I am also ready to announce that I find much of Hopkins' baffling work to be quite a lot of fun on the level of localized wordplay, of rhythm, and of rhyme even if I can't beat much sense out of the poems (or: even if the poems can't beat much sense into me). I can't say that I have that much fun with the baffling works of Dylan Thomas, but I have also not read that many of Thomas' poems; I could probably list them all in a short space if I could remember the names. Almost none of this is what I'd intended to write. I have not been a good reader of Gerard Manley Hopkins, is what I'd intended to write.
My ignorance of the Victorian Age allows me to skip right past Hopkins' references to the growing sense in England that Nature is just another machine, to be dealt with using more machines, and I am mostly blind to (unless I really search for it) Hopkins' growing insistence that Nature and the particularity of each individual thing within Nature is a road to spiritual perfection and grace (in the Catholic sense, that is). Most of that is lost on me; I know it's there because smarter readers, biographers and editors say it's so. I can see the poems invoke Nature and natural forces and I can see when Hopkins stretches and extends Nature into metaphor to evangelize, like he does in "The Starlight Night":
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!shocks here refers to a collection of twelve sheaves of wheat, so the Apostles, you heathen you. This is one of those poems where some of it is for me mere fun with phonics rather than anything I can clearly understand. Check out the middle of the thing:
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!I'm hazy as to what most of that intends to convey. Stars shining overhead and fields of grain maybe, snow like flying chicken feathers, sure. But what about them? I donno, not really.
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
In the end, I can't say I've gotten much out of Hopkins' poems. Though maybe it's too early to tell. After all, what do I mean by "gotten much out of," anyway? Certainly my initial response to many of the later poems was one of confusion, that of a man who stares at a sign writ in an unfamiliar tongue. But there are things like "Inversnaid," where I find
What would the world be, once bereftand that's quite fine, Hopkins keeping the complexity of the sounds themselves while leaving the grammatical complexity behind so that a simple guy like me can see Hopkins' weeds and agree with him that we should keep it all with us, the wet and the wildness. Hopefully, someday I will be comfortable with complexity in poetry the way I am with complexity in prose. How can I declare Finnegans Wake beautiful while declaring Hopkins impenetrable? I don't know. I do like this, though:
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
...Flesh fade, and mortal trashThat one's easy to get something out of. Maybe I'll write about Hopkins again, in a year or two, after I read him another time. It could happen.
Fall to the residuary worm; | world's wildfire, leave but ash:
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.