Another Hopkins poem, and I post this not because it’s so overwhelming a poem—it’s a nice poem, but not great—but because it gave me insight into the Flannery O’Connor short story, “Greanleaf” which I’ve been analyzing.
First the poem.
The May Magnificat
by Gerard Manly Hopkins
MAY is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
Her feasts follow reason,
Dated due to season—
Candlemas, Lady Day; 5
But the Lady Month, May,
Why fasten that upon her,
With a feasting in her honour?
Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her? 10
And flowers finds soonest?
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?— 15
Growth in every thing—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Throstle above her nested 20
Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
And bird and blossom swell
In sod or sheath or shell.
All things rising, all things sizing 25
Mary sees, sympathising
With that world of good,
Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind 30
How she did in her stored
Magnify the Lord.
Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
Much, had much to say 35
To offering Mary May.
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry 40
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all—
This ecstasy all through mothering earth 45
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation.
For those that may not know, “The Magnificant” refers to the Canticle of Mary that our blessed mother sings (or speaks) on her visit to her cousin Elizabeth in Luke’s Gospel, 1:46-55. The poem also refers to the Liturgical Calendar’s dedication of the month of May to the Blessed Virgin. As you can read, Hopkins starts the poem as a meditation.
If read the first part of my of my analysis of O’Connor’s short story, “Greanleaf,” I wondered why O’Connor named the central character “Mrs. May.” I don’t know if O’Connor read this poem—it’s quite likely—but the fertility that Hopkins associates with Mary here (she is pregnant with Jesus) is clearly alluded to in the O’Connor short story. That Mrs. May stands for sterility in the story makes her name ironic and paradoxical. The word “greenworld” in the 18th line of the poem echoes the name of the family that stands in contradistinction to Mrs. May, the Greanleafs.
I’ll flesh this out in my part two post of the “Greanleaf” analysis but for now just enjoy this wonderful poem.