All posts by Robert Reeves

The Wreck of the Deutschland (8)

26

            For how to the heart’s cheering

         The down-dugged ground-hugged grey

      Hovers off, the jay-blue heavens appearing

         Of pied and peeled May!

   Blue-beating and hoary-glow height;  or night, still higher,

   With belled fire and the moth-soft Milky Way,

      What by your measure is the heaven of desire,

The treasure never eyesight got, nor was ever guessed what for the hearing?

 

Perhaps the tall nun experienced, in her expectation that the agonies of the shipwreck would be replaced by the glories of heaven, something of what ordinary people experience when they see the rainstorm (“down-dugged” in shapes of rain like the udders of a cow) replaced by clear blue sky, April replaced by May.  I’m not sure what “hoary” does to help the description of the sky’s daytime glow:  maybe it’s an allusion to hoarfrost, with its feeling of making everything sparkle new-cleaned (“peeled” is a great word to describe this feeling).  Then at night, the sublime regular (“belled”) shine of the stars and the galaxy adds to the sense of peace, of relief … compared to this, how much more relief must come from thought of heaven’s unseen, unconceived reward?

27

            No, but it was not these.

         The jading and jar of the cart,

      Time’s tasking, it is fathers that asking for ease

         Of the sodden-with-its-sorrowing heart,

   Not danger, electrical horror;  then further it finds

   The appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart:

      Other, I gather, in measure her mind’s

Burden, in wind’s burly and beat of endragonèd seas.

 

The comparison completely fails, though, when we look at the reasons why people long for the serenity of the afterlife:  they do this in moments of disgust with their long tedious lives of suffering, or meditating on the sufferings of Christ in moments of quiet prayer.  The tall nun’s mind couldn’t have been occupied with these kinds of thought or emotion, in the midst of the “electrical horror” of the storm, the “burly” (shortened from “hurly-burly”) of the wind, the pounding of seas so violent it seemed they contained monstrous dragons.

28

            But how shall I … make me room there:

         Reach me a … Fancy, come faster—

      Strike you the sight of it? look at it loom there,

         Thing that she … There then! the Master,

   Ipse, the only one, Christ, King, Head:

   He was to cure the extremity where he had cast her;

      Do, deal, lord it with living and dead;

Let him ride, her pride, in his triumph, despatch and have done with his doom there.

 

In this rather astounding, “modern”-seeming stanza, Hopkins combines the confused and terrified cries of the shipwreck victims with his own imperfect attempts to zero in on the nun’s motivations in this poem.  Finally he is unable to do other than bow to her vision of Christ looming through the storm, and admit that Christ alone (Latin ipse, his very self) could have been on her mind in that “extremity where he had cast her,” which only he had the power to “heal”—so the poet leaves Christ, the nun’s “pride,” to make his judgement (his “doom”) of the victims and survivors.

29

            Ah! there was a heart right!

         There was a single eye!

      Read the unshapeable shock night

         And knew the who and the why;

   Wording it how but by him that present and past,

   Heaven and earth are word of, worded by?—

      The Simon Peter of a soul! to the blast

Tarpeïan-fast, but a blown beacon of light.

 

Matthew 6:22-23 says “If your eye is single, your whole body will be full of light.”  (Long ago I wrote an irreverent character poem based on this verse, in the voice of the cyclops from the Odyssey.)  The nun was focused on Christ and knew him to be the solution to all the turmoil around her, as well as the whole of time, matter and spirit.  Her naming of Christ in that moment made her like the apostle Peter when he first confessed Jesus as the Messiah.  Peter (or Peter’s confession, to the protestant viewpoint) is the rock upon which Christ built his church, and the nun’s steadfast naming of him makes her a steady rock within the storm’s blast, bound to it (rather a shaky metaphor here) as Andromeda was bound to the Tarpeian rock … but the commentators call us to take the “but” seriously … she is only, in that howling fury, a wispy human and mortal beacon, for all her rocklike faith.

Now the poet addresses Christ with an intimate diminutive:

30

            Jesu, heart’s light,

         Jesu, maid’s son,

      What was the feast followed the night

         Thou hadst glory of this nun?—

   Feast of the one woman without stain.

   For so conceivèd, so to conceive thee is done;

      But here was heart-throe, birth of a brain,

Word, that heard and kept thee and uttered thee outright.

 

To us, December 7, when the wreck of the Deutschland occurred, is Pearl Harbor Day.  To a nineteenth-century Catholic, it was the eve of the feast of Mary’s Immaculate Conception.  In Catholic doctrine Mary and Jesus alone among humans were conceived “without original sin:”  without sharing in the punishment of eternal separation from God attendant on the disobedience of Adam and Eve.  Mary also consented that Jesus be conceived in her without intercourse:  this is called the Virgin Birth, and non-Catholics often confuse it with Mary’s Immaculate Conception.  Both dogmas are mentioned in this stanza:  Jesus was the son of a maid (a virgin) who was the one woman without original sin.  Being “conceived” (implanted in the womb) this way, when we try to “conceive” (comprehend) Christ we have to aspire to Mary’s purity—but the nun’s cry, “conceiving” that Christ was the one solution to her trouble, also “conceived” him in herself as the divine Word and let herself utter that Word to her fellow sufferers.  In a way, says Hopkins, by doing so, she also gave birth to herself!

