In Praise of Overwriting (If you’re Gerard Manley Hopkins)

(The Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins died age forty five in 1889, leaving behind poems that weren’t published for another thirty years, when his efforts to reinvigorate poetry that had been trapped in Victorian decorum and predictable traditional meters were finally recognized as genius. Not only did Hopkins create his own poetic cadences, but he had a fantastic eye for nature. In a biographical sketch of Hopkins from Lives of the Poets: The story of of one thousand years of English and American poetry, Louis Untermeyer made the following observation:)

Hopkins was not only God-intoxicated but image-drunken. He used metaphors as explosively as Van Gogh used paint; his poems reel with comparisons which rush recklessly from one implication to another. A mountain brook is “a darksome burn, horseback brown,” a “rollrock highroad roaring down”; stars are “firefolk sitting in the air” or “flake-doves sent forth at a farmyard scare:’ “silk-sack clouds” are like “meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies”; aspen trees have “airy cages” which “quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun”; the thrush’s song “through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring the ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing,” and the lark pours out its music “till none’s to spill nor spend.” It did not take a rainbow to make Hopkins’ heart leap up. He was all amazement at the ordinary sight of thrush’s eggs “like little low heavens,” of a stream with its “wide-wandering weed-winding bank,” and weeds themselves “in wheels, long and lovely and lush.” Even an old horseshoe was to him a “bright and battering sandal.”

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