious platitudes, but through the language of a man well-acquainted with doubts and suffering, yet steadfastly worshipful. In The Windhover, he compares Christ to a beautiful, unpredictable, and even dangerous falcon who possesses "brute beauty and valour and act." Nondum reflects on a God he praises but who does not reply: "Our prayer seems lost in desert ways; our hymn in the vast silence dies." 

Posted by at August 10, 2023 8:08 AM