The Wreck of the Deutschland (7)

21

            Loathed for a love men knew in them,

         Banned by the land of their birth,

      Rhine refused them, Thames would ruin them;

         Surf, snow, river and earth

   Gnashed:  but thou art above, thou Orion of light;

   Thy unchancelling poising palms were weighing the worth,

      Thou martyr-master:  in thy sight

Storm flakes were scroll-leaved flowers, lily-showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them.

 

“Loathed for a love men knew in them” sounds like the nuns became nuns illegitimately, being in love with earthly men … but it rather means men expected them to marry but hated them because their love for Christ prevented it.  Their native country was in an anti-Catholic phase and had expelled them to die here on the Thames:  “gnashed” seems contracted from “once the surf etc. had gnashed” (like devouring teeth).  But God, like the huntsman in the stars, had actually weighed (poised) the possibilities and caused this to happen, even “unchancelling” (not a real word—it’d mean “driving from their chancel,” sanctuary) the nuns.  The terrible snowfall around the wreck became a shower of lilies—associated with salvation beyond death, and with female martyrs—accomplishing God’s work through the lead nun’s invocation of Christ.

22

            Five! the finding and sake

         And cipher of suffering Christ.

      Mark, the mark is of man’s make

         And the word of it Sacrificed.

   But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,

   Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd and priced—

      Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token

For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

 

Even the fact that there were five nuns is significant.  Because of Christ’s five wounds, and/or because a cross has four end-points and one center-point, the number five has traditionally been a symbol of the Crucifixion.  (Before the appropriation of the pentagram by pagans and Satanists, Gawain in the Medieval poem carries it as a Christian symbol.)  “Finding” means something like “the sign by which we find”;  “sake” means purpose, goal (of the number as symbol).  Although it was our fault that Christ died in such a horrible way in the first place, Christ engraves the symbol of suffering on his own elect, given the supreme task of sharing in his own sacrifice.  … Okay, the metaphor is a more than a little stretched:  from Christ tattooing the sign of the cross on a martyr to the simple count of nuns … but despite that, the final line is to me some of the most breathtaking poetry in the poem, combining the sacrificial lamb of the Jews with the mystical Rose of Dante (sacrifice = glory).

23

            Joy fall to thee, father Francis,

         Drawn to the Life that died;

      With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his

         Lovescape crucified

   And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters

   And five-livèd and leavèd favour and pride,

      Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,

To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

 

What’s more, they were Franciscan nuns—and Francis, toward the end of his life, received the actual wounds of Christ, the Stigmata, on his own body (the reference to the seraph means Francis’ vision of the angel who wounded him).  The “wild waters” that drowned the nuns are precisely the place where they experience the mercy and presence of God.  (“Fall-gold” means “falling gold,” but I also like to think there’s a pun on the gold leaves of the fall which are so lovely when they die.)

24

            Away in the loveable west,

         On a pastoral forehead of Wales,

      I was under a roof here, I was at rest,

         And they the prey of the gales;

   She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly

   Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails

      Was calling “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”:

The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.

 

Finally Hopkins is about to tell us what the tall nun said—but first he again reminds us of himself, the poet who is recreating the nun’s deed in verse.  The contrast is pointed:  while the poet slept in his peaceful Welsh rectory, the nun was broadcasting her summons to the elements and people around her (the people “catch on to” each other for support or “catch their breath” listening to the surprising prayer).  The last sentence is pretty convoluted, but seems to mean either that as she calls Christ to come to her, she holds her crucifix (cross) against her breast, or that she calls this cross (death by martyrdom) the presence of Christ to herself—or both.  When she makes this call (in either sense), she gives birth to, and simultaneously baptizes (christens) the best thing she could’ve done, prompted by her wildest and worst situation—but I always read “worst” as short for “worsted,” like worsted fabric, so “wild-worst” might mean “textured, woven, by the wild (event).”

25

            The majesty! what did she mean?

         Breathe, arch and original Breath.

      Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?

         Breathe, body of lovely Death.

   They were else-minded then, altogether, the men

   Woke thee with a We are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth.

      Or is it that she cried for the crown then,

The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen?

 

What made the nun call on Christ like this?  What was her intention?  The poet asks both the Holy Spirit (Breath) who inspires Christian poets and the nun herself to “breathe” the answer.  Was it a desire to imitate Christ, her Spouse, in violent death?  When the apostles found themselves in a similar storm on Lake Gennesaret, they woke Christ and begged him to calm the waters—which he did, but only after rebuking them for a lack of faith.  Did the nun desire the heavenly reward that comes with martyrdom—the desire for heaven being sharper (keener) because she feels the mourning (keening) that combats it?

The Wreck of the Deutschland (6)

16

            One stirred from the rigging to save

         The wild woman-kind below,

      With a rope’s end round the man, handy and brave—

         He was pitched to his death at a blow,

   For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:

   They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro

      Through the cobbled foam-fleece.  What could he do

With the burl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the wave?

