Friday, July 11, 2008

Summer poets: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins (1844-1889), an Anglican convert to Roman Catholicism, wrestled with his sexuality, depression and physical ill-health, and burnt all his early poems on entering the Jesuit order. Only later did he have the confidence to explore poetry again, rediscovering a pre-Norman Anglo-Saxon ‘sprung rhythm’ and employing an idiosyncratic vocabulary.

Hopkins’ poetry can be hard to enter. Here, in one of his most famous poems, he explores the concept of ‘inscape’ – the idea that there is a profound revelation of God’s immanent presence in the un-forced self-awareness of each living thing: 'each mortal thing … / [cries] What I do is me: for that I came. … / … - for Christ plays in ten thousand places … / … through the features of men’s faces.'

The poem encourages us to attend gently to God’s presence: in nature (dragonflies and wells), in human craft (church bells) in our fellows, and in our own selve. When we do this in awe and gratitude we live gracefully (i.e. full of Grace).

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dr
áw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Wh
át I do is me: for that I came.

I say móre: the just man justices;
éeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

(Poems. 1918).

(This post is part of a series or weekly thoughts over the Summer)


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