On Poetry, and Gerard Manley Hopkins

I don’t really like poetry. Shock! And this coming from someone who majored in creative writing and in English literature. But there you have it. I find it really awkward, for the most part, both in reading and in writing, and I feel like I have the authority to say that as someone who

  1. wrote a lot of really bad, maudlin poetry as an angsty adolescent,
  2. has received a lot of squirm-inducing poetry from boyfriends throughout the years, and
  3. once endured an impromptu private recital of Lord Byron’s “She walks in Beauty”, courtesy of a “boyfriend” who was probably as enamored with the sound of his own voice as he most likely was with his own good looks, and who had probably been researching Byron’s poetry as part of a role anyway.

With that said, I make some exceptions. I will always be obsessed with anything Pre-Raphaelite and so the Rossettis make my list. In more recent years, I’ve explored Neruda and Rilke. And out of a sort of nostalgia for high school English and college survey courses, and the jealous way they cling to canonical texts, I’m also partial to Whitman’s wide-eyed wisdom, the drug-addled portents of Poe and Coleridge, Shakespeare’s sly wordplay and Dickinson’s idiosyncratic, world-weary innocence. I really don’t have the patience for someone like T.S. Eliot, but I love “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock.” Finally, I can’t really leave John Keats off this list, not after hearing my Australian Brit Lit professor read stanzas of “Eve of St. Agnes” aloud in a darkened lecture hall. (The words “silken Samarkand” are burned indelibly into my mind.)

Anyway, a poem I have always loved is “God’s Grandeur” by Gerard Manley Hopkins. It first came to me under rather unspectacular circumstances–a reading assignment in English 100, in college–but at the time, 9/11 had just happened, so it held a different kind of significance for me, I guess. Judging from the date (1918), I would guess that Hopkins wrote it in response to WWI and its aftermath, but I think it has a timeless appeal, and the imagery kind of reminds me of the Mussorgsky/Ave Maria suite in Fantasia:

THE WORLD is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

One response to “On Poetry, and Gerard Manley Hopkins

  1. Sounds like you do like poetry. You don’t like all poetry. Like food you have to taste a variety to know what flavors you speak to you.

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