Thursday, February 26, 2009

Long Delayed Blog Update

Sorry for the long delays in updating this blog. This last year has been quite busy, and the Blog has been low on the priorities. I am planning to renew it, possibly here or possibly in another form. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

In wind’s burly and beat of endragonèd seas

The next four stanza's, #s 25-28, ask and answer a question: why did the Nun call out? What is the truth of her cry? "The majesty! what did she mean?" It's all beautifully, artfully constructed: after asking what the Hun meant, Hopkins over three stanzas offers potential answers only to dismiss them, at least dismiss them as not being each alone enough of an answer.

This is a series which begins with "Breathe, arch and orginal Breath," which is an invocation of the Muse of the Holy Spirit--rather like the opening of Milton's Paradise Lost which develops the imagery from the opening of Genesis whre the Spirit of God hovered over the waters------a series which begins with the Holy Spirit and ends with an image of the waters as a Dragon, which of course reminds us of the drama of the Apocalypse as well as the Babylonian creation-myth of Marduk slaying Tiamut or Jehovah slaying Leviathin, underlying the original Genesis account as well. These stanzas, obviously, run the full sweep of God's affair with the world, from Creation to Apocalypse, particularly climaxing in:

"Other, I gather, in measure her mind's

Burden, in wind's burly and beat of endragoned seas."

Other than what? Hopkins implies that een his crazy words fail to fully explain the Nun's call. Options? Love. The Crown. The Total Mystery. Or, as Leonore and Floristan sing in Fidelio:

"O namenlose Freude!" or "O Joy With No Name!"--a set of statements that defy logic, senses, and words:

"What by your measure is the heaven of desire,

The treasure never eyesight got, nor was everguessed what for the hearing?"

Hopkins, in stanza #26, asks this question of Nature, of Day and Night, and the Stars. Silence, I presume is the answer. And the Nun was not motivated by quiet, pious spirituality: Hopkins wittily compares the Nun to the effete spirituality, perhaps, of gentlemanly-kept Jesuit fathers "asking for ease fo the sodden-with-its-sorrowing heart" in #27, while the Hun faces a real threat--"danger, electrical horror." He even dryly referes perhaps to his own piety:

"...then further it finds

The appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart:

Other, I gather, in measure her mind's


Once again, Hopkins is comparing, juxtaposing himself-at-prayer and the Nun-at-sea. And once again, it must be emphasized, this juxtaposition gives the whole poem's two contrasting parts a unity--the first part on the spiritual conversion of Hopkins, the second part about the Nun in the wreck.

Now in stanza #28, he offers an answer to the question--an answer which is not an answer in words but rather in words a re-creation of an experience, at the very crux of the Cross, at the intersection of all the overlapping lines of this poem's several tales--the Paschal Mystery. Hopkins does not state this: he re-creates the experience by drawing us, quite self-consciously, into the composition of the poem:

"But how shall I . . . make me room there:

Reach me a . . . Fancy, come faster--

Strike you the sight of it? look at it loom there,

Thing that she . . .There then! the Master,

Ipse, the only one, Christ, King, Head:

He was to care the extremity where he had cast her;

Do, deal lort it with living and dead;

Let him ride, her pride, in his triumph, dispatch and have done with his doom there."

This 28th stanza--blunt in their erotic imagery--in its brevity of 8 lines, truncates and concentrates the "First Principle and Foundation" of the first part's 10 stanzas. And what does Hopkins call the object of the Nun's call? Thing. Thing? Thing! Ipse! She encounters, really, the real Thing. Christ. No wonder Hopkins is so amazingly erotic, exciting, even hot. He is describing an experience that surpasses even appealing tenderness or "electrical horror!" He is describing the real encounter with Jesus Christ. And that is what the Nun is calling out!

The majesty! what did she mean?
Breathe, arch and original Breath.
Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?
Breathe, body of lovely Death.
They were else-minded then, altogether, the men
Woke thee with a we are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth.
Or is it that she cried for the crown then,
The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen?

For how to the heart’s cheering
The down-dugged ground-hugged grey
Hovers off, the jay-blue heavens appearing
Of pied and peeled May!
Blue-beating and hoary-glow height; or night, still higher,
With belled fire and the moth-soft Milky Way,
What by your measure is the heaven of desire,
The treasure never eyesight got, nor was ever guessed what for the hearing?

