Tag Archives: Hopkins

Hope, hard thing!


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 skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

These lines of Gerard Manley Hopkins, so kindly and calming, are like a balm for a tired soul – particularly the tired soul burdened with a fierce self-directed critical faculty. They come at the very close of his Sonnets of Desolation, or “Terrible Sonnets” – six sonnets which detail inner darkness and turmoil.   Altogether they seem to exemplify what a good friend in college once told me, that peace is sometimes hard-won.

“[W]e. . .exult in our tribulations, knowing that tribulation brings about perseverance; and perseverance, proven character; and proven character, hope.”

I was all ears as the lector read this on Sunday, for being of a melancholy turn of mind one virtue I notably lack is hope.  So, to get to hope we start with. . .tribulation?

I took the confirmation name of Joan, for Joan of Arc, because even at sixteen I knew there were battles to be fought and that I needed the courage of a soldier.  And there have been battles, sometimes difficult ones; but I have learned two things, and what a difference the knowledge has made.

One is, that I am not alone.  Across the street, at the park, on the freeway, I am surrounded by brothers and sisters each with their own battles.  I root for them, and it makes the struggle easier, to know that all around me are others who have come from the same beginning and are going to the same end – I hope – and who struggle, sometimes mightily, too.

The other is that we have a captain who has seen every kind of battle fray and over whom no enemy can triumph; and who moreover loves and watches over all of his soldiers and desires that not one should be lost.


Lovely and triumphant

You have triumphed over death your enemy; destroy in us the power of death that we may live only for you, victorious and immortal king.

Want to hear a story?  Two stories, actually.

About ten years ago I lived by myself in a little apartment in the south.  I had moved there to attend graduate school; but shortly after I began the program I left it.  I took a job as a stable hand at an equestrian park.

I liked the job.  I liked arriving in the early morning quiet, and seeing the mists over the pasture and the trees surrounding the stables hung with Spanish moss.  I liked how the huge animals stepped so quietly back and forth in their stalls.

Even so, it was a dark and low time.  I found it very hard to get through the hours of the day.

One day, I could not bring myself to go to work.  I felt frantic in my mind, thinking I could not bear to go down the long tree-lined drive to the stables again.  I could not, could not do it.

Around that time a TV show was on the air, called Who Wants To Be a Millionaire.  Contestants in the game could choose to call a friend for help, one of several options called “lifelines.”  I needed a lifeline – I called my brother Joe.

“Maria,” he said, “you need to get up and go to work.”

On the strength of his words, I did.  I went to work that day and in the days that followed, and continued on the slow, but steady climb out of the pit.

Flashback now to six years ago.  After a long hiatus from doing much of anything art-related,  I took a three day oil painting class.  After the class was over I had just an underpainting – kind of like the skeleton of a painting – so I had a long way to go before I would be finished.

I had such trouble getting myself to paint.  It was a great interior battle each day, trying to force myself to go to the easel and start.  One day, I had no excuse not to paint.  My work was done, the house was clean, my time was free.   I could not, could not do it.

I lay still, frozen.  A little demon called Failure was standing on my chest, and sneering in my face.

Michael sat down beside me.

“Maria,” he said, “you need to get up and paint.”

On the strength of his words, I did.  I kept at it, and at length – it took a long time – I finished that painting, and have been trying to keep doing something art-related ever since.

In these two stories, are you hearing what I’m hearing?  Last week as I was thinking over these things, it hit me between the eyes.

Little girl, get up.

One of my favorite poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins is “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.”  The last few lines of the poem read,

 – for Christ plays in ten thousand places
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

Destroy in us the power of death.  Christ works miracles through the words and limbs and eyes and voices of the members of his body.  He is lovely and triumphant in those who show mercy, who stretch out a hand to help others stricken by the power of death.