Hurrahing in Harvest–A Poem I Did Not Write

“Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise
   Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
   Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?

“I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
   Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
   And, eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

“And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
   Majestic–as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet!–
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
   Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.”                                                                                   Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1877

“Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was a Jesuit priest whose poetry combined an awareness of material sensuousness with the asceticism of religious devotion.  His collected poems, published posthumously in 1918, exercised a profound influence on modern poetry.” (from the Dover Publications edition.)

I do not pretend to understand the meaning of all the words in this sonnet; but if I stopped at every unfamiliar word, I’d never enjoy the sound of them as they trip across my tongue–‘silk-sack clouds’, ‘azurous hung hills’, ‘very-violet-sweet!’ 

The bolded phrases are such powerful metaphors–‘to glean our Saviour’–to find the Creator through our vision of Him in the world He created–that is Hopkins’ goal, I think.

Sometimes the greatest joy of poetry is just the sound of the words, whether we know their meaning or not.  I don’t stop reading a novel or an article or even Scripture, for that matter, just because I don’t know a word.

Hopkins himself explained in a letter to a friend: (from the Introduction of the Dover edition, p. xii.)
“Clarity sometimes comes only with some hard looking…”  During a sermon in 1880, Hopkins ‘exhorts his brethren to pay close attention to the words he has to say’, for it is both “contemptible and unmanly…for men whose minds are naturally clear, to give up at the first hearing of a hard passage in the Scripture…to care to know no more than children know.”

Here’s to mining words and The Word for hidden treasure.  Keep on looking!
Photo of Eastern Oregon hills by the author.

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