No, but it was not these.
The jading and jar of the cart,
Time’s tasking, it is fathers that asking for ease
Of the sodden-with-its-sorrowing heart,
Not danger, electrical horror; then further it finds
The appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart:
Other, I gather, in measure her mind’s
Burden, in wind’s burly and beat of endragonèd seas.

But how shall I … make me room there:
Reach me a … Fancy, come faster—
Strike you the sight of it? look at it loom there,
Thing that she … there then! the Master,
Ipse, the only one, Christ, King, Head:
He was to cure the extremity where he had cast her;
Do, deal, lord it with living and dead;
Let him ride, her pride, in his triumph, despatch and have done with his doom there.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

O Christ, Christ, Come Quickly!

Picking up from where we left off, at stanza #24 of Hopkins "The Wreck of the Deutschland", we have a moment of intensification and connection. The poet, at first oddly, moves his vision away from the storm and the wreck and takes us away to where he was that fateful day, once again dating the real event to December 7th 1875, in real history, in real fact. And by spiriting us the readers away to Wales, away from the storm, the poet stills down the breathless drama of the poem.

And then the poet connects himself to the Tall Nun. He juxtaposes where he was and where she was on that fateful day. It's as if the Nun IS his heart (and this too connects the second part of the poem, the narrative of the wreck, with the first part of the poem, the intense spiritual experience of Hopkins' response to God): for now the Nun utters the famous cry: "O Christ, O Christ, come quickly!" Hopkins also adds that teh Nun baptizes her own merciless condition in the storm, drowning, and thus reverses its mercilessness: Christens her wild-worst Best."

This stanza is an inspiration to all of us, in the storms of life, real storms: the Cross is our Hope, Christ is our Hope, Christ will save us!

Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling ‘O Christ, Christ, come quickly’:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.

Tuesday, June 19, 2007

Back to Posting and to the Hopkins Poem

Gentle Readers! I regret having missed so many months of posting on this blog. I will now begin again, so that we can continue reading Hopkins' masterpiece "The Wreck of the Deutschland!" Keep alert, and the postings are beginning again!

At Seattle Opera we are doing a production of Richard Wagner's "The Flying Dutchman," which has inspired me to return to more orthodox art! But a comparison of Hopkins' Catholic vision and Wagner's Romantic vision is instructive. It shows us that Romanticism is really a kind of Catholic heresy: for the Romantic generation was the first generation of European artists who almost completely dumped Christianity and thus created a void in their imaginations' horizons. Suddenly, without a God and without an Incarnation and without a Church, the Romantics still needed a way to express their immortal longings. Romanticism is like a ruined Gothic chapel--the ruins, the fragments, the remains of a Catholic faith, no longer the sanctuary of the Blessed Sacrament, but now a ruin haunted by ghosts and monsters. Hopkins' poetry redirects Romanticism to its real goal--the One True Good and Beautiful God.

Sunday, April 16, 2006

Christ is Risen! Allelluia!

Most glorious Lord of life, that on this day
Didst make thy triumph over death and sin,
And having harrowed hell, didst bring away
Captivity thence captive us to win:
This joyous day, dear Lord, with joy begin,
And grant that we for whom thou diddest die,
Being with thy dear blood clean washt from sin,
May live forever in felicity.
And that thy love we weighing worthily
May love thee likewise for the same again,
And for thy sake, that all like dear didst buy,
With love may one another entertain.
So let us love, dear love, like as we ought:
Love is the lesson which the Lord us taught.

-- Edmund Spenser, Amoretti 68

Thursday, January 26, 2006

The Beauty of Love

It is the most beautiful, most profound thing written on Love since Plato's Symposium; and it surpasses Plato, because it identifies Love with the God who has come to us in Jesus Christ.

Tuesday, January 17, 2006

Stigma, Signal, Cinquefoil Token for Lettering

So now Hopkins gives us a long meditation on that Tall Nun, from stanza 19 through stanza 31. This is very much the climax of The Wreck of the Deutschland.

Stanza 19 introduces the theme: “Sister, a sister calling/A master, her master and mine!”