 

Hopkins agonized over the fact that on shipboard the rope wouldn’t have been called a rope.  To worry about terminology in such a dramatic context might be to our minds a sign of OCD—as his enthusiastic descriptions of male musculature, here and elsewhere, might be a sign of the closet:  I don’t care, myself.  The poet will make himself present in a relevant way very soon.  But the poetry doesn’t quit:  how cool is “cobbled foam-fleece?”  Or the way dropping the article before “buck” makes the line rear up like the waves?

 

17

            They fought with God’s cold—

         And they could not and fell to the deck

      (Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled

         With the sea-romp over the wreck.

   Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,

   The woman’s wailing, the crying of child without check—

      Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,

A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.

 

Gardner’s synopsis:

“(Stanzas 17-31):  Amid the tumult and horror, the voice of a nun was heard calling on Christ to ‘come quickly.’  (She was one of five Franciscan exiles:  surely Five, the number of Christ’s wounds, is the symbol of Sacrifice and the heavenly Reward.)  But what did she mean?  Her cry came from the heart of all suffering humanity.  Man asks deliverance not from danger (which is stimulating) but from the remorseless daily round of toil and disappointment.  That deliverance comes only from Christ, who succeeded by failure;  His Passion holds the promise of heaven in an otherwise ‘unshapeable’ existence (st. 29).  This nun read the symbol aright:  the pain and tragedy of life elucidate, and are themselves elucidated by, the Redemption.  In the nun the meaning of Christ is reborn (a second Virgin Birth!).  Touched by the finger of God (as the poet had been) she had created faith and hope in those around her.”

 

18

            Ah, touched in your bower of bone,

         Are you! turned for an exquisite smart,

      Have you! make words break from me here all alone,

         Do you!—mother of being in me, heart.

   O unteachably after evil, but uttering truth,

   Why, tears! is it? tears;  such a melting, a madrigal start!

      Never-eldering revel and river of youth,

What can it be, this glee? the good you have there of your own?

 

Now, with the first appearance of the nun, Hopkins himself appears.  Before describing her, he describes his own reaction to her act.  Stanzas later, when he finally quotes her words, he will mention himself again.  The words of the nun and the poet’s telling about them constitute the same act of bringing Christ into the world to achieve his redemption again.  The poet’s reaction to the nun’s words is initially to become choked up:  the same “exquisite smart” that makes people enjoy tearjerker movies drives the poet to speak from his heart, the “mother of [his] being.”  This sympathy with the nun is not a forbidden crush of one dedicated virgin on another:  no one needs to teach him to go “after” such an evil thing (i.e. chase it away), but as he will reveal in the next stanza, the fellow-feeling of a sibling in the religious life.  The priest/poet’s spontaneous tears are the beginning of a “madrigal:”  a hymn of praise to the nun.  And where does this youthful joy, this ever-renewing river of sympathy come from?

 

19

            Sister, a sister calling

         A master, her master and mine!—

      And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;

         The rash smart sloggering brine

   Blinds her;  but she that weather sees one thing, one;

   Has one fetch in her:  she rears herself to divine

      Ears, and the call of the tall nun

To the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm’s brawling.

 

Simply from serving in the same household, under the same divine Master.  Later Hopkins will draw the contrast between the nun and himself in his peaceful Welsh bed:  but here he emphasizes the wild terror of her situation with odd, violent vocabulary (sloggering:  beating;  fetch:  recourse) and odd spelling (hawling).  Despite “that weather” (used here along the lines of “that day”), the tall nun is focused on Christ, the focus too of the poem Hopkins is writing.

 

20

            She was first of a five and came

         Of a coifèd sisterhood.

      (O Deutschland, double a desperate name!

         O world wide of its good!

   But Gertrude, lily, and Luther, are two of a town,

   Christ’s lily and beast of the waste wood:

      From life’s dawn it is drawn down,

Abel is Cain’s brother and breasts they have sucked the same.)

 

Lest you thought the poem was getting too highminded, time for a little Roman Catholic prejudice.  The nun was “first” (leader) of a group of five, sailing on a ship named after their country of origin, Germany.  We in our time can associate “desperate” things with the name of Germany and also acknowledge its many positive contributions to civilization.  Hopkins’ meaning is narrower:  “desperate” and “good” refer to Germany’s effects on the welfare of the true (Catholic) church.  Saint Gertrude and Martin Luther both lived in Eisleben in Saxony—Hopkins compares the saint to the pure lily of resurrection and Luther to the wild boar who rends the God-planted vine of Israel in Psalm 80.  The history of the human race is a blend of good and evil, from the days of the two brothers Cain and Abel, the first murderer and first victim.  Germany, by expelling the five nuns, has made their leader’s act of salvation possible.

The Wreck of the Deutschland (5)

Gardner’s synopsis:

“Part the Second.

                “(Stanzas 11-17):  Sudden, unexpected disaster overtook the Deutschland, with her emigrants and exiles bound for America.  A hurricane of wind and snow drove her on to a sandbank.  For a whole night without succour, the passengers and crew of the crippled and settling ship were buffeted by the elements:  many were drowned.”

