Poetry Friday: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Greetings all—it’s only a smidge past midnight, but I still feel bad posting Poetry Friday on Saturday.  It was a busy week.  In any case, this week for a class project I briefly toyed with the idea of using some of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poetry, and although that didn’t pan out I remembered how much I liked his work and decided to post some of it here.  Like almost all of his work, this is a poem that didn’t appear until well after he had died (the man was shockingly humble—a fascinating life story, if you know nothing about him): it first appeared in 1918 in “Poems”, a posthumous edition put out by his friends.  It is entitled “Inversnaid”:

This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

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.

This is a poem that, once I had read it aloud, I couldn’t get the sound out of my head.  I memorized it (maybe the first poem I ever voluntarily memorized) and still recite it to myself sometimes, especially out-of-doors on blustery days.  Once I had chosen it for today’s poem, I asked myself if it had some kind of deep meaning, or if it was just Hopkins using the extraordinary sounds of his poetry (based on some of the Old English poetic styles but also his own invented style called “sprung rhythm”) to describe a cool natural scene.  I think the last stanza comes closest to any kind of philosophical statement, but even there it seems to me that it’s largely just the poet’s natural exuberance about the beauty of nature—he’s been staring at this gorgeous stream and pool and stand of trees, and he can barely contain how glorious it is and how desperately it’s needed.  Hopkins suffered deeply from depression (his “dark sonnets” are excruciatingly beautiful and tragic), and I think being next to a pool that “rounds and rounds Despair to drowning” was even more invigorating for him than it would be to the average person.  But this still isn’t a very “deep” reading.  What do you think—is the surface reading I’m getting the only thing that’s there?  Or is there some cool symbolism here I’ve jumped past?


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