Thursday, 5 April 2018

Stage 2: Detachment


The second Hopkins poem on our journey from despair to delight is also deeply troubling, but it does offer us a glimmer of light along the way. 

A note before you start reading: in the first line, the word ‘fell’ means ‘deadly, ferocious evil’.

            I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
          What hours, O what black hoĆ¼rs we have spent
          This night! what sights you, heart, saw; the ways you went!
          And more must, in yet longer light's delay.
             With witness I speak this! But where I say
          Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
          Is cries countless, cried like dead letters sent
          To dearest him that lives alas! away.

          I am gall, I am heartburn.  God's most deep decree
          Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
          Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
              Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
          The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
          As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

The main message Hopkins conveys to me in this poem is his dreadful sense of loss; endless separation from the one he loves; sourness and bitterness; visceral, heart-wrenching grief.

And yet. 

He finds an element of detachment.  Despite his obvious distress, Hopkins is able to write perfectly formed classic sonnet lines: ten syllables, with the stress on every second one: ‘I wake and feel the fell of dark not day’.  And then in the final six lines, he decides to vary the rhyming structure from the standard <cde cde> of the previous poem to <ccd ccd> (decree/me/curse; see/be/worse).

There is resonance again with mindfulness meditation - with the point at which we begin to create a space between ourselves and the pain and distress. Instead of being caught outside in the middle of a thunderstorm, we begin to watch the thunderstorm through a window. 

He has some inner company in this time of trouble. Within the first three lines, Hopkins’ switch from the first person ‘I’ to ‘we’ (I plus heart) to ‘you’ (heart). So he is not dealing with all this on his own. His heart is taking some of the burden for him.   


And maybe there is a purpose for him, behind all this suffering.  With ‘I see’ at the end of line 14, Hopkins suggests that this experience is enabling him to understand the torment of lost souls. We do not have to share his views on the afterlife to gain value from this idea. If we have experienced grief and loss ourselves, we are so much better placed to offer empathy and compassion to people we know who going through it all now. 


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