11

            “Some find me a sword;  some

         The flange and the rail;  flame,

      Fang, or flood” goes Death on drum,

         And storms bugle his fame.

   But wé dream we are rooted in earth—Dust!

   Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,

      Wave with the meadow, forget that there must

The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

 

The sense is clear (though I’m curious as to what form of death “flange” refers to)—we humans are as impermanent and frail as a field of flowers, but though we see death all around us, we persist in thinking it can never happen to us.  The “solid earth” we root in is dust, and so are we.  (“Cringe” is used in an archaic meaning:  “stoop, bend down.”)

12

            On Saturday sailed from Bremen,

         American-outward-bound,

      Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,

         Two hundred souls in the round—

   O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing

   The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;

      Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing

Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

 

We meet the ill-fated Deutschland, a quarter of its passengers seemingly abandoned by God.  One of the rare feminine images of God in the Bible is of a mother bird shielding her nestlings under her wing:  but these doomed ones received no such protection, were not “vaulted” (covered) by the “bay” (in the architectural sense of recess) of God’s blessing, nor gathered (“reeved” or roped together—a nautical term) under his mercy.  Or so it appears.

13

            Into the snows she sweeps,

         Hurling the haven behind,

      The Deutschland, on Sunday;  and so the sky keeps,

         For the infinite air is unkind,

   And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,

   Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;

      Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivellèd snow

Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.

 

The stanza moves, with the speed of the ship, into a violent blizzard.

14

            She drove in the dark to leeward,

         She struck—not a reef or a rock

      But the combs of a smother of sand:  night drew her

         Dead to the Kentish Knock;

   And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel;

   The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;

      And canvas and compass, the whorl and the wheel

Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

 

Crash!  Note that the shock of the impact causes the rhyme to tip over into the next line:  “leeward” (pronounced “loo-ard”) and “drew her d” ….  The Kentish Knock is a sandbar in the mouth of the Thames.  The  ship’s “whorl” is apparently a propeller screw, and “wind” is nautical for steer.  I always pronounce it with a long i to asonate with “idle,” but I’m not altogether sure.

Nothing mysterious in the next stanza:

15

            Hope had grown grey hairs,

         Hope had mourning on,

      Trenched with tears, carved with cares,

         Hope was twelve hours gone;

   And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day

   Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,

      And lives at last were washing away:

To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.

The Wreck of the Deutschland (4)

6

            Not out of his bliss

         Springs the stress felt

      Nor first from heaven (and few know this)

         Swings the stroke dealt—

   Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,

   That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—

      But it rides time like riding a river

(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).

 

… but in the horrible fact that God, for our sake, was born as a human being and we killed him.  The experience of God in nature is not a happy one, though it is capable of erasing our guilt and “melting” the hardest of hearts—but we see it over and over again in history, in the knowledge that we are God-murderers.  Even the faithful can’t stand to face this knowledge, and paganism misses it with its fables of a dying god who is only a symbol of the renewal of life in the spring, not the individual incarnate God.

7

            It dates from day

         Of his going in Galilee;

      Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;

         Manger, maiden’s knee;

   The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat:

   Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,

      Though felt before, though in high flood yet—

What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

 

The knowledge that can save us begins with the incarnation (the “going” of Jesus is both his birth and his death—though the death occurred in Judaea, not Galilee:  the grey—unfinished?—life of the embryo in the womb is at the same time the grave predestined in being conceived in a human womb).  The life of Christ from his birth in a manger to the frightful sweat of his crucifixion, is where we find the most intimate knowledge of God, which is both the knowledge of his complicity in human life and the knowledge that our suffering is deserved.  At the times when we are truly desperate, “hard at bay,” we are best fitted to speak this truth:

8

            Is out with it!  Oh,

         We lash with the best or worst

      Word last!  How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe

         Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,

   Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,

   Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,

      To hero of Calvary, Christ’s, feet—

Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

 

The “best word” we speak (and bind ourselves to:  one meaning of “lash”) is that God became one of us;  the “worst word” (with which we “lash” ourselves in the sense of whip) is that we put the innocent God-made-flesh to death.  “Last” means “at last”—namely, driven to this confession by the experience of dread and despair:  and in an instant, like the instant taste of a fruit, the confession allows grace and salvation to “brim” in us.  The believer may be “sour or sweet,” willing or unwilling, driven by fear or by desire—but needs to come to the foot of the Cross—taste suffering and guilt—to be saved.

9

            Be adored among men,

         God, three-numberèd form;

      Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,

         Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.

   Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,

   Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;

      Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:

Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

 

Hopkins prays that God, three persons in one deity, will bring us rebellious and malicious sinners to the experience of dread needed to “wring” the confession of faith out of us.  The paradox is that God uses “wrecking and storm,” “lightning” and “winter” to show us his Fatherly love:  we see his mercy best against the dark experience of guilt.

10

            With an anvil-ding

         And with fire in him forge thy will

      Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring

         Through him, melt him but master him still:

   Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,

   Or as Austin, a lingering-out swéet skíll,

      Make mercy in all of us, out of us all

Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

 

Our conversion might be sudden and violent, like Paul’s, or gentle and gradual as Augustine’s, but either way, let God take possession of our souls by revealing to us our need for his mercy.  That this need has already been fulfilled in Christ is reason to adore the divine master.

