There is a balm in poetry

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poetic champion
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

When I can’t take another newscast, another politician, another argument about Brexit, or another protest march, I’m so happy that we have poetry.

And when I seek solace in poetry, I’m so happy that poetry has Gerard Manley Hopkins.

He’s truly a treasure. Virtually unpublished during his own lifetime, he left behind a small but rich collection of stunning poems.

A complete original, he labored in obscurity, writing poetry in his spare time when not occupied with his vocation as a Roman Catholic priest.

He took his poetry — like his religion — seriously, developing his own philosophy of poetry.  And he innovated style and form, as well, creating his own form he called “sprung rhythm.”

Check out his poem, “Inversnaid.”  The poem is a description of a steam rushing down a hillside emptying into Loch Lomond in Scotland.

The description is wonderful, and well worth clicking away to read the whole poem.  But the last stanza is amazing. It’s four lines that form a prayer, seemingly beseeching God to preserve nature from the depredations of mankind:

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

When I read that out loud, I forget about what’s blaring on television, and I smile a little smile, and I find myself drawn back to the heart and center.  Actually drawn back to God.

That’s what John Ciardi must have meant when he said, “Enrich language, and you cannot fail to enrich our experience. Whenever we have let great language into our heads, we have been richer for it.”

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When spring starts to fade

"When the dizzy petal peak is past"

PASSION LIKE A FLOWER

Passion like a flower must expire.
Nothing can be rigged to spare desire
From life’s rigors — magic nor petitions.
Petals fall to various conditions.

When the dizzy petal-peak is past,
Some folks act as if the bloom could last,
Pick some wilting lilacs for their table,
Haul them homeward just to show they’re able,

Plunk them in a fruit jar lately washed
Clean of last fall’s bounty, cooked and squashed —
Like they thought the glass itself had power
To delay the spoiling of the flower.

It may work a day, two days, or so,
Then the smell and color start to go.
Nothing glassy can preserve desire;
Passion like a flower must expire.


Spring comes early in the Northwest.  By this time, many flowering trees are spent.  the blooms that were so intense in late March and April are brown and gone.

As I walked through town tonight, I couldn’t miss the signs of the season moving on.  Trees that a week or two before were full and fragrant were now brown and empty.  Flower petals were scattered across the grass.  The heady first-flush of spring was long gone.

Here’s an old poem that seemed right for the season.

 

Autumn Song

Afternoon in late September

AUTUMN SONG

Afternoon in late September
Shows us signs we both can follow,
Shadows where there were no shadows
Days before, encroach on meadows,
Turning brittle brown and yellow.
Six o’clock’s a dying ember
Causing grown men to remember
Another fall’s disturbing echo.

When, unnoticed, fell the first leaves,
Yellow elm leave tired of sunshine?
Who suspected seeing such ease
When the first chill stunned the green vine?
Is embarrassment the reason
Sumac’s crimson hides its poison?
When was foliage last so supine?

Rainy night in mid-October
Brings the icy confirmation —
Twigs encased in shiny coffins
Clenched in cold that never softens.
Even daylight’s ministration
Alters no repose so sober
As the sleep of mid-October,
Sleep of spreading desolation