“Trees by their yield are known…”

It must have been a busy two weeks because it took me nearly as long to finish Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins as it did to finish Emily Dickinson’s Complete Poems. I’ve just finished the 86 pages entitled “Unfinished Poems Fragments, Light Verse Etc (1864-1889)” and “Translations Latin and Welsh Poems Etc,” though I feel obliged to admit that despite my courses in high school Latin the Latin and Greek translations were certainly “Greek to me.”

Unfortunately, I also remembered one of the reasons I’m generally opposed to publishing poems that left incomplete by the author — too often they sound incomplete and very likely do the author an injustice. If the author thought the poems were done, they wouldn’t have left them in draft form. There were few poems here that moved me, though this one:

Trees by their yield
Are known; but I —
My sap is sealed,
My root is dry.

If life within
I none can shew
(Except for sin),
Nor fruit above,–
It must be so —
I do not love.

Will no one show
I argued ill?
Because, although
Self-sentenced, still
I keep my trust.
If he would prove
And search me through
Would he not find
(What yet there must
Be hid behind
. . . . .

had a certain appeal to it. Perhaps it appealed to me because of the way I’m feeling about my political blogging. (See today’s earlier entry.) Perhaps it suggests the end of winter, more specifically the end of what’s been a long, wet week here in the Northwest, a week where I haven’t managed to get in a single long walk.

Still, I imagine that most of us who are getting older have experienced this feeling more than once. What has our life yielded? At least when I look back I have children and grandchildren who love me. I wonder if a priest who has devoted his life to the church and has no descendents who love him would feel this even more sharply than the rest of us?

I think in the end of our lives, even more than in the beginning, we want to feel that our lives have had meaning, that we have borne some fruit in the world, whether that be children or students who have gone into the world a little more prepared because of what we have taught them. Too often, though, it is difficult to see that we really have made a difference.

We can only pray that our love for the world and for others has borne some fruit that we are unawares of.

MY own heart let me have more have pity on

Now that Dawn has returned home with the new granddaugter and Gavin is no longer staying with us, I’ve had a little time to get back to reading Hopkins again.

As always I’m a little amazed that although a few of his poems seem to be among the greatest ever written, most of them have little appeal to me. In that sense, he reminds me of Andrew Marvel, whose “To His Coy Mistress” must rank among one of the greatest poems ever written, but whose work as a whole is largely forgotten. It’s no wonder that no one has matched Hopkins’ masterpieces; he seldom does himself.

Ocassionally, though, there is a poem I just feel comfortable with:

MY own heart let me have more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
  I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather — as skies
Betweenpie mountains — lights a lovely mile.

I suspect I like this poem more for what it says than how it says it, though I do admire lines like “I cast for comfort I can no more get/ By groping round my comfortless, than blind/ Eyes in their dark can day” and, even more so, “leave comfort root-room,” perhaps because too often I don’t leave time enough in my life to be comfortable.

Too often I’m caught ‘tween extremes, my Type-A personality driving me further than I should and would, leaving precious little time to savor quieter moments, moments, looking back, that take on added significance because they are so rare. I often suspect that I’m too hard on myself, constantly disappointed because I don’t think I’ve lived up to the goals I’ve set for myself.

Certainly I need to “call off thoughts awhile,” quit worrying about what should be or need be done and try enjoy what has been done, and, most of all, simply what is.

“No Worst, there is none.”

I was a little surprised yesterday to discover how fond Stanley Kunitz was of Gerard Manley Hopkins while running down a reading of “God’s Gandeur,” but when I consider today’s poems, I probably shouldn’t have been because I hear reflections of these poems when I read some of Kunitz’s best poems.

As it turns out, Hopkins poems on grief and despair rival those of John Donne’s great “Batter my heart, three person’d God; for, you.” They even rival his beautiful celebrations of God’s Grace noted yesterday.

Thank God I haven’t felt the kind of despair expressed in:


NO worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing”
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked “No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

for quite awhile, but that doesn’t mean I have forgotten that despair, or even that I will ever be able to forget that despair. Considering how much I like this poem, perhaps I don’t even want to forget these moments for they are part of the tapestry that makes up life itself. I would no more want to forget how I felt when I got my “Dear, Loren” letter or when my first wife told me she wanted a divorce, than I would want to forget the joy of falling in love the first time or the joy of having my first child, and even a second.

For me, no line of poetry has ever captured this sense of despair better than “Pitched past pitch of grief,/More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.” The “wag” in me might go so far as to suggest that trying to pronounce these lines clearly in front of a room of rowdy students may actually have reinforced the feeling that they truly capture a sense of despair.

Certainly the mind has “cliffs of fall/Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed” that could only be doubted by those who are too young to have experienced life’s inevitable tragedies, perhaps foreshadowed by those nightmares toddlers endure.

Sometimes fighting against this despair can seem as frightening as the despair itself:


NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist”slack they may be”these last strands of man
In me “r, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me

Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruis”d bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, ch”er.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, f”ot tr”d
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

I’d have to admit at times to “feasting” on my despair, or, at the very least, indulging in extended periods of living the “blues.” Bobby Bland’s “Further Up the Road,” or John Lennon’s “Instant Karma” come to mind as good ways to indulge those feelings of despair that accompany divorce and other moments of despair. But, then, Van Morrison and John Lee Hooker’s rendition of “Never Get Out of these Blues Alive” still gets played a lot around here, 24 times in less than 6 months according to iTunes.

Still, I’d like to think that the best reason for suffering the blues is so that “my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.” For Hopkins, despair was a way to find God; for me, despair is a way of finding my true self, though I’m not entirely convinced those two statements are entirely incompatible. If we could see beyond the immediate inner turmoil, we might find that it is, indeed, our better self, some might even say our true self, that struggles to overcome those forces that tempt us to sacrifice our true values for immediate gain, immediate gratification.

Hopkins’ Poems (1876-1889)

The forty-eight poems in Hopkins’ Poems (1876-1889) contain, in my opinion, some of the greatest poems ever written in the English language. Hopkin’s “God’s Grandeur” and “Pied Beauty” rival Marvel’s “To His Coy Mistress”and “The Definition of Love.”

Perhaps they are enhanced by the suspicion that, like Emily Dickinson’s poems, their style can never be emulated by another poet. They are unique.

Though I find it a little strange that my view of the world can suddenly coincide with a Catholic priest’s view of the world, “God’s Grandeur” so nearly parallels my view of the natural world that it might well stand as a synopsis of what little optimism I hold for the future of our world:


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 with ah! bright wings.

To fully appreciate this poem, of course, you must read it out loud or listen to someone who loves it read it out loud. How can anyone living in the 20th century not feel that God’s creation has been “seared with trade” and “wears man’s smudge.” And still, despite man’s neglect and abuse, “nature is never spent.” Watching a beautiful sunrise or sunset, one could almost believe “the Holy Ghost over the bent/ World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.”

Anyone who doubts that the beauty of the world transcends man’s ability to smudge it, only need read:


GLORY be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color 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.

Though tempted to save this poem until I finished studying Flash because it seems the near-perfect poem to set to pictures, I relented, realizing it’s a great enough poem to be mentioned again and again, and yet again, lest we forget what beauty is father-forthed again and again if only we have the wisdom to discern it. Beauty is there, even in the “trades, their gear and tackle and trim” if we are but able to see it.