The Wreck of the Deutschland (3)

W.H. Gardner’s synopsis:

“Part the First (Stanzas 1-10):

                “Meditation on God’s infinite power and masterhood, on the direct mystical ‘stress’ or intuitive knowledge by which man, the dependent finite creature, apprehends the majesty and terror, the beauty and love of his Maker.  Not only through beauty and joy do we know Him.  Since the Incarnation and Passion, the human heart has become sensitized to the deeper mystery of suffering and loss—the paradox of God’s mastery and mercy.  Adoration to Him!  May He subjugate and save His rebellious creature, man.”

1

            Thou mastering me

         God! giver of breath and bread;

      World’s strand, sway of the sea;

         Lord of living and dead;

   Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,

   And after it almost unmade, what with dread,

      Thy doing:  and dost thou touch me afresh?

Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

 

First of all, God is addressed as master, very much in the way we speak of a human as the master of a pet:  but God is not only the giver of bread, like a pet’s master, he is giver of breath, his own breath, as in the Biblical account of God breathing breath into the Adam fashioned of clay.  He is the strand of the world, the shore to which it washes (its goal), and also strand in the sense of makeup, fabric.  This “pantheistic” aspect of God, that nothing can exist without direct participation in the Being of God, repeats itself in the next image:  God is the sea’s sway(er), prime mover, but also its sway(ing), its own movement.  (Later in the poem Hopkins actually uses Paul Tillich’s twentieth-century term for God, the “Ground of Being.”)  God is Lord both of the living and the dead—a first suggestion that the poem will focus on martyrs (the five nuns principally, but also all their shipmates) who share in the passion of Christ.  The priest-poet’s own experience of God immediately asserts itself:  after creating me, you almost destroyed me with dread:  the first emotion mentioned.  (The last emotion mentioned will be “charity”—Christian love.  The poem can be seen as a passage between these two states.)  The poet is amazed that after such an experience of destructive dread, he can once again feel the “finger” of God (God’s grace, he explains in a note on a later line:  but can he also be thinking of the creative finger/touch we see in Michelangelo’s awakening of Adam?).

2

            I did say yes

         O at lightning and lashed rod;

      Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess

         Thy terror, O Christ, O God;

   Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:

   The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod

      Hard down with a horror of height:

And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

 

A fuller description of the poet’s dread, an actual experience of terror he won’t locate in space and time (except that it was in a church), but God remembers it too:  he compares it to a rod (maybe lightning rod, but in a note on the poem he expands it to “birch-rod”) struck by lightning—or the rod is a switch striking the worshipper’s shoulders:  also compares it to vertigo, fear of heights, or actually being swept or hurled down from one.  The victim of this divine assault bows in worship (at the midriff), laced or bound tight with a force (stress) like fire.  “Stress” is also an echo of Hopkins’ technical term “instress:”  the force of individuality which gives every singular being its identity.  The two meanings combine to suggest an experience in which the poet’s very identity was sheer fright.

3

            The frown of his face

         Before me, the hurtle of hell

      Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?

         I whirled out wings that spell

   And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.

   My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,

      Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,

To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

 

Now it becomes clearer that the terror and dread are consciousness of sin, of offending God, and having nowhere to hide from his wrath:  but recall that the poet is kneeling in a church, a Catholic church with a tabernacle in which the Host (the consecrated wafer:  in Catholic theology, the actual physical presence of God) is kept.  He suddenly grows wings, and with the homing instinct of a carrier pigeon, flees to the protection of Christ.  (Most commentators read “that spell” as meaning “at that time.”)  The first “flame”(and first “grace”) is the terror brought about by the sense of sin, the second is the cleansing fire of God’s forgiveness.  The poet “towers” in the sense of “flies upward.”

4

            I am soft sift

         In an hourglass—at the wall

      Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,

         And it crowds and it combs to the fall;

   I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,

   But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall

      Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein

Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

 

Returning to the present, the poet still experiences himself in both these ways:  as a doomed sinner, like sand hurrying out of an hourglass (“mined” in the sense of a buried bomb, as well as “undermined”), but also as a believer saved by grace (the word “grace” means gift).  Hopkins wrote this poem in Wales, and “voel” (pronounced “voil”) is a Welsh word for a mountain.  The grace of God running down from above constantly fills the well of the soul, even as the sand runs out of the old sinful life.  Grace has a “pressure” of its own to counteract the “mining” of the fall (of the individual sinner as well as the Fall or original sin in Eden, inherited by all Adam’s children).

5

            I kiss my hand

         To the stars, lovely-asunder

      Starlight, wafting him out of it;  and

         Glow, glory in thunder;

   Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:

   Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,

      His mystery must be instressed, stressed;

For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

 

For Catholics we aren’t completely fallen but retain a natural goodness common to all God’s creations.  The poet can still encounter God’s power and beauty in starlight and storm, in the purple sunset (like a damson plum).  While these things could be seen as the world’s own splendor, it is possible for us to “meet” God in them by “instressing” (making one’s own) and “stressing” (emphasizing) the mysterious presence of the Creator in his creatures.

