Author Archives: John O'Neill

Pied Beauty

 

℣ Laudetur Jesus Christus
℟ In æternum! Amen.

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.

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 trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

The prayefulness of this poem is obvious – The Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins is always bracketed together with the Cistercian Thomas Merton and Cardinal John Henry Newman as the Great Literary Priests in the English language. Well, the great literary Catholic priests. Let us not, especially in the home of our hosts, forget the many, considerably greater, literary contributions made by Anglican divines since Swift and John Donne.

If you know what to look for, however, there is a subtle framing to this verse. In schools run by Catholic religious orders, it is, to this day, traditional to address teachers both lay and clerical with Latin greetings in praise of God – the greeting I made before reading the poem, to which Michael was primed to respond, is the greeting used in schools of the Piarist Order, one of which I attended.

In Jesuit schools, it is additionally, customary to write at the head and the foot of assignments, exercises and examination papers a pair of mottoes – at the head,  Ad majorem Dei gloriam (To the greater glory of God), abbreviated to A.M.D.G., and Laus Deo semper (Praise be to God always), abbreviated to L.D.S, at the foot. Both of these have echoes in the first and last lines of the poem. “Glory be to god”, and “praise Him”.

Which not only sets this poem deeply in Hopkins’ own Jesuit spirituality, but makes it a setting-forth, even a miniature essay.

To the poet, it is difference, multiplicity, the breaking-up and the tension, that are the true glory of creation. Look particularly at the use of the word “counter” at the beginning of the second verse. – “All things counter, original, spare, strange” – Hopkins’s naturalistic, that is nature-based, view – well, he was a Victorian poet, he could not fail to be in love with Nature – finds the truest, deepest maniestation of God in the varied, the evolving, even in opposition. Hopkins strikes a slightly Eastern tone in his view of the world as the product of creative tension. I don’t know enough about the concepts of yin and yang to cite them here, but it is impossible not to see in this poem a hymn of praise for difference, even for spiritual conflict. As the poet here strikes a slightly Eastern tone, I am reminded of the Book of Wisdom, itself a bridge between traditional Jewish teaching and the Platonic culture of the Hellenists who would be so disparaged by St. Paul three centuries later. In its Eleventh Chapter, it says, “For you love all things that are and loathe nothing that you have made; for what you hated, you would not have fashioned. And how could a thing remain, unless you willed it; or be preserved, had it not been called forth by you?”

The Kingdom of God is not, and will never be, a monoculture, any more than Creation is a fixed display in a glass vitrine, being calmly curated by a largely uninvolved God and a mute, subservient Humanity. Many people, as groups and as individuals, have had to fight for their own, full place in the community of belief. Hopkins, whom I think of as a warm, troubled slightly fragile Fr. Gerard, might point out to us that that fight itself is a manifestation of the blessed “counter-ness” within which the Glory of God is to be found, and for which He must be praised.

This is the text of the meditation given at 15 minutes with Christ on Monday 30 July 2012.

 

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