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Sunday, April 10, 2011

Number 121: Gerard Manley Hopkins "Spring"


Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

-- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hap Notes: Here's Hopkins again, still sounding fresh and new, in a sonnet about spring. The octave (the beginning eight lines) describes the beauty of spring in Hopkins' inimitable perspective. The sestet ( the last six lines) ask and answer a question about spring- what does it mean, all this new life?

First of all, let's pause for a second to enjoy the feel and sounds of the words; "weeds, in wheels" not only sounds good but makes you pause for moment. Have you ever driven by a field and noticed that when it is full of vegetation, it almost looks as if it's rotating? Also, weeds tend to cluster –one can see the "wheel" like pattern of their proliferation. Weeds, in the spring, often seem to be moving, they grow so quickly. See how packed Hopkins' words are? He chooses his words for sound and meaning very artfully.

The "rinse and wring" of a thrush's call is not likening it to a wash cloth but, it's close – the latin root of rinse is akin to the word "fresh" and "wring" means to extract the sound by pressure or compression. The birds song is so sharp and vivid that it strikes the ear like sound "lightning.' You've probably heard a sharp, sweet bird call that did something like this to your ear – sort of bursts in on your hearing. The eggs of the thrush are so blue they look like "little heavens." The "glassy pear tree" is referring to the shine of new leaves and buds. They "brush" the "descending" blue (of the sky) and isn't it interesting that the sky is coming down to us....

Now, Hopkins asks, what is all this juicy, joyous beauty about?

He equates it with paradise, Eden, and says it's a metaphor for innocence. I've read interpretations of the sestet in which the reader says Hopkins is appealing to Christ to save the little children. I respectfully disagree. Remember Jesus says in Luke
anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it. He's asking for Christ to preserve the child in us all and for us to remember this innocence. THAT'S what all this "juice and joy" is about– Christ saves us with rebirth and innocence.

Here's where we've seen Hopkins before:

And here:

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