Love means to learn to look at yourself
The way one looks at distant things
For you are only one thing among many.
And whoever sees that way heals his heart.
Without knowing it, from various ills –
A bird and a tree say to him: Friend.
Then he wants to use himself and things
So that they stand in the glow of ripeness.
It doesn’t matter whether he knows what he serves:
Who serves best doesn’t always understand.
The magi would have understood this imperative to look at the stars. Abeles (or white poplars) are a Eurasian salicaceous tree (Populus alba) having palmately (“like a palm with fingers extended”) lobed leaves covered on the underside with dense silvery-white hairs. Flares are “a fire or blaze of light used especially to signal, illuminate, or attract attention.” These silvery sentinels stand signaling, calling us to notice and take heed.
This poem ends with an image of grain being gathered home to the barn. All of God’s people are the harvest that is taken home together behind the “piece-bright paling.” This image of grain being gathered into God’s barns is a prominent theme across many of Hopkins’ poems.
The Starlight Night
Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then! — What? — Prayer, patience, alms, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs!
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89) wrote with ecstatic vision and deep hope. This is a poem that I wish to wander through more slowly and more often. Angels and stars frequently overlap in scripture (even as the phrase “heavenly hosts” can mean either the stars or the armies of God, see the passage below). In the stories of Tolkien and Lewis, stars give their daughters in marriage to kings, sing order and beauty into the world and lend their light to the greatest jewels of the gods and elves.
The “heavenly hosts” made famous by English translations of the Bible have two distinct meanings: one is a reference to the stars; the other to God’s celestial armies, presumably of angels. Sometimes the two references seem to merge. In fact, the two meanings of the Hebrew phrase for “host of heaven” … reflect a probable association between angels and stars and planets in the Hebrew imagination. The heavenly hosts of stars, moreover, sometimes have associations of idolatry, since surrounding pagan nations were given to astrology and worship of the heavenly bodies. (Dictionary of Biblical Imagery by Leland Ryken, Jim Wilhoit and Tremper Longman, page 372.)
Journey of the Magi by Sassetta, c. 1435 (tempera and gold on wood; 8 1/2 x 11 3/4 in.; Metropolitan Museum of Art):
The Starry Night by Van Gogh, June 1889 (oil on canvas; 29 x 36 1/4 in.; Museum of Modern Art, New York; completed near the mental asylum of Saint-Remy 13 months before Van Gogh’s death):
Prayer by Abbess Bridget of Kildare, from the Ancient Christian Devotional, pages 192-193.
Rouse us, O Lord, from the sleep of apathy and from tossing to and fro in our thoughts, that we may no longer live as in a troubled dream but as people awake and resolved to finish the work you have give them to do. By your humble birth root out of our hearts all pride and haughtiness, that humble ways may content us, if so be that we may serve the humble. By the life of compassion for those who labor and are heavy laden, teach us to be concerned one for another and to bear one another’s burdens. By your hallowed and most bitter anguish on the cross, make us to fear you, and love you, and follow you, O Christ. Amen.
Another standard Anglo-Saxon kenning that echos in the mind is “peace-weaver” for “wife” or “queen.” It connects to many harsh and heavy burdens of Anglo-Saxon queenship. One example from the Gummere translation of Beowulf for The Harvard Classics:
Haughty that house, a hero the king,
high the hall, and Hygd right young,
wise and wary, though winters few
in those fortress walls she had found a home,
Haereth’s daughter. Nor humble her ways,
nor grudged she gifts to the Geatish men,
of precious treasure. Not Thryth’s pride showed she,
folk-queen famed, or that fell deceit.
Was none so daring that durst make bold
(save her lord alone) of the liegemen dear
that lady full in the face to look,
but forged fetters he found his lot,
bonds of death! And brief the respite;
soon as they seized him, his sword-doom was spoken,
and the burnished blade a baleful murder
proclaimed and closed. No queenly way
for woman to practise, though peerless she,
that the weaver-of-peace from warrior dear
by wrath and lying his life should reave!
“Word-hoard” is a favorite kenning from Beowulf (and it appears in other Anglo-Saxon literature). In a single compact image, it suggests that we should amass a storehouse of language inside of us (closely related to Augustine’s understanding of memory as a wealthy city). Lines 258 to 260 from Beowulf translated by William Morris and Alfred John Wyatt:
He then that was chiefest in thus wise he answer’d,
The war-fellows’ leader unlock’d he the word-hoard:
We be a people of the Weder-Geats’ man-kin
And of Hygelac be we the hearth-fellows soothly.
My father before me of folks was well-famed
Van-leader and atheling, Ecgtheow he hight.
Via Project Gutenberg.
Speaking of Augustine, Wilken writes:
Like all great Christian thinkers he consciously moved within a tradition he had himself not created. He was most comfortable with a page of the Bible open before him in a basilica in the midst of the community of faith to which he was accountable. The church fathers wrote “as those who are taught” (Isa. 50:4).
From The Spirit of Early Christian Thought: Seeking the Face of God by Robert Louis Wilken, pp. xix-xx.
In a revealing aside in a sermon preached on the anniversary of his ordination Augustine said, “I nourish you with what nourishes me; I offer to you what I live on myself.”
Ibid, p. 42.
Finding the Broken Man
by Scott Cairns
When I found the fallen climber caught
halfway down the slope of stunted pines,
he was already dead two days, and his body
stank; he was loose and careless as a boy.
I gave my jacket up for lost, and wrapped him
as I could, then shouted loud, hoping others,
in my group were near enough that together
we could lift him out. It’s a common thing
near White Pass and, I suppose, any mountain town
to be called out in search of hikers
overdue at home. Having found one dead
is a sort of badge we wear, and one
I’d probably wear, if the others searching
had heard me call, of if I’d been
man enough to wait.
This is another cherished favorite passed along to me by someone else. Cairns speaks poignantly about failed kingship. He tells a hard story well, and suggests immediately from the title that his poem is also about another broken body abandoned on another tree.
Going back to the roots of our own language with this imitation of Anglo-Saxon verse, Richard Wilbur explores how broken things are remade at the roots of mountains. The second poet laureate of the United States, Wilbur won two Pulitzer Prizes and the T.S. Eliot Award among many others.
I first came across this poem when studying the verse forms in Beowulf, and it now hangs on my wall, framed in an old wooden candle sconce that I found abandoned in an empty lot.
This image of the poem is captured from the Poetry Foundation because the formatting it too hard to duplicate.
Found this helpful info at Laudator Temporis Acti:
Wilbur prefaced his poem with a motto from the fragmentary Old English epic Waldere. …This is translated by Bruce Mitchell et al., edd. Beowulf: An Edition with Relevant Shorter Texts (Malden: Wiley-Blackwell, 1998), p. 209, as “Surely the work of Weland will fail not any of those men who can hold strong Mimming.” Weland was a smith, and Mimming was a sword.
A girl stood before him in midstream: alone and still, gazing out to sea. She seemed like one whom magic had changed in the likeness of a strange and beautiful seabird.
Yesterday’s Beatrice image, brought to mind many others. This one is from A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man by James Joyce (near the end of chapter IV).
Just after deciding not to become a priest, Stephen Dedalus has a (secular) vision of Mary, incarnate as this young girl by the sea. He sees all the beauty of his homeland in her and begins his quest for exile as a poet of Ireland. His vision is epiphanic and humanizing, although it draws him away from his Catholic faith. I quote only a brief opening line because so much of the passage requires the broader context of the story and surrounding imagery.
This wordless, 14-minute short is well worth several viewings. The Fantastic Flying Books of Mr. Morris Lessmore displays desolation and beauty with a magic and majesty of its own.