A Network Of Friendships

MARINER
Malcolm Guite

From Chapter Four

…our chief concern will be with The Rime of the Ancient Mariner itself, but before we look at the poem in detail in Part II of this book, we shall look at the factors that attended and enabled its birth. This includes the network of friendships that inspired and sustained the writing, the deep reading and confident poetic preparation in which Coleridge was engaging, and the renewal of the springs of his own imagination which was provided by his many walks following springs and rivers, both alone and with William and Dorothy Wordsworth, through the landscape around the Quantocks. Coleridge’s sense of renewal is expressed in the three great visionary poems which, as it were, framed and nurtured the composition of The Mariner: This Lime-Tree Bower My Prison written in July 1797, Kubla Khan in October 1797, and Frost at Midnight, written in the February of 1798.

Continue reading “A Network Of Friendships”

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


RickThe poet William Butler Yeats referred to himself as “the last romantic”, and while I know he meant that in the broader sense of his company with Keats, I also know he must have winked as he said it.  Romance is a popular topic, but it’s a cheap drink these days.  The beating heart of romance is beauty, and like Yeats wrote elsewhere in his poem Adam’s Curse, we “must labor to be beautiful.” 

When God made the world it was “very good” but sin’s scar runs deep.  We scratch and claw at the earth  to make it yield fruit and every effort of man to reclaim paradise is an imperfect, losing battle.  We all share the poet’s agony of at once answering the call of God’s image wherein we were created, yet struggle to see true beauty through the darkened glass behind which we are imprisoned.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

This is what Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty” is about. And what it is, too. Not only does its content celebrate the beauty of “all things counter” and “strange,” but the form of the poem itself is irregular, from the new words Hopkins creates out of strange combinations (“fathers-forth”) to his invented pattern of sound using “sprung rhythm,” to the very structure of the poem. The structure mimics a sonnet, but then breaks all the rules of the form, none more dramatically than the abrupt, foreshortened end of the poem with the two sudden words of finality, “Praise him.” Praise him, the poems asks—no, commands—for the awkward things: the fickle, the freckled, the big teeth, the three-legged dogs, the girls that act like boys, and those that are “Pretty Plus.”  There is, the poem reminds us, a certain kind of beauty that arises only from imperfection—or pain.

By the time I read Hopkins’ poem for the first time, I had long outgrown writing horse poems, I’d grown into my barrel belly and big teeth, and witnessed the fading of my freckles. I had become a teacher and become surer of myself. I could celebrate knowingly with the poet all things spare and strange because I had overcome feeling so myself, mostly. I had come to see that poetry was not a means of escape, but rather an art of reconciliation. For poetry is made in the discovery of resemblances. It seeks likenesses, even amidst the strangeness of differences. Perhaps this is what Hopkins knew, and feared enough to burn.

How is the power of the strange different from the power of beauty? How is it the same?

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Terry and Karen

The Price Of Beauty

de552c7f8244f2405c59a11e2ba66b64

THE LAND OF HEART’S DESIRE
William Butler Yeats

We must be tender with all budding things.
Our Maker let no thought of Calvary
Trouble the morning stars in their first song.

JOB 38:1–7

Then the Lord answered Job out of the whirlwind, and said:
“Who is this who darkens counsel
By words without knowledge?
Now prepare yourself like a man;
I will question you, and you shall answer Me.
“Where were you when I laid the foundations of the earth?
Tell Me, if you have understanding.
Who determined its measurements?
Surely you know!
Or who stretched the line upon it?
To what were its foundations fastened?
Or who laid its cornerstone,
When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy?


Rick WilcoxThe poet William Butler Yeats referred to himself as “the last romantic”, and while I know he meant that in the broader sense of his company with Keats, I also know he must have winked as he said it.  Romance is a popular topic, but it’s a cheap drink these days.  The beating heart of romance is beauty, and like Yeats wrote elsewhere in his poem Adam’s Curse, we “must labor to be beautiful.” 

When God made the world it was “very good” but sin’s scar runs deep.  We scratch and claw at the earth  to make it yield fruit and every effort of man to reclaim paradise is an imperfect, losing battle.  We all share the poet’s agony of at once answering the call of God’s image wherein we were created, yet struggle to see glory through the darkened glass behind which we are imprisoned.

Yes, we were born for beauty, and though we can only dream of the day when we are finally, ultimately saved from the presence of sin, our souls rejoice that we are already saved from its penalty.  To such love we can only aspire and surrender our grateful hearts to the great Lover of our soul.

Join the discussion on Facebook HERE 

Logo

John 1:1

In the beginning was the Word,
and the Word was with God,
and the Word was God.

 

 

D I G  D E E P E R


William Butler Yeats and Beauty

Yeats was born in Dublin, Ireland, on June 13, 1865, the eldest son of an artist. Although the family soon moved to London, the children spent much time with their grandparents in County Sligo in northwestern Ireland. The scenery and folklore of this region greatly influenced Yeats’s work.

One of Ireland’s finest writers, William Butler Yeats served a long apprenticeship in the arts before his genius was fully developed. He did some of his greatest work after he was 50 years old.

Yeats understood the paradox of beauty’s relationship to innocence yet likewise the struggle necessitated by time to apprehend it in a fallen world.  As he wrote in his poem “Adam’s Curse,” “we must labor to be beautiful.”

Adam’s Curse

By William Butler Yeats

We sat together at one summer’s end,
That beautiful mild woman, your close friend,
And you and I, and talked of poetry.
I said, ‘A line will take us hours maybe;
Yet if it does not seem a moment’s thought,
Our stitching and unstitching has been naught.
Better go down upon your marrow-bones
And scrub a kitchen pavement, or break stones
Like an old pauper, in all kinds of weather;
For to articulate sweet sounds together
Is to work harder than all these, and yet
Be thought an idler by the noisy set
Of bankers, schoolmasters, and clergymen
The martyrs call the world.’
                                          And thereupon
That beautiful mild woman for whose sake
There’s many a one shall find out all heartache
On finding that her voice is sweet and low
Replied, ‘To be born woman is to know—
Although they do not talk of it at school—
That we must labour to be beautiful.’
I said, ‘It’s certain there is no fine thing
Since Adam’s fall but needs much labouring.
There have been lovers who thought love should be
So much compounded of high courtesy
That they would sigh and quote with learned looks
Precedents out of beautiful old books;
Yet now it seems an idle trade enough.’We sat grown quiet at the name of love;
We saw the last embers of daylight die,
And in the trembling blue-green of the sky
A moon, worn as if it had been a shell
Washed by time’s waters as they rose and fell
About the stars and broke in days and years.I had a thought for no one’s but your ears:
That you were beautiful, and that I strove
To love you in the old high way of love;
That it had all seemed happy, and yet we’d grown
As weary-hearted as that hollow moon.
Art: L’Innocence by William Bouguereau