These first ten stanzas of Hopkins’ The Wreck of the Deutschland form “Part One” of the poem---and they sing the wrestled relationship of the person and God. “Part Two” sings the tale of the death by shipwreck & drowning of the exiled German nuns.
Stanza Four is repose after sudden climax—“I am soft sift”—but it is an active, acted up repose that is still a responsiveness: and that is the Gospel lifestyle. In these dense, rich metaphors, Hopkins gives us a vision of the Beauty of a lifestyle of Grace. Such a life is like two things—sand in an hourglass, water in a well. Either way, we cling to Him, spent, spending, suspended. “Hourglass”, of course, implies time, irreversible, moment by moment, hour by hour, in which we live. And the Gospel lifestyle is one of motion—like, perhaps,in a third image, a ship roped to the dock, roped with the strictures of Christ, which are described as “a vein”. And we know whose vein, and we know our veins too. Thus Hopkins jams more meaning in, almost more than any one word can carry. Thus he is like Pindar and Virgil.
This lifestyle of Grace—“Christ’s gift.” Hopkins shows us—and this is why Balthasar so emphasizes Hopkins in The Glory of the Lord—the Beauty of the relationship with Christ.
I am soft sift
In an hourglass—at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
And it crowds and it combs to the fall;
I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall
Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.