Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Glory Be to God for Poetry

The title, a reference to a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem, is the inspiration for this post. T's family has periodic recitation performances involving all the little kids. Even the baby, 1 1/2 years old, will be performing "The Itsy Bitsy Spider" (though Mum says that it's hard for this little one to get her hands over her head for the sunshine part--babies being proportioned as they are). :) Since we'll be visiting in May, T and I both want to memorize some poems to recite too--being away from family is no excuse to slack in one's memorization duties! T decided to memorize a few of Ovid's poems in Latin and recite both the Latin and English translations of them. It got me thinking, "What would I recite?" We didn't do recitation as a family when I was growing up (we did have to do it for school sometimes), though we were encouraged to memorize things. One of my favorites as a kid was "The Tale of Custard the Dragon." I memorized it in middle school for a class and still have most of it down. "That would do," I thought. But then I got carried away and picked out two more "fun" poems--"Sick" and "Ickle Me, Pickle Me, Tickle Me Too." I figured I could even get the younger kids in the family involved in Custard the Dragon and Ickle Me. Today, though, I was reading through some of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poems online. His use of sprung rhythm (which I don't fully understand--ask T) and his mastery of language are breathtaking! Here is one poem I read which particularly struck me:


HARK, hearer, hear what I do; lend a thought now, make believe We are leafwhelmed somewhere with the hood Of some branchy bunchy bushybowered wood, Southern dene or Lancashire clough or Devon cleave, That leans along the loins of hills, where a candycoloured, where a gluegold-brown Marbled river, boisterously beautiful, between Roots and rocks is danced and dandled, all in froth and waterblowballs, down. We are there, when we hear a shout That the hanging honeysuck, the dogeared hazels in the cover Makes dither, makes hover And the riot of a rout Of, it must be, boys from the town Bathing: it is summer’s sovereign good.

By there comes a listless stranger: beckoned by the noise He drops towards the river: unseen Sees the bevy of them, how the boys With dare and with downdolphinry and bellbright bodies huddling out, Are earthworld, airworld, waterworld thorough hurled, all by turn and turn about.

This garland of their gambols flashes in his breast Into such a sudden zest Of summertime joys That he hies to a pool neighbouring; sees it is the best There; sweetest, freshest, shadowiest; Fairyland; silk-beech, scrolled ash, packed sycamore, wild wychelm, hornbeam fretty overstood By. Rafts and rafts of flake-leaves light, dealt so, painted on the air, Hang as still as hawk or hawkmoth, as the stars or as the angels there, Like the thing that never knew the earth, never off roots Rose. Here he feasts: lovely all is! No more: off with—down he dings His bleachèd both and woolwoven wear: Careless these in coloured wisp All lie tumbled-to; then with loop-locks Forward falling, forehead frowning, lips crisp Over finger-teasing task, his twiny boots Fast he opens, last he offwrings Till walk the world he can with bare his feet And come where lies a coffer, burly all of blocks Built of chancequarrièd, selfquainèd rocks And the water warbles over into, filleted with glassy grassy quicksilvery shivès and shoots And with heavenfallen freshness down from moorland still brims, Dark or daylight on and on. Here he will then, here he will the fleet Flinty kindcold element let break across his limbs Long. Where we leave him, froliclavish while he looks about him, laughs, swims. Enough now; since the sacred matter that I mean I should be wronging longer leaving it to float Upon this only gambolling and echoing-of-earth note— What is … the delightful dene? Wedlock. What the water? Spousal love. . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . Father, mother, brothers, sisters, friends Into fairy trees, wild flowers, wood ferns Rankèd round the bower . . . . . . . .

He could have said, "It was a beautiful summer day and a stranger is distracted from his journey by a noisy group of boys swimming. He decides to go swimming too. That's kind of like a wedding." But the beauty of poetry is the beauty and artistry of expression. I would love to memorize this poem (I'm not sure I'll be able to do it by May), if only for the line about the boys, who: Are earthworld, airworld, waterworld thorough hurled, all by turn and turn about. What a beautiful way to describe taking turns jumping into the water! Someday I'll have this poem memorized. Until then, I will just have to enjoy reading it.

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