Friday, November 11, 2005

Balthasar on Hopkins

The remaining stanzas of “Part One” of The Wreck of the Deutschland well sing of that personal wrestling-relationship between the person and God—which Hopkins himself certainly experienced, in his vocation as a Poet, yes, and most of all in his vocation as a Jesuit.

Balthasar, in The Glory of the Lord, describes this relationship quite exquisitely---“the always unique oneness of the individual form that only emerges in the Christian encounter between the absolutely personal and free God and the fully personal creature—here alone truly ‘monos pros monon’ [alone with the Alone]—and just this fundamental experience had to lead Hopkins back to Ignatius and his Spiritual Exercises, where for the first time in the history of Christian spirituality everything is placed on the knife edge of the mutual election that takes place between God and man, behind which retreats any consideration of ‘perfection in general’. Here are dissolved all the confusing clouds of the mythical in order to uncover the absolute, hard reality in which alone the true glory of being shines forth.”

We certainly experience this poetically, most strongly, in Stanza Five—“I kiss my hand”. It is a salute, a loving salute to God in starlight, thunder, and sunset. One is reminded of the chivalric courtesy of Ignatius, as well as the romantic gestures of all poets, the total giving, the gratuitous generosity, the particular hard reality and the sweet spectacular uniqueness of a Vocation and a Response. “I kiss my hand” to God’s revelation of His Beauty, in the here and now, and in the beyond.

We are reminded, too, that gazing upwards at the stars is a sign of Man’s eternal vocation and destiny. And here too Hopkins describes God as the instress of the World—the energy, the be-ing, the let-be-ing that makes the World both that it is and what it is. Hopkins also indicates at least two modes in which he knows God—when he meets or experiences Him, and when he understands Him. And that the poet says “and bless when I understand” hints that real understanding happens only once in a while. But the salute, the generous gesture, is the continual response to the Call, the response to Beauty!

I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight, wafting him out of it; and
Glow, glory in thunder;
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:
Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

Balthasar saw & heard this vision of Beauty in Hopkins' sacramental poetry!

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