For two days I have written about the sacramental poetic reflections of the nineteenth century English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Today I want to quote from several of his poems and append a few modest comments of my own.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and share man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest deep down things;
And thought the last light off the back West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with arm breast and ah! bright wings.
One can sense something of Paul’s thought in Romans 8:18–25 in these words. The creation waits for the children of God to be revealed. It is now subjected to frustration but it will be liberated. This present state does not mean God is not discovered in his beauty and glory in the creation it simply means sin has impacted it adversely and redemption will reverse that impact. The phrase, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God” is one of the most memorable lines in all of English religious poetry and one every Christian could well meditate on fruitfully for the remainder of his life.
One of Hopkins most magnificent poems captures similar ideas but links them to the resurrection as our great hope. Here we have some of the most effective expression of real eschatology I know in our language.
That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal
diamond, is immortal diamond.
I have given only the final lines of this 300-plus word poem. But what lines these are. The world is not junk to be discarded at some future time. It has been redeemed and visited by the incarnate Christ. And I am to be, indeed I am, an immortal diamond. Rarely have I found language that so encourages me to know I am loved and redeemed. I am a joke but I am also an “immortal diamond.”
Here are a few more Hopkins poetic lines, gathered from many difference poems over the several decades of his writing poems, that inspire me to live, or understand, the faith better:
Knowledge is strong but love is sweet . . .
How shall I search, who never sought?
How turn my passion-pastured thought
To gentle manna and simple bread?
Of virtues I most warmly bless,
Most rarely see, Unselfishness.
And to put graver sins aside
I won a preference for Pride.
Jesu Dulcis Memoria
Jesus to cast one thought upon
Makes gladness after He is gone;
But more than honey and honeycomb
Is to come near and take him home.
Song was never so sweet in ear,
Word never was such news to hear,
Thought half so sweet there is not one
As Jesus God the Father’s Son.
Jesu, their hope who go astray,
So kind to those who ask the way,
So good to those who look for Thee
To those who find what must Thou be?
To speak of that no tongue will do
Not letters suit to spell it true:
But they can guess who have tasted of
What Jesus is and what is love.
Jesu, a springing well Thou art,
Daylight to head and treat to heart,
And matched with Thee there’s nothing glad
That men have wished for or have had.
Wish us good morning when we wake
And light us, Lord, with Thy day-break,
Beat from our brains the thicky night
And fill the world up with delight.
Be our delight, O Jesus, now
As by and by our prize are Thou,
And grant our glorying may be
World without end alone in Thee.
What an amazing tribute to the goodness and mercy of Jesus. I love the line which says, “Beat from our brains the thicky night and fill the world up with delight.” In fact I prayed these words as I wrote them.
Hopkins could also capture other biblical metaphors in ways that seize your mind very powerfully. Reflecting on Jesus words about the “log in your own eye” he wrote:
Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbor deft handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?
The phrase “beam-blind” sends chills down my spine. I pray every day not to be “beam-blind.”
Finally, in his great poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, he wri
span style="font-size: 14px;">Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what man with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel they finger and find thee.
Here we see the consciousness of a penitent joined with the action of divine grace. Here is the cry of the truly human person who longs for the fresh touch of God upon their human flesh.