Thursday, January 12, 2006

Half-way House

And another, slightly later poem comes to mind: “The Half-way House” Hopkins, who has desired to go to a place where springs do not fail—in so many senses—and where not storms come—in a prophetic vision of The Deutschland’s wreck—Hopkins finds himself halfway there in this early poem, on a journey urged by Love:

“Love I was shewn upon the mountain-side
And bid to catch Him ere the drop of day.
See, Love, I creep and Thou on wings dost ride:
Love, it is evening and Thou away;
Love, it grows darker here and Thou art above;
Love, come down to me if Thy name be Love.”

Here, the Road to Emmaus is combined with Tristan & Isolde, with Romeo & Juliet. The religious road is perhaps first an erotic road. Hopkins, the homosexual Oxford student, is on a journey of Love whose “local habitation and a name” he yearns for and has yet to know. But he does see his journey from Protestant English heresy through Oxford Tractarianism toward Rome as a Paschal escape from Egypt:

“My national old Egyptian reed gave way;
I took of vine a cross-barred rod or rood.
Then next I hungered: Love when here, they say,
Or once or never took Love’s proper-food;
But I must yield the chase, or rest and eat.—
Peace and food cheered me where four rough ways meet.”

What a journey Hopkins was on! No wonder he later so sympathized with the Tall Nun and her Sisters on The Deutschland’s journey and wreck! And the “four rough ways” do meet at a crossroads—the Cross-Road, the Way of the Cross, the moment of the Cross, the Crux of the Cross. See how these earlier poem’s elucidate the mystery at the heart of The Wreck of the Deutschland’s stanza 18! And then, Hopkins, as he does in “Part the First” of the later poem, sees the guide for his journey, the compass-point of his love’s confusion and sense of loss, his north pole in the Host, in the Real Presence of Our lord Jesus Christ in the Eucharist:

“Hear yet my paradox: Love, when all is given,
To see Thee I must see Thee, to love, love;
I must o’ertake Thee at once and under heaven
If I shall overtake Thee at last above.
You have your wish; enter these walls, one said;
He is with you in the breaking of the bread.”

God! How stunning, gorgeous, beautiful is Hopkins’ vision! Here, here is the clue to the meaning we avoid! Here is the key to the mystery of The Wreck’s stanza 18: it’s in the “Lovescape crucified!”


Fr.D said...

"Hopkins, the homosexual Oxford student, is on a journey of Love whose “local habitation and a name” he yearns for and has yet to know."
Do we have evidence that Hopkins was homosexual ? Or are we just assuming from the more florid styles of speech and affection common among men in the 19th century that this must be so ?
I know that Geoffrey Faber in his 1960's(?) work The Oxford Apostles, made much of this, for many of the Oxford converts, but we should surely be careful of statements or implications that we have little or no actual evidence for.
Thanks for your work

Perry Lorenzo said...

Well, I wouldn't make any claim for scholarship on Hopkins myself at all. However, his attraction to men seems to be acknowledged in all the major recent biographies; and while I would not at all connect him with the atmosphere of "gay life" whatsoever, I think that his poems often deal with the issues of male beauty, innocence, sin, and attraction. "To what serves mortal beauty" is very much on this theme. (and very orthodox!) I don't think it does any discredit to HOpkins as either an Artist or as a Christian to acknowledge this aspect of his emotional life.

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