Wednesday, January 11, 2006
“Sister, a sister calling
A master, her master and mine!”
These words do sound like Music, even like a madrigal, as promised in the previous stanza’s request for “a madrigal start!”
Here we might pause and remember some earlier poems of Hopkins, poems about the Call, the Response, the yearning for Peace, the erotic desire for a religious life—earlier poems that might shed some light on the mystery of stanza 18 of The Wreck of the Deutschland and on the Voice of the Tall Nun.
Here’s one: Heaven-haven—a nun takes the veil. The fact of the character of a Nun and the reference to a Haven (“Bremerhaven”) reminds me of The Wreck of the Deutschland.
“I have desired to go . . .”
It is the expression of a yearning to go on a journey—a strange link between the chaste longing of a sister entering the convent and the Wagnerian Sehnsucht of Tristan. Hopkins, after all, is a Romantic poet!
“I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.”
The reference to lilies reminds me of the fragrance of the lilies in the poetry of St John of the Cross (also contemplated by Balthasar in his Theological Aesthetics), especially On a Dark Night: “ . . .and rest my cares amongst the lilies there.”
“And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.”
Tristan similarly sings an invitation to Isolde to follow him to a land where the sun shines not. Hopkins penned this Tristanesque lyric as a young man of twenty, while at Oxford, while an Anglican in the midst, like the boy Jesus in amidst the doctors in the Temple, of Walter Pater, Benjamin Jowett, Edward Pusey, Swinburne, Solomon, and John Henry Newman. The meaning is quite clear.
The journey to God is a journey of an erotic desire, from storm to haven, from swelling sea to silent home, from sharp and sided hail to a land of fresh springs and the fragrance of beautiful flowers—that journey of Eros toward the Truth and Goodness and Beauty of God.