Here is a newsletter article that I have just put together for my congregation. It is springtime, and I have poetry on the brain. Not a bad malady, by the way.
Dear Friends -
“Nothing is so beautiful as Spring,” wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins, my favorite springtime poet. Hopkins is regarded as one of the great poets of the Victorian era, and he was a complicated soul. He loved poetry as a child and wrote many “verses.” While attending college in 1866, however, he gave up poetry for Lent. Later that summer, he converted to Catholicism. Less than a week later, he set fire to all his own poems and abstained from writing any more for another seven years. He joined the Jesuit order and traveled to the countryside of Wales to be ordained as a priest.
It was the happiest time of his life. As he prepared for his ordination, it dawned on him that he could write poetry as a way of praising God. And so, in the year 1877, he wrote a burst of poems that are still enjoyed today. One of them is titled “God’s Grandeur,” and goes like this:
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 shares 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 freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs -
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
The poem travels from line to line, wandering through memory and observation, creating its own experience. To read it is a Sabbath experience, slowing us down to dwell in God’s beauty. With poetry like this, Hopkins pushed words into new forms. But he was not to be celebrated as a poet during his lifetime. The Jesuits directed him to teach poor children in the cities of Ireland, Scotland, and Northern England. He expected a life of hard work, but he never took to living in dark, smoky cities. He contracted typhoid from polluted water in Dublin, and died from it at age 44.
Father Hopkins might have been forgotten, had it not been for his correspondence with Robert Bridges, a friend from college. After Hopkins’ death, Bridges began to publish his poetry. Those who worked side by side with Hopkins had never known that he saw the world so charged with God’s beauty.
Let this be a reminder to us all. Do something beautiful today, even if nobody else knows about it. Take the time and space to fall in love with God - and God’s world. Risk writing down what you see, if only to let God know that you are paying attention to this good life.
See you on the Sabbath,