Wednesday whining and some poetry

This semester is dragging along, as slowly as it possibly can. I really don’t like wishing for time to pass by, as I feel like I’m wishing my life away, and that can’t be a good thing, but still … I’m longing for summer when I’ll have more time to read and sleep and ride my bike and go to yoga class and walk and read blog posts without feeling rushed. My semester, unfortunately, goes all the way through the middle of May and then some, so I have over a month left. Not that I’m counting or anything (okay, I have 4 1/2 weeks, dozens of classes to teach, hundreds of meetings to attend, and thousands of papers to grade, or something like that).

Unfortunately, I’m in a bit of a reading rut too, as I’m not enjoying Rosamund Lehmann’s novel The Echoing Grove as much as I thought I would. I loved Lehmann’s A Note in Music and thought I’d like anything she wrote. But The Echoing Grove hasn’t captured my attention and imagination as much as I’d hoped. It’s slow-moving and narrow in focus, but neither of those things is a problem for me, as I generally like that sort of book. It’s about relationships and love and family, and I generally like books about those topics. But in this case the characters haven’t grabbed me. I’m having trouble figuring out what to make of them, and I’m not finding myself very interested in their fates. Surely this is a bad thing. It was quite the opposite when I read A Note in Music, as I found myself responding emotionally to the characters and the situation. I’m not going to give up on Lehmann, though; I’m convinced I’ll like her other work. It’s just this one that’s not working for me.

I did begin a book of poems, which I’ve had a hankering to do for a while; I picked up Wallace Stevens’s Collected Poems. I’m not expecting to read through the whole collection, as it’s quite long, but I thought I might try to read the first section, his 1931 collection Harmonium, and then decide where to go from there. So far I’m enjoying the poems, although they are not yet knocking me off my feet. When I find one that does, I’ll post it here.

As for poems that do knock me off my feet, though, there is the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet we covered in my class today. I’m not a religious person these days, but Hopkins almost makes me wish I were. How can you read a poem like this one and not be tempted to believe in God?

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:

Praise him.

I love the way Hopkins uses sound in the poem, for example, the alliteration that appears in nearly every line: Glory/God, couple/colour/cow, fresh/firecoal/falls/finches, plotted/pieced/plough, trades/tackle/trim, fickle/freckled, swift/slow/sweet/sour. This is a poem that simply must be read out loud to be fully experienced (true for most poetry I suppose). Hopkins likes to use alliteration and other sound effects because they reflect the design he sees in the world around him — the design created by a God taking great care of the world he’s made. Hopkins also likes to write lines that are difficult to read out loud, lines with odd rhythms and strings of words that you have to work hard to spit out: “fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings” or “with swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.” As you are reading it, you are forced to slow down, which makes you linger over the words and perhaps take more time to consider their meaning. Reading a Hopkins poem out loud makes the words feel like physical things themselves; you can almost feel them in your mouth as you read.

And if I were to believe in God, I’d want to believe in one like Hopkins describes — one who has created and sees the beauty in “all things counter, original, spare, strange; / whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?).”

12 Comments

Filed under Books, Fiction, Life, Poetry

12 responses to “Wednesday whining and some poetry

  1. 4 1/2 weeks is not so very long. The semester will be over before you know it.

    The Hopkins poem is wonderful. I agree, you can feel the words in your mouth. What a joyful poem it is, I couldn’t help but smile as I read it. Thanks for sharing it.

  2. Oh, here’s hoping your semester moves along a bit more quickly. I found myself longing, suddenly and oddly, to NOT work. And I like my job. A lot. But I’m going through a phase where I just feel like I need a good long break from it, to get everything else I love on track, so I know sort of how you are feeling!

  3. Huh, never heard of Hopkins, but I ADORE alliteration, so now he goes in the TBR tome (I think I’m going to need to create a subject index for it soon. Right now, I just have notes such as “Dorr posted great alliterative poem.”) Meanwhile, here’s to 4 1/2 weeks that fly by, because they suddenly become fun and not because you’re wishing your life away.

