Tag Archives: Gerard Manley Hopkins

April 6: Before the Cross XXII: Greater love hath no man.

soldier.crucifx.hthe

This image has always troubled me, since the day I first found a copy in a second-hand picture frame. This window is at Hythe in Kent, remembering a nineteen year old officer of the Royal Lancaster Regiment, Robert Aubrey Hildyard, seen dying at the foot of the Cross, his right hand on Christ’s feet, the feet Mary anointed with precious oil. At the foot of the cross lies Robert’s helmet, and a scroll reading, ‘Greater love hath no man’. We can all complete Jesus’ words: Greater love hath no man than this, that a man lay down his life for his friends.’ (John 15:13).

soldier.crucifx.hythe.detailRobert looks peaceful, asleep, while once again we behold a risen Christ: alive, with good muscle tone; his wounds not bleeding. Robert’s rifle and bayonet and an artillery piece are behind the two figures; there is a hill of mud in the background and angels in attendance above.

Surely this comforted the parents of Robert Hildyard, and no doubt others who lost loved ones, but it makes me uneasy. It seems to associate Christ with the war. Yet no less a poet than Hopkins wrote of a soldier or sailor (a tar):

Yes. Why do we áll, seeing of a soldier, bless him? bless
Our redcoats, our tars? Both these being, the greater part,
But frail clay, nay but foul clay. Here it is: the heart,
Since, proud, it calls the calling manly, gives a guess
That, hopes that, makesbelieve, the men must be no less;
It fancies, feigns, deems, dears the artist after his art;
And fain will find as sterling all as all is smart,
And scarlet wear the spirit of wár thére express.

Hopkins recognises that the men are no plaster saints, but if a man wears a brave uniform we – and he – hope, we and he want to believe him as bravehearted as he is smartly dressed. But no-one was smart at the Somme, where Robert died. Their heroism was different: men drowned in mud or were cut down by machine-gun fire before coming to close combat. Robert himself was killed when a shell hit where he and Godfrey James Wilding were sheltering.

Hopkins continues:

Mark Christ our King. He knows war, served this soldiering through;
He of all can handle a rope best. There he bides in bliss
Now, and séeing somewhére some mán do all that man can do,
For love he leans forth, needs his neck must fall on, kiss,
And cry ‘O Christ-done deed! So God-made-flesh does too:
Were I come o’er again’ cries Christ ‘it should be this’.

For love Christ leans forth to kiss Robert and cry … ‘So God-made-flesh does too!’ What did God-made-flesh do in the War? He did not conquer death and sin with violence.

I think of Jesus, asleep on the rugs in the sinking boat. A flimsy shelter, causing his friends to fear. Jesus sensed their fear, knew that death was close by, calmed the storm. But there was no dramatic rescue for Robert and Godfrey in this world, and no more that they could do. ‘It should be this’: not killing other men, but putting oneself in the firing line.


Why did Robert and Godfrey lay down their lives?

The gesture of touching Christ’s feet suggests that Robert’s parents wanted to associate his death with Christ’s, and saw it as freely given.

Here is another soldier’s take on the daily sacrifices of being a soldier in the Great War. For Joyce Kilmer the freely accepted, everyday deprivations were as a millionth part of Christ’s sufferings:

My shoulders ache beneath my pack 

(Lie easier, Cross, upon His back). 

We published his poem on the centenary of his death last July; click on the link. The post following that is Christina’s response to Kilmer’s poem: Is All Human Suffering The Same Suffering?. Do read that as well.

May we unite our sufferings with the Lord’s, may we grow into the persons he wants us to be, and may we be aware of our own lack of importance and ‘let us render back again /This millionth of Thy gift. Amen.’

MMB

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30 March: Peeping into a poet’s diary.

garlic
Laetare Sunday tomorrow, so a change of gear! I thought we could use a reflection on the beauty of the world we live in and which Christ loved infinitely, and still does. And Mrs Turnstone wants to go on a wild garlic hunt today; so here goes!                                        WT.

I doubt Gerard Manley Hopkins expected his diary to be published; his superiors had suppressed his poetry, after all. Think of that! This sentence from the diary could be laid out on the page as a poem.

End of March and beginning of April, 1871 —

One bay or hollow of Hodder Wood is curled all over with bright green garlic.

In Gerard Manley Hopkins, Selected Poems and Prose, Edited by Ruth Padel, London, Folio Society, 2012, p125.
garlic.flowers

Did the Jesuits of Stonyhurst gather the garlic for their Lenten kitchen, I wonder? Well, Let’s thank GMH and say Laudato Si’!

