Thursday, 6 June 2013
"Sweet Fire the Sire of Muse": Gerard Manley Hopkins Turns the Volume Up to 11
TO R.B. (Gerard Manley Hopkins)
The fine delight that fathers thought; the strong
Spur, live and lancing like the blowpipe flame,
Breathes once and, quenchèd faster than it came,
Leaves yet the mind a mother of immortal song.
Nine months she then, nay years, nine years she long
Within her wears, bears, cares and moulds the same:
The widow of an insight lost she lives, with aim
Now known and hand at work now never wrong.
Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this;
I want the one rapture of an inspiration.
O then if in my lagging lines you miss
The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation,
My winter world, that scarcely breathes that bliss
Now, yields you, with some sighs, our explanation.
Gerard Manley Hopkins seems to be at or near the top of a lot of people's lists, whether of favourite poets, or most influential, or whatever list they choose. I find him amazing, but frankly overwhelming - his poetry is so intense both sensually and spiritually that I get overloaded quite quickly when I read him. His poetry, almost unrecognised and unpublished in his Victorian lifetime, was very innovative for its time and has gone on to be massively influential. I hear echoes of him in so many poets. Ted Hughes's 'The Hawk in the Rain' descends in a straight line from 'The Windhover'. Dylan Thomas also reminds me very much of Hopkins (though I'm equally unprepared to comment on either of them.)
I came across this poem, 'To R.B.', quite recently and loved it. R.B. was the poet Robert Bridges, who I recently crossed paths with as he edited an anthology of heroic poetry during World War I which Mallory took with him to Everest. Robert Bridges was a close friend of Hopkins and encouraged his poetry, and later edited and published collections of Hopkins' poems after his death.
The poem itself is pretty stunning, an inspired ode to inspiration. I must confess that the line "Sweet fire the sire of muse, my soul needs this" had me picturing Hopkins as the lead singer of...well...a hard rock/metal band with almighty riffs, bombastic tunes, and exceptionally good lyrics. Couldn't you just hear Robert Plant, Axl Rose, Freddie Mercury, Matt Bellamy, Sammy Hagar, Geoff Tate...er...(someone please stop me...) belting out those lines?