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Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins
By Bob Blaisdell
Dover Publications, Inc.Copyright © 2011 Dover Publications, Inc.
All rights reserved.
Early Poems 1864–1866
* * *
Note by Robert Bridges
Two school prize-poems exist; the date of the first, "The Escorial," is Easter '60, which is before G. M. H. was sixteen years old. It is in Spenserian stanza: the imperfect copy in another hand has the first 15 stanzas omitting the 9th, and the author has written on it his motto:
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with an accompanying gloss to explain his allusions. Though wholly lacking the Byronic flush it looks as if influenced by the historical descriptions in Childe Harold, and might provide a quotation for a tourist's guide to Spain. The history seems competent, and the artistic knowledge precocious.
Here for a sample is the seventh stanza:
This was no classic temple order'd round
With massy pillars of the Doric mood
Broad-fluted, nor with shafts acanthus-crown'd,
Pourtray'd along the frieze with Titan's brood
That battled Gods for heaven; brilliant-hued,
With golden fillets and rich blazonry,
Wherein beneath the cornice, horsemen rode
With form divine, a fiery chivalry—
Triumph of airy grace and perfect harmony.
The second prize-poem, "A Vision of Mermaids," is dated Xmas '62. The autograph of this, which is preserved, is headed by a very elaborate circular pen-and-ink drawing, 6 inches in diameter,—a sunset sea-piece with rocks and formal groups of mermaidens, five or six together, singing as they stand (apparently) half-immersed in the shallows as described
But most in a half-circle watch'd the sun, &c.
This poem is in 143 lines of heroics. It betrays the influence of Keats, and when I introduced the author to the public in Miles's book, I quoted from it, thinking it useful to show that his difficult later style was not due to inability to excel in established forms. The poem is altogether above the standard of school-prizes. I reprint the extract here:
Soon—as when Summer of his sister Spring
Crushes and tears the rare enjewelling,
And boasting "I have fairer things than these"
Plashes amidst the billowy apple-trees
His lusty hands, in gusts of scented wind
Swirling out bloom till all the air is blind
With rosy foam and pelting blossom and mists
Of driving vermeil-rain; and, as he lists,
The dainty onyx-coronals deflowers,
A glorious wanton;—all the wrecks in showers
Crowd down upon a stream, and jostling thick
With bubbles bugle-eyed, struggle and stick
On tangled shoals that bar the brook—a crowd
Of filmy globes and rosy floating cloud:—
So those Mermaidens crowded to my rock.
* * *
But most in a half-circle watch'd the sun;
And a sweet sadness dwelt on every one;
I knew not why,—but know that sadness dwells
On Mermaids—whether that they ring the knells
Of seamen whelm'd in chasms of the mid-main,
As poets sing; or that it is a pain
To know the dusk depths of the ponderous sea,
The miles profound of solid green, and be
With loath'd cold fishes, far from man—or what;—
I know the sadness but the cause know not.
Then they, thus ranged, gan make full plaintively
A piteous Siren sweetness on the sea,
Withouten instrument, or conch, or bell,
Or stretch'd chords tuneable on turtle's shell;
Only with utterance of sweet breath they sung
An antique chaunt and in an unknown tongue.
Now melting upward through the sloping scale
Swell'd the sweet strain to a melodious wail;
Now ringing clarion-clear to whence it rose
Slumber'd at last in one sweet, deep, heart-broken close.
