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Dawn springs - Gerard Manley Hopkins


. . .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. . .

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89) was not a happy man, but he loved the beauties of the earth, the 'dearest freshness deep down', and created a voice to describe them with the sprung rhythms he found in Anglo-Saxon poetry and the alliterations he discovered in Welsh poems.

I've read his poem Pied Beauty many times, but it always takes me by surprise -

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 áll trádes, 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.

Even when life seemed 'dank as ditchwater', and he was morosely teaching and plodding through theological studies, he loved to observe and record nature. In 1877 he wrote The Starlight Night, God's Grandeur (partially quoted above), The Lantern out of Doors, As Kingfishers Catch Fire, The Sea and the Skylark, Spring, The Caged Skylark, In the Valley of the Elwy, The Windhover and Pied Beauty.

Posted to eleven different schools and parishes in eight years, he was shocked at the ugly price of industrial prosperity in Liverpool and Glasgow, and depressed at being posted to Dublin, where he was disliked for being British and shy.

He retained his sense of humour, calling himself "Fortune's football", and wrote some of his fiercest poems of pain and joy. He died of typhoid when he was 44.

One of his oldest friends, Poet Laureate Robert Bridges, published his poetry in 1918. In 1930 the edition of 750 copies was still not sold out, but his poems - always meant to be read aloud - were being heard - and are now heard all over the world.

The Oxford Dictionary of National Biography suggests that Hopkins was forced to add religious terminology to his earlier poems. I doubt it. He was young, but no poet this fine could write what he did not feel was true at the time -

. . .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.

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