Your Other Neighbors

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SPRING AND FALL (TO A YOUNG CHILD)
GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, líke 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 will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.


It’s hard to be objective.  No matter how hard we try to quantify our choices into dispassionate analysis, we still make decisions in our same old skin.  We shouldn’t try so hard.

In her introduction to The Golden Notebook, Doris Lessing wrote “The way to deal with the problem of “subjectivity,” that shocking business of being preoccupied with the tiny individual who is at the same time caught up in such an explosion of terrible and marvelous possibilities, is to see him as a microcosm and in this way to break through the personal, the subjective, making the personal general, as indeed life always does, transforming a private experience—or so you think of it when still a child, “I am falling in love,” “I am feeling this or that emotion, or thinking that or the other thought”—into something much larger: growing up is after all only the understanding that one’s unique and incredible experience is what everyone shares.”

Jesus said there are two great commandments, and we talk a lot about the first one – that mandate to love God with everything we are, but the second is a bit knotty.  What does it really mean to love one’s neighbor as oneself?  On its face it sounds like a convoluted exercise in selfishness.  Truth, however is hiding in plain sight.

Each of us bears the image of God – male and female as the Bible says.  The two greatest commandments aren’t separate at all and Jesus even said “the second is like unto the first.”  1John 4:20 has it plainly: “If someone says, “I love God,” and hates his brother, he is a liar; for the one who does not love his brother whom he has seen, cannot love God whom he has not seen.”

When we love God with all that we are we also love the other image bearer living next door to us – or under a bridge for that matter.

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Matthew 22:37-39

Jesus said to him, “‘You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the first and great commandment.  And the second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.

 

Dig Deeper

Art:  The Cliff Dwellers by George Bellows (1913)

Cliff Dwellers was exhibited in the 1913 Armory Show, which Bellows helped organize. The painter captures the colorful crowd on New York City’s Lower East Side. It appears to be a hot summer day. People spill out of tenement buildings onto the streets, stoops, and fire escapes. Laundry flaps overhead and a street vendor hawks his goods from his pushcart in the midst of all the traffic. In the background, a trolley car heads toward Vesey Street. Shadowing is evident throughout this painting as make out the distance of each building based on the light and dark shade of each one. This also helps make the crowd seem deeper than we can actually see. The perception of such a large crowd contrasts with the immediate foreground, which leads our eye specifically to the subjects in this area and therefore displaying their significance to this painting. Looking further into the composition of Cliff Dwellers specifically in the system of colors used, The Paintings of George Bellows”, a commentary on most of Bellows’ work, states that: “Bellows continued to use Maratta’s system to select the palettes of the paintings through 1913… Cliff Dwellers, painted in May 1913, was the exception, representing his most complex exploration of the Maratta color system.” The significance of Bellows’ willingness to stray away from his usual system of color and choose a more monochromatic scale of colors, shows the audience how unique this piece of art is and how it differs from all other works not only in subject or theme but also in color. The painting, made in 1913, suggests the new face of New York. Between 1870 and 1915, the city’s population grew from one-and-a-half to five million, largely due to immigration. Many of the new arrivals—Italian, Jewish, Irish, and Chinese—crowded into tenement houses on the Lower East Side—the area north of the Brooklyn Bridge, south of Houston Street, and east of the Bowery. Among them were thousands of Eastern European Jews, who found temporary or permanent shelter along streets such as East Broadway, the setting for Cliff Dwellers. The city had never seen this kind of density before. Within the context of Cliff Dwellers the audience is able to convey a sense of congestion, overpopulation and (primarily seen in the foreground) the impact of the city among the youth. Within the book, The Paintings of George Bellows a historical account of how adamant “urban reformers” were during the early twentieth century as thousands of immigrants migrated to neighborhoods of New York. “The children in Bellows’s Cliff Dwellers, innocent as they appear, exhibited no effects of the requisite “Americanizing” process urban reformers considered crucial to the maintenance of social order.” Paired with the scrutiny heaped upon immigrants was the fact that they were made to live in conditions, which were made unbearable by the toll of industrialization within these areas. Small and dense were the living quarters of many who worked in similar environments in factories. Small, dense, dark, which can easily be seen within the painting and helps promote the idea of how industrialization has impacted the working class lifestyle. New York Realists were called by critics as the “revolutionary black gang” and the “apostles of ugliness.” A critic, referring to their depictions also conferred them the pejorative label Ashcan School which became the standard term for this first important American art movement of the 20th century.

Literature: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins, a 19th-century British Jesuit has influenced as many secular poets as he has religious ones.  His poems press against the borders of his forms; he wrings multiple meanings out of his language. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford.  In 1866 Hopkins joined the Roman Catholic Church, in 1868 he entered the Jesuit novitiate, and in 1877 he was ordained priest. In 1884 he was appointed professor of Greek at the Royal University, Dublin, a position which he held till his death. He was unknown as a poet during his life, except to two or three friends, who recognized his genius and loved him as themselves.

Bibliography

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Mortal Beauty, God’s Grace: Major Poems and Spiritual Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.
Lichtmann, Maria. Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poetry as Prayer. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2002.
Mariani, Paul. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life. New York: Viking, 2008.
White, Norman. Hopkins: A Literary Biography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

 

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