Here the Tall Nun is identified, and she calls out even against the storm. Thus our life of Faith is often opposed by the world; it doesn’t take a storm for us to know persecution, though it may take a storm to remind us. Saints and Martyrs provide us, by the romantic, sublime exaggeration of extreme and heroic virtue against the storms of this world’s life, a drama of inspiration. So too does this Tall Nun. And she is pure of heart, authentically directed, well-oriented: “But she that weather sees one thing, one;/ Has one fetch in her.” One fetch!

Stanza 20—“She was first of a five”—gives us the Religious Order of the nuns but at once meditates on the name of the ship and the homeland—“Deutschland”—by ironically juxtaposing St Gertrude & Martin Luther. So here we have a slam broadminded ecumenists would avoid and Lutherans should resent! But while we don’t want to do cartoon history and do to the Protestants what Schiller did to Catholics in Don Carlos, yet we can perhaps see in the juxtaposition of the two Germans, the “lily” and the “beast” a comment on two ways of life—the former, the committed & authentic & vowed life of the Evangelical Counsels, a true Gospel life; and the latter, the renegade, the rebel, the revolutionary. “Lily”, of course, reminds us of both Easter and virginity. “Beast”, beyond the obvious, reminds us of the three beasts “of the waste wood” of darkness and error at the start of Dante’s Comedy—three bestial roots of sin, to be compared to and countered by the three Evangelical Counsels of the Gospel lifestyle of Chastity, Poverty, and Obedience. Here, again, Hopkins is reminding us that his poem is also about the journey of modern Europe—the voyages to America and the revolt of Luther being flipsides of the same story, the breakdown of Christendom. And Hopkins sees this modern story for what it is in theological terms—sin. “From life’s dawn it is drawn down . . .Abel . . .Cain.” Then there is a final image of sucking on breasts. Yes, I know it means Cain & Abel were both babies of Eve, but we cannot help but see the sucking on breasts as an odd, deliberately evocative image in a stanza focused on the authenticity of the Nun. It is a healthy reminder too that the Evangelical life of the Nun does not reject the body, sex, breast-sucking, baby-making, or human culture as bad in themselves—quite the contrary.

Stanza 21—“Loathed for a love”—traces the event of the nuns’ exile in terms both historical and theological. Hopkins links the Hun’s experience of Bismark’s persecution of the Church to the Passion and Sacrifice of Christ. Again, Hopkins theologically sees the whole thing in terms of Love: “Loathed for a love men knew in them” . . .and . . .”They unchancelling poising palms.” And while human eyes would see the sstorm as a storm, Hopkins sees the snow and ice and wind as “scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers.” Once again, God is termed, as before for both the poet’s heart and the Tall Nun, as “Master”, but now “Martyr-master.”

And this theme continues in stanza 22—“Five!”—in identifying the Five Nuns with the Five Wounds of Christ. This stanza is particularly beautiful, especially in the litany—“Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token for lettering . . .ruddying.” No comment can improve the beauty of these lines, but one ritual perhaps reveals them—the stabbing of the Paschal Candle with the five grains of incense signifying Christ’s “holy & glorious wounds”. The phrase “and the word of it Sacrificed” has a direct parallel in form and position to a phrase in the next stanza: “Lovescape crucified.” This next stanza, #23, continues the whole theme with a meditation on the Stigmata of St Francis.

Sister, a sister calling
A master, her master and mine!—
And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;
The rash smart sloggering brine
Blinds her; but she that weather sees one thing, one;
Has one fetch in her: she rears herself to divine
Ears, and the call of the tall nun
To the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm’s brawling.

She was first of a five and came
Of a coifèd sisterhood.
(O Deutschland, double a desperate name!
O world wide of its good!
But Gertrude, lily, and Luther, are two of a town,
Christ’s lily and beast of the waste wood:
From life’s dawn it is drawn down,
Abel is Cain’s brother and breasts they have sucked the same.)

Loathed for a love men knew in them,
Banned by the land of their birth,
Rhine refused them. Thames would ruin them;
Surf, snow, river and earth
Gnashed: but thou art above, thou Orion of light;
Thy unchancelling poising palms were weighing the worth,
Thou martyr-master: in thy sight
Storm flakes were scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them.

Five! the finding and sake
And cipher of suffering Christ.
Mark, the mark is of man’s make
And the word of it Sacrificed.
But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,
Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd and priced—
Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token
For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
Lovescape crucified
And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters
And five-livèd and leavèd favour and pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

Lovescape Crucified!