08 April 2013

Poem of the Week 2013/15

This week let us praise the piebald:

Pied Beauty

    Glory be to God for dappled things --
      For skies of couple-colour as a brinded 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.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins was a Jesuit priest in late Victorian England, which may indicate some of the emotional dislocations and discontents of his life. Here he writes a psalm of praise to what he sees as God's abundance: the perfection of the unchanging reflected not just as it usually is, in variety and in abundance, but in things that might seem imperfect or flawed: the weird, the crooked, streaked, and mottled. Hopkins darts back and forth between the large and small (skies, fish,  birds, landscapes), giving them all the ultimate praise of exact and accurate observation (the reason the rose-moles are upon "trout that swim" rather than simply "trout" is that trout lose these rose-colored marks when they die, at least according to the footnote in the edition I used, the Oxford World's Classics Selected Poetry, edited by Catherine Phillips).

For a long time I would look into Hopkins occasionally and I didn't quite "get" his way of doing things. Then I read somewhere that he was very influenced by Anglo-Saxon poetry and suddenly it all fell into place: the heavy reliance on alliteration, the compound words (couple-colour, fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, fathers-forth), the oddly marked accentuation (I have omitted his accent marks, due to technological limitations). Sometimes one little remark will be the key that opens a new world to us.


Sibyl said...

Thanks! Love Hopkins. I like to read him out loud and let all the music just fall on my ear. I worry about the meaning later with him, and then I don't really worry about the meaning anyway, as it seems to come in with the senses, not the mind. Yay!

Sibyl said...

And to beg your forgiveness for saddling you with Matthew Arnold, here's a fun one by Catullus, in my daughter's translation:

Mourn, O Venuses and Cupids,
and however many men there are in love:
my girl's sparrow is dead,
the sparrow, my girl's darling,
which she loved more than herself.
For it was sweet as honey and knew its mistress
as well as a girl knows her own mother.
It didn't move itself from her lap,
but, hopping around, now this way, now that way,
chirped continuously only to its mistress.

It now goes on a shadowy journey
to there, from where they say no one returns.
And curse you, evil shadows of the Underworld,
who devour everything beautiful:
you carried so beautiful a sparrow away from me.
O evil deed! O wretched little sparrow!
Because of your work, my girl's swollen little eyes
now redden from weeping.

Patrick J. Vaz said...

That's a good method for reading: you can't go far wrong with it anway since as the infalliblePope says, "the sound must be an echo to the sense." I have a similar experience with Dickinson sometimes: her rhythm is so strong that sometimes I'll read pages and pages of her bite-sized poems and suddenly think, I have no idea of the meaning of what I just read.

And there's no need to apologize for sharing Matthew Arnold! But thanks for sharing the Catullus and your daughter's beautiful translation. I was actually thinking of doing a whole Catullus-themed series, so nice congruence.

Unknown said...

I don't quite know how things worked out this way, but I am so grateful that I couldn't find a few moments to read this week's poem until this beautiful Saturday morning. A tough and exhausting week at work was bookended by happy news of Marin and Eric's engagement last Friday, and a former student taking me to dinner this Friday (now a proud new engineer, he wanted to thank me for helping to inspire him in 8th grade). It took those events and some sleep to realize that there were even good things during the week. So, it was with that state of mind that I read this week's poem, which I thought was just so beautiful and felt like the perfect poem to parallel my feelings of being somehow grateful for this week that's at an end, flaws and all.