Consecrated to the Heart of the Redeemer under the patronage of the Theotokos and Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

16 October 2012

Reading "The Wreck," Stanza 4-5

I am soft sift        25
            In an hourglass—at the wall
        Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,
            And it crowds and it combs to the fall;
    I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,
    But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall        30
        Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein
Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

In the fourth stanza of The Wreck of the Deutschland, G. M. Hopkins offers several vivid images to convey the serene resolve of a soul infused with grace.

The sand that slips into the bottom of an hourglass: it moves quickly and inexorably, yet gently.  "Mined with a motion" is the title of a book on Hopkins' poetry.

According to the notes on the poem, "the well is fed by the trickles of water within the flanks of the mountains."  "Roped" lends obscurity to the passage, yet one may say that the grace that flows from the heights is what provides both the matter and form of the well's contents.  The mountain ("voel," in N. Wales) in-forms the well; the Source feeds the receptacle.

Several epithets apply here to grace: (1) The Gospel proffer--what the Gospel puts forth: salvation, vitality, nourishment and hydration; (2) A pressure--compare to "a motion, a drift...[that] crowds and...combs to the fall";  (3) A principle--a "first thing," an immovable, immutable standard; a "foundation" (the other half of the hendiadys "Principle and Foundation," which begins St. Ignatius of Loyola's Spiritual Exercises); (4) Christ's gift--epithet with the most obvious meaning.

Our Reverend Poet illustrates the dynamic-static tension underlying all reality.  Heraclitus, my favorite pre-Socratic philosopher, was known to say, "War is father of all things" (Polemos pater panton).  He posits the constant of change ("One does not step into the same river twice," etc.), while other pre-socratics would favor what abides.  Hopkins, true to the "both-and" Catholic way, finds room for activity and stillness, locating them both in himself, and, it seems, in God as well.

+ + + + +

I kiss my hand
            To the stars, lovely-asunder
        Starlight, wafting him out of it; and        35
            Glow, glory in thunder;
    Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:
    Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,
        His mystery must be instressed, stressed;
For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.  

Where can God be found ("wafted")?  Nature's hymnodist offers three praise-worthy suggestions: the light of the stars, the sound of thunder, and the setting sun.

The acting of kissing one's hand is a form of respect that might be lost on newer generations.  One elderly Hispanic nursing home resident bids me farewell in this manner when I leave her room.

God must be discerned ("stressed") in these wonders of nature; the detection of His presence is neither automatic nor effortless.  The encounter of God in these or other created realities is an occasion for gratitude.

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