Spring’s ephemeral but exquisite beauty inspired many of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems and his Journal. In his own words this wonderful season is ‘all in a rush with richness‘.
Hopefully the thrush’s song will echo through the woods, as in these Surrey Hills with their wonderful view over the Weald. Its sky blue eggs will glisten in mud-lined nests. The new born lambs will frolic in the fields. The pear and plum and cherries all full of blossom, all this a reminder of Earth’s sweet being in the beginning in Eden:
Nothing is so beautiful as Spring –
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?From ‘Spring’
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden….
The banks are ‘versed’ with primroses
Hopkins notices everything:
The bushes in the woods are spanned over and twisted upon by the woody chords of the honeysuckle. …the sycamores are quite the earliest trees out (April 15) The behaviour of the opening clusters is very beautiful.
Fumitory graceful plant. Vetch growing richly. Some beeches fully out in pale silky leaf with silver fur when held against the light on the edge…. Meadows skirting Seven-bridge road voluptuous green. Some oaks are out in small leaf. Ashes not out, only tufted with their fringy blooms. Hedges springing richly. Elms in small leaf, with more or less opacity. White poplars most beautiful in small grey crisp spray-like leaf. Cowslips capriciously colouring meadows in creamy drifts with bluebells and purple orchids,,,
This beautiful quilt of bluebells has waited all year for this moment. They are England’s own Spring woodland glory, thriving here as nowhere else.
There are sometimes moments when our spirit is awakened to see something of the hidden world, as the handiwork of the Creator is revealed. Hopkins records such a moment of ‘transfiguration’ here:
One day when the bluebells were in bloom I wrote the following: ‘I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebells I have been looking at. I know the beauty of our Lord by it. Its inscape is mixed of strength and grace like an ash tree.‘May 18th 1870
The May Magnificat
There was a great crying of corncrakes at night…..
The swifts round and scurl under the clouds. In the sky light streamers were about. Sometimes I hear the Cuckoo with wonderful clear and plump and fluty notes….
Cuckoo calling all day (Mid April)…..Beautiful blackness and definition of elm tree branches in evening light (from behind). Cuckoos calling and answering to each other. The young lambs toss and toss. It is as if it were the earth that flung them not themselves. It is the pitch of graceful agility.
What is Spring?—
Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;..….
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earthFrom ‘The May Magnificat’
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
‘The sprung rhythm and unusual words of these poems ring properly when heard rather than read (as with all poetry). That’s why his nature poetry is so refreshing. It is arresting and charged with new meaning, as a heart full of wonder struggles to express itself in a song of praise. The words echo in our memory long after hearing them.’
From my earlier post Gerard Manley Hopkins -the ultimate harvest.
7 thoughts on “Gerard Manley Hopkins in Spring”
Oh, I do love the poetry of GMH! Thank you so much for this glorious post, Richard.
Thank you, Clare. Yes, Hopkins’ poetry sings to us of spring, adding to the season’s beauty. Enjoy your spring. I hope it will make up for your disappointments in the garden last summer.
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Thank you, Richard.
It’s wonderful to see those swathes of flowers – I’ve noticed the cowslips this week, but also the blossom, beautiful words to celebrate the spring by.
There’s something new to notice every day – ‘all in a rush with richness’. Including your ‘cowslips capriciously colouring meadows in creamy drifts’. Cause for celebration, indeed.
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What extraordinary poetry from a poet that I’m not familiar with, especially his descriptions of spring. Thank you for sharing this, Richard, wonderful post
Hopkins has become a popular poet in Britain in recent years. His strange words sing in the imagination so beautifully.