"Love follows knowledge."
"Beauty above all beauty!"
– St. Catherine of Siena

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Poetry Analysis: Spring by Gerard Manly Hopkins

My poet to read and absorb this year is Gerard Manly Hopkins, an English, Victorian poet.  Hopkins was a Catholic convert and a Jesuit priest, and was among the most original of poets.  I’ll go into the nuances of his style in a later post, but let’s get a feel for his poetry. 

To commemorate spring, that most wonderful of seasons, here is his poem titled, simply. 

by Gerard Manly Hopkins 

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.

What is all this juice and all this joy?
  A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
  Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
  Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

First, it’s an Italian sonnet, and the first two quatrains (the first eight lines) describe a beautiful pastoral scene at the start of the season.  Thrush’s eggs are near hatching, but what’s interesting is that the blue of the eggs reflect the blue of the sky, suggesting a relationship between the pastoral scene and paradise.  The “descending blue” of line seven is sort of a blessing coming down from God.

In the sestet (the final six lines) Hopkins asks in his inventive way (“What is all this juice and all this joy?”), what’s this all about?  His answer is that the beauty of spring is a remnant of earth’s original state, the “cloy” of nature, before sin entered the world and Christ and innocence was the state of things.
But notice Hopkins style.  He loves the Anglo-Saxon-esk alliteration: weeds/wheels, long/lovely/lush, richness/racing, flair/fling, and so on.  And he loves rhythmic phrasing, even if it awkward on the tongue.  Notice the jumbled syntax of the last four lines to alter the rhythm to emphasize Christ: “Have, get, before it cloy,/Before it cloud, Christ, lord…”  Look at the symmetry of that phrase: “Have, get” balances with “Chrst, lord” while “before it cloy” echoes with “Before it cloud.”  That is so excellent.

Here’s a really nice reading of the poem.
Hope you enjoyed it, and hopefully spring is here to stay


  1. I might just warm up to poetry yet...I like that one.

  2. I just figured out what that poem reminds me of-a Marjolein Bastin greeting card. And childhood.

    1. I don't know Bastin greeting cards, but I'm glad you liked this. I'll be posting more of his poems throughout the year. They get harder, but i'll try to explain them. At his best, Hopkins is a truly beautiful poet, and one I think particularly you'll like. Thanks Jan.