I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.
Hear Malcolm Guite Read Today’s Poem
Solitary confinement is a harsh penalty which, over time will lead to psychological breakdown. As it is the imposition of physical isolation, depression is emotional solitary confinement. It is the darkness of a cell within our mind. The body may be alone, but only the soul can be lonely.
In today’s poem, Gerard Hopkins presents chilling resonance to our pain, but also offers profoundly more. As Malcolm Guite writes in The Word in the Wilderness:
This poem is surely for anyone who has woken to bitterness and misery in the small hours, enduring the long wait for ‘yet longer light’s delay’, a dawn that never seems to come. This is a poem for anyone who feels that all their prayers have become as it were ‘dead letters’, messages sent to someone who is not replying, who ‘lives alas! Away.’ And yet the whole poem is somehow written and confessed in God’s presence, searching ‘God’s most deep decree’. The dead letters are still there, waiting to be collected, waiting for a resurrection.
How does the resurrection offer hope against depression?
And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
Dig Deeper: Literature & Liturgy
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.
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.
Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings. For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page.
Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith
For every day from Shrove Tuesday to Easter Day, the bestselling poet Malcolm Guite chooses a favourite poem from across the Christian spiritual and English literary traditions and offers incisive seasonal reflections on it.
Lent is a time to reorient ourselves, clarify our minds, slow down, recover from distraction and focus on the values of God’s kingdom. Poetry, with its power to awaken the mind, is an ideal companion for such a time. This collection enables us to turn aside from everyday routine and experience moments of transfigured vision as we journey through the desert landscape of Lent and find refreshment along the way.
Following each poem with a helpful prose reflection, Malcolm Guite has selected from classical and contemporary poets, from Dante, John Donne and George Herbert to Seamus Heaney, Rowan Williams and Gillian Clarke, and his own acclaimed poetry.