Friday, June 08, 2007

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

Oddly enough, when I was wandering around the web today I found out that it's exactly 118 years since one of my favourite poets, Gerard Manley Hopkins, died (of Ireland - he didn't like it at all and then caught typhoid from the water).

He was never published during his lifetime, probably because many of his poems seem odd even today, but his friend Robert Bridges (who was by that time Poet Laureate) published them about 20 years after Hopkins's death. Although he doesn't seem to have been entirely struck on them either. His introduction to the collection boils down to: "Hopkins was a lovely chap and very clever. He would probably have grown out of the freakish things he was doing with rhythm if he'd lived a bit longer."

I'd like to think he wouldn't have though, as the freakish things with rhythm are what makes the fantastic poems fantastic. (Some of his work does sound like that of a Victorian Jesuit priest, but since that's what he was you can hardly hold it against him).

My favourite one is That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection (which, really, you would have to like for the title alone). It's particularly impressive in terms of rhythm, starting off slowly, then fairly battering down the page in the second half, only to pull up and turn on a sixpence in the last line. Even if you don't share Hopkins's beliefs, it's still stunning:

CLOUD-PUFFBALL, torn tufts, tossed pillows ' flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ' they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ' wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ' lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ' ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed ' dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks ' treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, ' nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest ' to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, ' his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig ' nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ' death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time ' beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ' joyless days, dejection.
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ' Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ' world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ' since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ' patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond.

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