Friday, July 10, 2009

Kingfishers#12, A final word

The meditation on Gerard Manely Hopkins' poem "As kingfishers catch fire" contained in the foregoing posts was a long time gestating. Poetry expresses much in a very compact form, and projects a great deal of meaning by implication. Implied meaning of necessity depends on a dialogue with the listener, whose inference is rooted in his own experience and mood- things that change over time. As time has passed I have focussed on different sections of this poem, understanding some easily and consistently- "The just man justices" while others, " deals out that being indoors each one dwells" took a long time to find a fertile soil in my mind.

I have mentioned that "Kingfishers" was accompanied by two other Hopkins poems when I was introduced to it, and can be said to be part of a group that are beautifully lyrical. The lines about being indoors, even if their meaning seems obscure, are still so wonderfully beautiful that one can speak them in the same spirit as the tucked strings and roundy wells as part of Hopkins "sprung rhythm" without catching the harbinger of darkness and isolation which was to engulf Hopkins life and poetry. His journey to "THOU art indeed just Lord, if I contend" passed through a large number of poems that I frankly could not square with the beauty of "Kingfishers" until I had also passed though "the fell of dark" as well.

In "THOU art indeed just Lord, if I contend" we witness a retrospective dialogue of Hopkins,' in this case with the prophet Jeremiah. The first lines are a very literal translation of the beginning of Jerome's Latin translation of the 12th chapter of Jeremiah, which he then turns into a beautiful, if challenging sonnet. For many years the beauty of his latter poems was hidden from me. I hadn't collected the compost that the meaning of such as "Carrion Comfort," which ends with his own God wrestling, needed to grow. I should also add that my years of anti-clerical feeling inhibited me from accessing the religious aspect of a lot of these poems. But time and experience has made a fertile place, and my dialogue has continued, and my affinity deepened.

I have learned from the Marianni biography that there are also a number of coincidences- "THOU art indeed just Lord, if I contend" was written on St. Patrick's day only 30 miles from the fields I described in my own "St. Patrick's Day" (see post on March 17.)

There has been much more of my dialogue with Hopkins which I will share with you as time passes.

No comments: