Is it Tuesday? Every Tuesday a new poem appears in the box and on the blog.

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Poem 33

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—        
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;        
  Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush        
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring        
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;        
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush        
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush        
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.                 
What is all this juice and all this joy?        
  A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning        
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,        
  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,        
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,        
  Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

My neighbors must wonder a bit sometimes about my poem box, often making its empty promise: Free Poems, when in fact I am offering only an empty box. But my semester draws to an end, and instead of focusing on the thousand thousand words my students struggled over, I can turn my mind to poems. And I have filled it with this one by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins, who lived from 1844-1889, was a Jesuit who quietly wrote some of the most experimental poems of his time. 

I chose this poem because it is finally spring here in Minnesota and so the descriptions felt just right. When snows extend into May, truly nothing is as beautiful as the "long and lovely and lush" first green. But I also chose it for a stance I recognize too often in myself: the lover of the beautiful moment turns to the clouds that surely will darken the sky soon. 

The first eight lines of this Italian sonnet describe, in lush language full of alliteration and assonance, the gorgeous elements of springtime. Notice that they are not just visual, though the descriptions start there, "long and lovely and lush" (completely with lulling L sounds), and the thrush's eggs like "little low heavens." But, too, we have sounds that "rinse and wring/the ear" like the thrush's song. (Notice too how the syntax of that line makes us wait until the very end to find our subject, the song.) And we have action, with lambs "racing" through the scene. The octave ends with a question: "What is all this juice and all this joy?"

We expect a turn here at the ninth line, and we get it in the poem's move from vivid description of spring toward religious contemplation. In beginning to answer his own question, the speaker tells us, 
"A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning/in Eden garden." And knowing that man has already fallen, we know this spring cannot last. But Hopkins makes an unexpected move. He urges Christ to enter the minds of the innocent before they sin (instead of asking for forgiveness for sins committed), as if spring and innocence, "innocent mind and Mayday" could be extended through Christ. 

Hopkins struggled a lot--with loneliness, depression, his repressed homosexuality. What I find so striking in his poems is the way his words enact the emotional situation of the poem--the sound and rhythm and music of joy "racing lambs have fair their fling" and of despair "before it cloud...and sour with sinning." I don't know quite how to reconcile the impulses in this poem because summer must follow spring. Experience follows innocence. The speaker in this poem, though, seems to want another path, one without a fall. 

No comments:

Post a Comment