 

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January 13: Christ’s interest.

dawn

Mrs Turnstone delights in the fact that on this day, the light of the Sun is first seen in Greenland, the first sign of Spring in the North. When Hopkins lived in North Wales there were no street lights, and anyone moving after nightfall needed a lantern. At least there was peace, and ‘who goes there?’ need not have been spoken in fear.

I am blest that she who goes there is indeed rare, and that ‘Christ minds’ her and me and you, dear reader.

The Lantern Out of Doors by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: , what to avow or amend
There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.

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December 8: A poet’s reflection on Mary.

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Mary Mother from Hales Place Jesuit Chapel, Canterbury

We mark the Feast of Our Lady with this extract from a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ. Read it slowly, then find the rest of the poem on line. 

The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe

Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing’s life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess’s
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God’s glory through,
God’s glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

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16 November: Spring and Fall.

mistletoe-oxon2-640x481

We can never have too much poetry, nor too much Hopkins. Here he is writing to a young child, but also to himself, and to those who have ears to hear. Earlier this year young Abel, then aged 2½, was inconsolably grieving for the snow. Echoes of Bottom’s speech in Twelfth Night?

Margaret, are you grieving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leaves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! as the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sorrow’s springs are the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It is the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

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December 7: Stella Maris and the Wreck of the Deutschland

stella-maris-staithes

Our sequence of posts from John Masefield is interrupted by anniversary reflections from another great poet.

We came to Our Lady, Star of the Sea, in Staithes in time for evening Mass six weeks ago. I was rather disappointed that the statue of Mary inside was of Our Lady of Lourdes, but when we passed the church in daylight, there was Mary, Star of the Sea, gliding calm against the storm, reassuring us that despite the tempests that come our way – and the statue feels the full force of the gales, up there on the hilltop – her prayer will lift us up to her Son.

I was reminded of a great storm which hit the Thames Estuary on this date in 1875, causing the Wreck of the Deutschland, rendered immortal by Gerard Manley Hopkins. A powerful prayer, wrestling with the mystery of inescapable death before one’s span is over. Hopkins focuses on five Franciscan sisters, refugees fleeing to exile in England from oppressive laws in Prussia, only to die on a Kentish sandbank. He challenges himself (and the reader) to:

Grasp God, throned behind
Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;
With a mercy that outrides
The all of water, an ark
For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides
Lower than death and the dark;
A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,
The-last-breath penitent spirits—the uttermost mark
Our passion-plungèd giant risen,
The Christ of the Father compassionate, fetched in the storm of his strides.

Grasp God! Perhaps a little finger or the hem of his garment? But may we be listeners, heart and soul, humble enough to board the ark.

Let us pray for all in peril on the sea, as they did recently in the local Middlesborough Cathedral when they welcomed a Lampedusa Cross, made from timbers of a XXI Century Refugee boat that landed in Italy, remembering those who do not survive the voyage to Europe. Middlesbrough Lampedusa Cross

And here you’ll find the text of the poem, Wreck of the Deutschland .

Middlesborough’s Bishop Terry Drainey commissioned  port chaplains on the Feast of the Star of the Sea  in September.

MMB

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23 October: Wit, wilderness, weeds and wetness.

waterfall

Neither Scottish burn nor chalk stream, but a brook in the way, roll-rocking down a Polish Mountain.

He shall drink of the brook in the way: therefore shall he lift up the head. Psalm 110.7

I was reading a letter written ninety years ago by Fr Arthur Hughes, MAfr, later an Archbishop. He told his sister how he regretted that rain and subsequent Hampshire mud meant he would not be able to go down to a brook near Botley and there, as was his custom, drink, citing Psalm 110.

Then, on the train home I read an advertisement for an urban survival course; readers might feel confident they could find water in the wild, but after a disaster, could they find water in the city? Hughes had a reputation for finding fun in the Scriptures – by my reading drinking from the brook was a concrete prayer, laughing at himself in the process.

The apocalyptic warriors sound paranoid. Weren’t cities abandoned when disaster struck, from Great Zimbabwe to Roman Canterbury? Plenty of water elsewhere outside the city, and more food!

Hopkins’ poem Inversnaid, describing a brook very different to the clear waters of Hampshire, is a prayer without the name of God being mentioned. Is the beadbonny ash  perhaps the rowan  or mountain ash? (This one grows beside Canterbury’s chalk river, the Stour.)

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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.

MMB.

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