However, it isn’t primarily in the experience of nature that we encounter God …

TO BE CONTINUED

The Wreck of the Deutschland (2)

Here comes the whole poem for you to read through.  See the previous entry for Hopkins’ advice about how to read it, but the main thing is to read it aloud.  Don’t stop for mysteries, keep on to the end.

The Wreck of the Deutschland by Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

To the

happy memory of five Franciscan nuns

exiles by the Falck Laws

drowned between midnight and morning of

Dec. 7th, 1875

 

part the first

 

1

            Thou mastering me

         God! giver of breath and bread;

      World’s strand, sway of the sea;

         Lord of living and dead;

   Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,

   And after it almost unmade, what with dread,

      Thy doing:  and dost thou touch me afresh?

Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

 

2

            I did say yes

         O at lightning and lashed rod;

      Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess

         Thy terror, O Christ, O God;

   Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:

   The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee trod

      Hard down with a horror of height:

And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

 

3

            The frown of his face

         Before me, the hurtle of hell

      Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?

         I whirled out wings that spell

   And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.

   My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,

      Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,

To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

 

4

            I am soft sift

         In an hourglass—at the wall

      Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,

         And it crowds and it combs to the fall;

   I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,

   But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall

      Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein

Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

 

5

            I kiss my hand

         To the stars, lovely-asunder

      Starlight, wafting him out of it;  and

         Glow, glory in thunder;

   Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:

   Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,

      His mystery must be instressed, stressed;

For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

 

6

            Not out of his bliss

         Springs the stress felt

      Nor first from heaven (and few know this)

         Swings the stroke dealt—

   Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,

   That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—

      But it rides time like riding a river

(And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).

 

7

            It dates from day

         Of his going in Galilee;

      Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;

         Manger, maiden’s knee;

   The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat:

   Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,

      Though felt before, though in high flood yet—

What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

 

8

            Is out with it!  Oh,

         We lash with the best or worst

      Word last!  How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe

         Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,

   Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,

   Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,

      To hero of Calvary, Christ’s, feet—

Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

 

9

            Be adored among men,

         God, three-numberèd form;

      Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,

         Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.

   Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,

   Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;

      Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:

Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

 

10

            With an anvil-ding

         And with fire in him forge thy will

      Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring

         Through him, melt him but master him still:

   Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,

   Or as Austin, a lingering-out swéet skíll,

      Make mercy in all of us, out of us all

Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

 

part the second

 

11

            “Some find me a sword;  some

         The flange and the rail;  flame,

      Fang, or flood” goes Death on drum,

         And storms bugle his fame.

   But wé dream we are rooted in earth—Dust!

   Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,

      Wave with the meadow, forget that there must

The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

 

12

            On Saturday sailed from Bremen,

         American-outward-bound,

      Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,

         Two hundred souls in the round—

   O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing

   The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;

      Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing

Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

 

13

            Into the snows she sweeps,

         Hurling the haven behind,

      The Deutschland, on Sunday;  and so the sky keeps,

         For the infinite air is unkind,

   And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,

   Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;

      Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivellèd snow

Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.

 

14

            She drove in the dark to leeward,

         She struck—not a reef or a rock

      But the combs of a smother of sand:  night drew her

         Dead to the Kentish Knock;

   And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel;

   The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;

      And canvas and compass, the whorl and the wheel

Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

 

15

            Hope had grown grey hairs,

         Hope had mourning on,

      Trenched with tears, carved with cares,

         Hope was twelve hours gone;

   And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day

   Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,

      And lives at last were washing away:

To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.

 

16

            One stirred from the rigging to save

         The wild woman-kind below,

      With a rope’s end round the man, handy and brave—

         He was pitched to his death at a blow,

   For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:

   They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro

      Through the cobbled foam-fleece.  What could he do

With the burl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the wave?

 

17

            They fought with God’s cold—

         And they could not and fell to the deck

      (Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled

         With the sea-romp over the wreck.

   Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,

   The woman’s wailing, the crying of child without check—

      Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,

A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.

 

18

            Ah, touched in your bower of bone,

         Are you! turned for an exquisite smart,

      Have you! make words break from me here all alone,

         Do you!—mother of being in me, heart.

   O unteachably after evil, but uttering truth,

   Why, tears! is it? tears;  such a melting, a madrigal start!

      Never-eldering revel and river of youth,

What can it be, this glee? the good you have there of your own?

 

19

            Sister, a sister calling

         A master, her master and mine!—

      And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;

         The rash smart sloggering brine

   Blinds her;  but she that weather sees one thing, one;

   Has one fetch in her:  she rears herself to divine

      Ears, and the call of the tall nun

To the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm’s brawling.

 

20

            She was first of a five and came

         Of a coifèd sisterhood.

      (O Deutschland, double a desperate name!

         O world wide of its good!

   But Gertrude, lily, and Luther, are two of a town,

   Christ’s lily and beast of the waste wood:

      From life’s dawn it is drawn down,

Abel is Cain’s brother and breasts they have sucked the same.)

 

21

            Loathed for a love men knew in them,

         Banned by the land of their birth,

      Rhine refused them, Thames would ruin them;

         Surf, snow, river and earth

   Gnashed:  but thou art above, thou Orion of light;

   Thy unchancelling poising palms were weighing the worth,

      Thou martyr-master:  in thy sight

Storm flakes were scroll-leaved flowers, lily-showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them.

