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

Saturday, October 4, 2014

Poetry: “The May Magnificant” by Gerard Manly Hopkins

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
    Is it opportunest
    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;
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
    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,
    Nature’s motherhood.

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.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
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.


  1. A wonderful prayer. Thank you Manny.

    God bless.

  2. ((( Flannery O’Connor short story, “Greanleaf” which I’ve been analyzing.)))

    Long story short, if I ever need to be 'an a lied', no, no, Victor "I" meant to say Analyzing is what Manny does best and.......

    END? Get behind me sinner vic... lol

    All kidding aside Manny and like Victor # 1 said, "A wonderful prayer" and i also thank you for this thoughtful post.

    I recall when I went to school with Saint Paul, "I" mean when i went to Saint Paul Separate School in the fifties and early sixties... we had a French song that the entire school sang during the month of May... all the school would walk about a blog away to our "Holy Angel" church which had a beautiful statue of Our Blessed Lady surrounded by beautiful flowers... we would say "The Rosary"... and like I said earlier, we would also sing a song and the words went something like this below;

    C'est le mois de Marie,
    C'est le mois le plus beau,
    A la Vierge Chèrie,
    Disson un chant nouveau,

    Honorons le Sangtuaire
    De nos plus belle fleur
    Offron a notre Saint Mère
    Et nos fleurs et no Coeur.

    The above plus more that i can't recall was all done by heart at this moment and also not one French spelling was checked... I know that if my cousin who use to baby sit me in the late forties who later became a school teacher... anyway if she saw my French Spelling today, long story short, I'm sure that i would really hear about "IT".... I hear YA Manny, don't worry "Bout IT" Victor, you've already failed a long time ago so relax...WHAT?...lol

    OK! Seeing that not even most French men and/or wo men won't be able to read and/or understand what I wrote in French, I'll take a stab at it in End, i mean in English now below;

    It is the month of Mary,
    It is the month most beautiful
    To The Virgin Cherished
    Let us sing a new song

    Honor The Sanctuary
    Of our most beautiful flowers
    Offer to our Blessed Mother
    Our flowers and our heart

    YA had to be there Man, I mean it sounded really good back in the old days... never mind... tell YA more on YAR second time around... Maybe...:)

    God Bless