Friday, August 26, 2016

[My own heart let me more have pity on] - Gerard Manley Hopkins

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room, let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather - as skis
Betweenpie mountains - lights a lovely mile.

Where to even begin with this magnificent poem from Gerard Manley Hopkins?  At its core, this is a poem about accepting the idea that we all deserve grace and love, no matter how we feel about it.  For Hopkins, this would have been Grace with a capital G, as he was a devout Catholic, and it is impossible to read the poem without considering the relationship with God Hopkins sought to cultivate.  Still, even for those of us who are not religious, I feel the central themes of the poem resonate so strongly with many of our modern concerns.

The first stanza of the poem is a plea from the narrator to the self to forgive the self.  Who among us is not our own harshest critic?  I know that personally, I have many negative things to say to myself when I look inward.  We all do.  Hopkins is asking to have more pity on himself, to recognize his own worth.  When Hopkins reaches out for this comfort, he feels blind.

Pity and Grace, Mercy, Forgiveness, these are the things Hopkins seeks.  For him, the source of these things is in God.  "Soul" he addresses, "call off thoughts awhile."  By opening up to God, Hopkins is leaving himself open to "God knows what."  That what Hopkins lovingly describes as "skies betweenpie mountains - lights a lovely mile."  It's a bright and optimistic image.  By leaving those thoughts of trying to offer the self pity behind, and inviting Grace in, the future becomes limitless.

Looking at it in a more secular light, I think we can take the first stanza to heart.  We can always find reasons to criticize ourselves and deny ourselves the dignity afforded to all by way of nature.  We mustn't.  That first line resonates deeply with me.  "My own heart let me have more pity on."  Indeed, let me have more pity on myself.  Recognizing your own worth is a radial act, and whether you think you need the divine to do so or not is up to the individual. 

1 comment:

  1. I love, love, love Hopkins' poetry. For all his at-first-sight impenetrability, he cuts cleanly though to the centre of things so often, and finds the simple and instinctive words to describe a complex mood or situation. I love your analysis here - you are so right that the first half can speak to all of us, and that we are all prone to judge ourselves far too harshly. I imagine this might be a comforting poem for someone suffering from depression (I am lucky that I have never experienced that myself). I like the response to 'I cast for comfort' that comes in the second half: 'Leave comfort root-room'. It's an image from gardening, isn't it? (with perhaps an echo of the parable of the sower)and a reminder that sometimes we need to leave space for things to happpen, that surrending control to an openness to whatever comes can be a positive act (which I find a surprising thought coming from a Jesuit). I love the two short words on which the whole pivot of the sestet seems to swing: 'let be'.
    'Betweenpie mountains' is a bit baffling, but I'm taking pie as meaning black and white coloured (or at least parti-coloured) as in magpie, and that,from his mountainous Welsh landscape, he is remembering seeing the dark mountains closing in his horizons, as his depression closes in his perspective on things, but also recalling seeing a bright sunlit landscape reaching into the distance between two of these mountains, offering a promise of wider, happier times. Having just come back from trekking in the Andes, I can picture exactly how the looming silhouettes of mountains can hold in the space between them a long, bright vista. Thank you for reminding me about this superb poem, and for your insightful words on it.