Friday, April 06, 2012

Poetry Friday, Good Friday

I am enjoying the Progressive Poem; aren't you? Here it is today, hanging out at A Reading Year. Who knows what will happen to it before it comes to visit me on the 15th? It's absurd how excited I've been every day to track its progress.

We had a half day yesterday. Today and Monday are holidays. Most schools in this country are on full-blown vacation right now, so our students are not at all satisfied with the four and a half day weekend we're getting.

The sakura is in bloom in Tokyo, and I've been enjoying photos from various Japan-based Facebook friends. I'm thinking of this poem:

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now...
A.E. Housman

Loveliest of trees, the cherry now
Is hung with bloom along the bough,
And stands about the woodland ride
Wearing white for Eastertide.

Now, of my threescore years and ten,
Twenty will not come again,
And take from seventy springs a score,
It only leaves me fifty more.

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

But it's not time for "wearing white for Eastertide" yet. First we have Good Friday, and the long wait, the grave. Before the triumph is the suffering. Before the resurrection is the death. Before the joy comes in the morning, there's the night of weeping. So here's a poem about grief.

'No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief.'
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief."'

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

The mind does, indeed, have mountains, and there are times when no comforting is to be found. Hopkins knew this; he suffered with depression for much of his life.
"According to his own testimony Hopkins was subject to melancholy all his life, but his 'terrible pathos,' as Dixon called it, is most obvious in these late sonnets. Following Saint Ignatius, Hopkins defined 'spiritual sloth' or 'desolation' as 'darkness and confusion of soul ... diffidence without hope and without love, so that [the soul] finds itself altogether slothful, tepid, sad, and as it were separated from its Creator and Lord.' Called acedia in Latin, this sin is differentiated from physical sloth by the fact that the victim realizes his predicament, worries about it, and tries to overcome it."
(You can read this passage, and much, much, much more about Gerard Manley Hopkins here, at the Poetry Foundation website.)

I am thankful that Good Friday's sadness gives way to Easter's rejoicing, and also that poetry expresses both.

Here's today's Poetry Friday roundup.


Robyn Hood Black said...

Thank you, Ruth, for these deep reflections on this Good Friday, and especially for extra backgound about Hopkins. Happy Easter to you!

Andi Sibley said...

I was thinking of that Houseman poem today as I walked through the city enjoying the cherry and apple trees in bloom. Not quite the woodlands but shockingly beautiful nonetheless.

I love that Hopkins poem too, although it is hard to read. Hard to digest and painful to contemplate, but satisfying to see the thoughts/feelings expressed so beautifully. Wishing you blessings & peace this Easter morning.

Janet said...

Nice pairing for this weekend, Ruth.

Happy Easter.

Author Amok said...

Hi, Ruth. It's a beautiful day to celebrate the cherry blossoms. How sad about Hopkins. I'm going to read the full bio -- fascinating stuff.

Tara said...

And since to look at things in bloom
Fifty springs are little room,
About the woodlands I will go
To see the cherry hung with snow.

I saw a bit of this yesterday morning, on an early stroll in London where I am visiting. There is something of the resurrection in that image....

Mary Lee said...

What a pair.
Perfect for the season and for the Holy Days.