After the relics of his school-poems follow the poems written when an undergraduate at Oxford, of which there are four in this book—Nos. 1, 2, 3, and 52, all dating about 1866. Of this period some ten or twelve autograph poems exist, the most successful being religious verses worked in Geo. Herbert's manner, and these, I think, have been printed: there are two sonnets in Italian form and Shakesperian mood (refused by Cornhill Magazine); the rest are attempts at lyrical poems, mostly sentimental aspects of death: one of them "Winter with the Gulf-stream" was published in Once a Week, and reprinted at least in part in some magazine: the autograph copy is dated Aug. 1871, but G. M. H. told me that he wrote it when he was at school; whence I guess that he altered it too much to allow of its early dating. The following is a specimen of his signature at this date:
After these last-mentioned poems there is a gap of silence which may be accounted for in his own words from a letter to R. W. D. Oct. 5, '78: "What (verses) I had written I burnt before I became a Jesuit (i.e. 1868) and resolved to write no more, as not belonging to my profession, unless it were by the wish of my superiors; so for seven years I wrote nothing but two or three little presentation pieces which occasion called for. But when in the winter of '75 the Deutschland was wrecked in the mouth of the Thames and five Franciscan nuns, exiles from Germany by the Falck Laws, aboard of her were drowned I was affected by the account and happening to say so to my rector he said that he wished some one would write a poem on the subject. On this hint I set to work and, though my hand was out at first, produced one. I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm which now I realised on paper.... I do not say the idea is altogether new ... but no one has professedly used it and made it the principle throughout, that I know of.... However, I had to mark the stresses ... and a great many more oddnesses could not but dismay an editor's eye, so that when I offered it to our magazine The Month ... they dared not print it."
Of the two or three presentation pieces here mentioned one is certainly the Marian verses "Rosa mystica," published in the The Irish Monthly, May '98, and again in Orby Shipley's Carmina Mariana, 2nd series, p. 183: the autograph exists.
Another is supposed to be the "Ad Mariam," printed in the Stonyhurst Magazine, Feb. '94. This is in five stanzas of eight lines, in direct and competent imitation of Swinburne: no autograph has been found; and, unless Father Hopkins's views of poetic form had been provisionally deranged or suspended, the verses can hardly be attributed to him without some impeachment of his sincerity; and that being altogether above suspicion, I would not yield to the rather strong presumption which their technical skill supplies in favour of his authorship. It is true that the "Rosa mystica" is somewhat in the same light lilting manner; but that was probably common to most of these festal verses, and "Rosa mystica" is not open to the positive objections of verbal criticism which would reject the "Ad Mariam." He never sent me any copy of either of these pieces, as he did of his severer Marian poems (Nos. 18 and 37), nor mentioned them as productions of his serious Muse. I do not find that in either class of these attempts he met with any appreciation at the time; it was after the publication of Miles's book in 1894 that his co-religionists began to recognize his possible merits, and their enthusiasm has not perhaps been always wise. It is natural that they should, as some of them openly state they do, prefer the poems that I am rejecting to those which I print; but this edition was undertaken in response to a demand that, both in England and America, has gradually grown up from the genuinely poetic interest felt in the poems which I have gradually introduced to the public:—that interest has been no doubt welcomed and accompanied by the applause of his particular religious associates, but since their purpose is alien to mine I regret that I am unable to indulge it; nor can I put aside the overruling objection that G. M. H. would not have wished these "little presentation pieces" to be set among his more serious artistic work. I do not think that they would please any one who is likely to be pleased with this book.
For a Picture of St. Dorothea
I bear a basket lined with grass;
I am so light, I am so fair,
That men must wonder as I pass
And at the basket that I bear,
Where in a newly-drawn green litter
Sweet flowers I carry,—sweets for bitter.
Lilies I shew you, lilies none,
None in Caesar's gardens blow,—
And a quince in hand,—not one
Is set upon your boughs below;
Not set, because their buds not spring;
Spring not, 'cause world is wintering.
But these were found in the East and South
Where Winter is the clime forgot.—
The dewdrop on the larkspur's mouth
O should it then be quenched not?
In starry water-meads they drew
These drops: which be they? stars or dew?
Had she a quince in hand? Yet gaze:
Rather it is the sizing moon.
Lo, linked heavens with milky ways!
That was her larkspur row.—So soon?
Sphered so fast, sweet soul?—We see
Nor fruit, nor flowers, nor Dorothy.
A nun takes the veil
I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
The Habit of Perfection
Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorled ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.
Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.
Be shelled, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.
Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!
Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!
O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.
And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.
* * *
Poems of 1876–1889
4. The Wreck of the Deutschland
To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns exiles by the Falk Laws drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th. 1875
Part the First
Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World's strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me,
fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.
I did say yes
O at lightning and lashed rod;
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God;
Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height:
And the midriff astrain with leaning of,
laced with fire of stress.
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