 

22

            Five! the finding and sake

         And cipher of suffering Christ.

      Mark, the mark is of man’s make

         And the word of it Sacrificed.

   But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,

   Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd and priced—

      Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token

For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

 

23

            Joy fall to thee, father Francis,

         Drawn to the Life that died;

      With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his

         Lovescape crucified

   And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters

   And five-livèd and leavèd favour and pride,

      Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,

To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

 

24

            Away in the loveable west,

         On a pastoral forehead of Wales,

      I was under a roof here, I was at rest,

         And they the prey of the gales;

   She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly

   Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails

      Was calling “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”:

The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.

 

25

            The majesty! what did she mean?

         Breathe, arch and original Breath.

      Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?

         Breathe, body of lovely Death.

   They were else-minded then, altogether, the men

   Woke thee with a We are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth.

      Or is it that she cried for the crown then,

The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen?

 

26

            For how to the heart’s cheering

         The down-dugged ground-hugged grey

      Hovers off, the jay-blue heavens appearing

         Of pied and peeled May!

   Blue-beating and hoary-glow height;  or night, still higher,

   With belled fire and the moth-soft Milky Way,

      What by your measure is the heaven of desire,

The treasure never eyesight got, nor was ever guessed what for the hearing?

 

27

            No, but it was not these.

         The jading and jar of the cart,

      Time’s tasking, it is fathers that asking for ease

         Of the sodden-with-its-sorrowing heart,

   Not danger, electrical horror;  then further it finds

   The appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart:

      Other, I gather, in measure her mind’s

Burden, in wind’s burly and beat of endragonèd seas.

 

28

            But how shall I … make me room there:

         Reach me a … Fancy, come faster—

      Strike you the sight of it? look at it loom there,

         Thing that she … There then! the Master,

   Ipse, the only one, Christ, King, Head:

   He was to cure the extremity where he had cast her;

      Do, deal, lord it with living and dead;

Let him ride, her pride, in his triumph, despatch and have done with his doom there.

 

29

            Ah! there was a heart right!

         There was a single eye!

      Read the unshapeable shock night

         And knew the who and the why;

   Wording it how but by him that present and past,

   Heaven and earth are word of, worded by?—

      The Simon Peter of a soul! to the blast

Tarpeïan-fast, but a blown beacon of light.

 

30

            Jesu, heart’s light,

         Jesu, maid’s son,

      What was the feast followed the night

         Thou hadst glory of this nun?—

   Feast of the one woman without stain.

   For so conceivèd, so to conceive thee is done;

      But here was heart-throe, birth of a brain,

Word, that heard and kept thee and uttered thee outright.

 

31

            Well, she has thee for the pain, for the

         Patience;  but pity of the rest of them!

      Heart, go and bleed at a bitterer vein for the

         Comfortless unconfessed of them—

   No not uncomforted:  lovely-felicitous Providence

   Finger of a tender of, O of a feathery delicacy, the breast of the

      Maiden could obey so, be a bell to, ring of it, and

Startle the poor sheep back! is the shipwrack then a harvest, does tempest carry the grain for thee?

 

32

            I admire thee, master of the tides,

         Of the Yore-flood, of the year’s fall;

      The recurb and the recovery of the gulf’s sides,

         The girth of it and the wharf of it and the wall;

   Stanching, quenching ocean of a motionable mind;

   Ground of being, and granite of it:  past all

         Grasp God, throned behind

Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;

 

33

            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.

 

34

            Now burn, new born to the world,

         Double-naturèd name,

      The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled

         Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame,

   Mid-numberèd he in three of the thunder-throne!

   Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;

      Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;

A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fire hard-hurled.

 

35

            Dame, at our door

         Drowned, and among our shoals,

      Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the reward:

         Our King back, Oh, upon English souls!

   Let him easter in us, be a day-spring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-

      cresseted east,

   More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls,

      Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,

Our heart’s charity’s hearth’s fire, our thought’s chivalry’s throng’s Lord.

Mystery Delete!

Our web host moved our sites to new servers, and in the process almost two months of my blogposts were lost. (Sari’s is still zir most recent one.) Mine were just further “grade A” poems, most of which can be found in my book Wings of the Gray Moon: New and Selected Poems. Newer poems are contained in IrretrievableSmall Amounts of Blood and The Shining Air. All these books are available on Amazon.

I had just put up the first entry in my amateur analysis of Hopkins’ “Wreck of the Deutschland,” so I have reposted that below. Second entry coming this Sunday.

The Wreck of the Deutschland (1)

Back when I was leading you through Otros, my collection of other people’s poems, I balked at saying anything about Hopkins’ “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” but promised that I’d try later.  Later is now.  I’ve never done this “close reading” kind of thing before, so bear with me if I do it poorly.  I’ll be relying on, and quoting from, the notes to the Fourth Edition of Hopkins’ Poems, edited by W.H. Gardner and N.H. MacKenzie, which incorporates notes from earlier editions edited by Robert Bridges and Charles Williams.  Otherwise this will record my own reactions to the poem.  I am not a Hopkins scholar or any kind of expert, only a lover of his verse, and this poem most of all.  I’ve had it by heart since the 1970s when I first read it.