  4. Cam

    Thanks for sharing the Hopkins poem. It’s been years since I’ve read this one.

  5. I know exactly how mid-term fatigue feels! Poor Dorothy, you have my every sympathy. Line up as many little treats for yourself as you can in those next four and a half weeks. Whatever it takes to boost your spirits. Giving to students all the time is exhausting and draining. I reckon that, lovely as Lehmann is, she’s a bit restrained and melancholy for your situation. You might do better with a book that’s comforting and fun with a few good jokes and a bit of pep.

  6. Dorothy, do you know why the Hopkins poem is filled with those odd diacritical marks?

  7. I have the same question as Amateur Reader. It is a lovely poem so thank you for sharing that one. I haven’t read but just a couple of his poems so I don’t know if he uses this in others.

  8. Don’t all those meetings make the time drag even more? And many of them seem like they’re so unnecessary! I hope the last few weeks go quickly (but I also know what you mean by not wishing time to go too fast either!). I just ordered a few used Viragos and one was the Lehmann book you read a while back (that you enjoyed), so I’m glad I chose it! Maybe the book you’re reading will pick up as you go. And while I struggle with poetry most of the time I have to say that one aspect I can really appreciate is how a poem sounds! You are right, sometimes just listening to the words and how they work together so well is an enjoyable experience all on its own. Thanks for sharing that one.

  9. I love the Hopkins poem. And especially the simple two-word finale…after all that breathless alliteration and romping sprung rhythm. What else is there to do afterall, but to acknowledge the exuberance and holiness of the natural world? ~~ Enjoy Wallace Stevens!

  10. Good luck with the Lehmann. I find I have to be in just the right mood for her books.
    And isn’t the Hopkins poem ecstatic? I think it’s my favourite Hopkins. Enjoy Wallace Stevens — you’ve made me want to go dig out my Collected Works. Try “Sunday Morning”, or, “The Poems of our Climate”, two of the ones I like best.

  11. verbivore

    The end of the semester can often seem long – I’m sure you’ll find some more energy for it soon (or you’ll get through on will power and bike rides in your free time)

    The Hopkins poem is lovely! Full and musical. Thanks for sharing.

  12. Stefanie — I’m glad you liked the poem! And you’re right — 4 1/2 weeks will fly by.

    Everythinginbetween — yes, that’s exactly it; I just need some mental space for a while. I wouldn’t want a life without a job, but that doesn’t mean I want the job every minute of my life!

    Emily — oh, my, there is so much to love about Hopkins! I know the TBR tome is just too huge, but I’m glad Hopkins is in there!

    Cam — I’m glad you enjoyed it; it’s great to be reminded of old favorites.

    Litlove — Lehmann IS too restrained and melancholy for right now, you’re so right. I’m definitely turning to something lighter next.

    Amateur Reader — Hopkins invented his own form of rhythm, sprung rhythm, and those marks indicate where he wants accents to fall. He doesn’t indicate all the accents, just the ones that readers might find confusing. I’ll admit, though, they don’t make a whole lot of sense when I look at particular lines …

    Iliana — I think he started using the accents after he’d begun to develop his own rhythm. I’ve seen them in a lot of his work. I’m glad you liked the poem!

    Danielle — my school LOVES meetings — just loves them. It’s so stupid! I had a wretched one today. I think you’ll like the Lehmann book — it’s very beautifully done.

    Deborah — Hopkins does capture the exuberance of the natural world, doesn’t he? I love the way you describe his style!

    Melanie — I’ll make sure to get to those two Stevens poems! And yeah, I’m not in the right mood for Lehmann, unfortunately; I’ll know better next time.

    Verbivore — I will get through it, one way or another. I’ve got a couple bad weeks and then things might ease up. You’re right — the energy will return!

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