Tag: gerard manley hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins, “Harry Ploughman”


Hard as hurdle arms, with a broth of goldfish flue
Breathed round; the rack of ribs; the scooped flank; lank
Rope-over thigh; knee-nave; and barrelled shank –
Head and foot, shoulder and shank –
By a grey eye’s heed steered well, one crew, fall to;
Stand at stress. Each limb’s barrowy brawn, his threw
That onewhere curdled, onewhere sucked or sank –
Soared or sank -,
Though as a beechbole firm, finds his, as at a rollcall, rank
And features, in flesh, what deed he each must do –
His sinew-service where do.
He leans to it, Harry bends, look. Back, elbow, and liquid waist
In him, all quail to the wallowing o’ the plough. ‘S cheek crimsons; curls
Wag or crossbridle, in a wind lifted, windlaced –
Churlsgrace too, child of Amansstrength, how it hangs or hurls
Them – broad in bluff hide his frowning feet lashed! raced
With, along them, cragiron under and cold furls –
With-a-fountain’s shining-shot furls.

– – –

Wow. What an incredible poem. I recently picked up a book of Hopkins’ complete poetry. There isn’t much of it, owing to an incident early in his life where he tossed a great volume of his work into a fireplace. What we’re left with is a strange collection of poetry, a haphazard mix of poetry fragments, translations, long poems in Latin (untranslated, thank-you-very-much Oxford Press! We can’t all read Latin, you guys.), prayers and hymns, ballads in the traditional English style, and verses like “Harry Ploughman,” featuring the meter and language Hopkins is most famous for. Hopkins is the original language poet, a great experimenter long before his time. It’s hard to say what this poem is about, not that poems need to be about anything. The poem is a representation of Ploughman (an everyman-type character) in verse, not so much a story about him, but rather a portrait of him in rough consonants and earthy vowels. This poem gives (or attempts to give) an understanding of the character entirely in the abstract, contained in strings of nearly nonsensical words (“onewhere”?) and half-images. At the risk of sounding too enigmatic, it’s precisely the tongue-twisting nature of this poem that contains its meaning. Like I said, though, the poem doesn’t have to mean anything. It’s simply damn fun to read and play with.

More on G.M. Hopkins here.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things–
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced–fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

– – –

I want you to read this once more, this time aloud. I want you to sense how your tongue moves about and your lips shape the sounds. Ah! The feel of this poem is so unique. This poem is a physical act. This is language poetry at its finest, this makes other poets either feel inadequate or inspired. Gerard Manley Hopkins, or G-Man as I like to call him, was a strange man. He was a poet his whole life; in fact, he couldn’t help but write poetry. At Oxford he became a Jesuit; subsequently he burned every scrap of poetry he had written up until then, thinking it sinful. For much of the rest of his life he was torn between the joy poetry brought him and the guilt it later caused him. It was only toward the end of his short life that he reconciled the two and was able to write the glorious poems we have from him today. He died in his forties. This is the kind of thing that makes Brit Lit folks weep, thinking of all the what-ifs; what if he hadn’t burned his older works? what if he’d lived to be 90? Up until G-Man came around, most innovations in poetry took the form of subject changes; what was written about and how it was addressed. Gerard was the first to incorporate substantial wordplay into his poetry. And he went largely unnoticed; formal Victorian and Romantic poetry continued around him, leading into Modern poetry at the turn of the century (1900, that is). It’s not until the Beats and other Postmodern movements that we begin to see such a focus on language again. This poem features sprung rhythm, which the G-Man invented. The funny thing about sprung rhythm is that its intent is to mimic the natural speech patterns of the Irish and the English; thus, to read sprung rhythm correctly, you simply read it as normal. Because sprung rhythm is a combination of stressed and unstressed syllables, it reflects this poem’s subject, pied beauty; pied being synonymous with dappled, and both meaning a combination of dark and light colors. Kind of like Hopkins’ life! Oh, how it all comes together!