My relationship with it is somewhat bittersweet, since when I first encountered it I was a committed Christian, and I long ago renounced Christianity and most of what it stands for.  “Wreck” is one of the strongest statements of Catholic Christianity I know, and to read or recite it is always to place myself back into a Catholic headspace and heart-space.  I appreciate the power of that space while I’m there.  The poem preserves and protects it.  I’ve had the weird experience of converting a student of mine to Christianity after abandoning it myself, and I imagine my deference to this poem might have the same effect on someone.  Religion in general has a conflicted interface with poetry:  the two could be considered enemies, fundamentally opposed ways of dealing with the world.  Hopkins, on that assumption, destroyed his early work upon entering Jesuit training and spent close to a decade thinking about poetry but writing none.  When he began again, with this poem, he had apparently lost all his doubt that poetry could be a perfect expression, even the highest possible expression, of Christian belief and life—not only its triumphant moments, as here, but also the darkness and dread recorded in the socalled “terrible sonnets” he wrote toward the end of his life.  I think his poetry demonstrates, beyond any question, how possible, even how seeming-necessary it is that poetry and religion can and should dovetail, in a religious poet at least.

“Wreck” is the first example of a poem written in what Hopkins called “sprung rhythm,” which goes back to the Anglo-Saxon standard of counting stresses rather than syllables.  He instructs us to read each stanza as a unit, not pausing at the end of lines (sometimes an end rhyme will be completed in the next line!), but putting more emphasis on the stressed syllables than one would in reading through a prose passage.  In Part the First the stanzas have the following number of stresses in each line:  2,3,4,3,5,5,4,6.  In Part the Second the first line has three stresses instead of two.  The rhyme scheme is ABABCBCA.

Hopkins describes the composition of the poem this way:  “ … when in the winter of [18]75 the Deutschland was wrecked in the mouth of the Thames and five Franciscan nuns, exiles from Germany by the [anti-Catholic] Falck Laws, aboard of her were drowned I was affected by the account and happening to say so to my rector he said that he wished someone would write a poem on the subject.  On this hint I set to work and, though my hand was out at first, produced one.  I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm which now I realized on paper … I do not say the idea is altogether new … but no one has professedly used it and made it the principle throughout, that I know of … However, I had to mark the stresses … and a great many more oddnesses could not but dismay an editor’s eye, so that when I offered it to [the Jesuit] magazine the Month … they … dared not print it.”  The key passage from the report of the shipwreck in The Times reads:  “Five German nuns … clasped hands and were drowned together, the chief sister, a gaunt woman 6 ft. high, calling out loudly and often ‘O Christ, come quickly!’ till the end came.”

Next time I’ll give you the entire poem, then focus in on the stanzas, five at a time every entry.

Grade A: Peace

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), April 2007.  “Deep down the high brightness” is a conscious echo of a line from Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur,” “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.”  Published in my books The Hardest Thing and Wings of the Gray Moon.

Peace

 

Not quite noon,

the earth still toppling away from night,

the dead middle of night

where the sun sits.

The dead housefinch in my driveway

hasn’t been disturbed by any violence,

even a death in midair.

Really, it looks like it walked there

and huddled asleep like a human,

a shoulder lifted a bit

to shade the glare of cracked mud,

its onedimensional feet flung limp

as if sleep finally couldn’t be fought.

I scrape it into a bag

of course

and convey it to the dumpster

saying I’m Sorry to the empty world

and it fits and falls there,

this time it falls,

between a pizza delivery box

and the box a pump-up air mattress came in.

Another slit of harsh redbrown

deep down the high brightness.

I think

I am thinking of peace.

Grade A: Earth [from Yossele]

Written in Albuquerque (Terrace SE), February 2007.  After the threat to the Jewish community is removed, the life is taken out of the golem.  These are his meditations slightly before that event.  Published in Yossele and Wings of the Gray Moon.

Earth                                                                                                          The Golem

 

I know it will be soon.

 

I would like to go for a walk in the whistling air.

 

I would like to hear the boys sounding out the funny Hebrew

that isn’t so funny to me.

 

I would like to run my finger over petals again.

 

I would like to lean on a tree

as I have done,

two still living things, unprotected.

 

I would like to clap my shoes on cobbles.

No clap like it.

 

Cloud shows and hides, shows and hides the moon.

I think it is a brilliant eye that tries to see us

but the night is too black

and after a month of trying it dozes off.

 

I think the houses are shells for the breaths of children.

 

I think the roads are one road plotted by rain

which is the dream of the ocean.

 

I would like to have seen the ocean.

 

I would like to have had a bird in my hands for a moment

so my hands could be ears.

 

I would like to understand why it’s a matter for laughter

when a man chases his hat.

 

Why real laughter dwells in the eyes unheard.

 

Why ten men don’t gather around the small dog smashed under a cartwheel

to say Kaddish.

 

Why the new smell of bread makes me shake and shake.

 

Why no one has ever addressed a question to me.

I would like to be unable to answer.