Around the Corner and Down the Hill


The 27th Gerard Manley Hopkins International Festival took place in Newbridge, Kildare, at the Dominican college there. It is situated in quite a lovely spot on a bend along the River Liffey, and if ever a spot could inspire the muse, this is it.

There were, however, alongside academic lectures, poetry recitations and singing (notably, ‘Molly Malone’ in Latin, off-key, which I understand is something of a tradition), trips to various places of interest in Co. Kildare.

First we went to Maynooth College (NUI), where it is thanks to the kindness of Miho Takahashi that I have these photos at all.

Sakiko Takagi & I at Maynooth, 20th July

Sakiko Takagi & I at Maynooth, 20th July

Then we proceeded to have a tour of the Russell Library, at which I could have stayed all day, and possibly half the night. They were having a special exhibit on WWI, and on the particular straits of their German Professor, Bewerunge, who went on a visit home in 1914, and didn’t make it back to Ireland until 1921, I believe. This should be a lesson to us.

Russell Library, Maynooth, 20th July

Russell Library, Maynooth, 20th July

And if I haven’t managed to convince you to visit yet, the Chapel was worth the entire day alone. Here is the outside, which helps to almost enclose the square (it would’ve done, except they ran out of money, and hired a different architect, etc). Also, there is a rather interesting garden at the foreground, which won a few prizes and all, designed by a well-known gentleman recently, but I’d much rather talk about the chapel.

CIMG3509Because it is well worth talking about. Here is the view from the altar.

CIMG3520It is very narrow, very high and very long. I believe they said it was one of the biggest college chapels in the world, and I believe them. (You can check out some of the history here: Chapel). Notably, the history of how the Chapel, and the College were founded is mind-boggling. In the late 18th century, the British Crown (!) funded it because those Irish priests were getting far too many revolutionary ideas from the continent.

But really, what is most impressive is the detail. For example, each one of those pews is unique in design, decorated with a species of plant native to Ireland. Or we could talk about the floor:

CIMG3525Or the altar:

CIMG3522Or again:

CIMG3519This is the backside of the altar, and the carving of the marble is really just exquisite. Or check out this, the Lady Chapel:

CIMG3517Really, no expense seems to have been spared if you look at this wall gilding:

CIMG3516Unfortunately, I have no more pictures to offer of Maynooth, but you can take a virtual tour here:
Chapel, St. Patrick’s College Maynooth in Nui Maynooth

One of the other trips we made was to the Bog of Allen, next to the Hill of Allen, which is a historically important site in Irish History and one which tends to pop up in folklore quite a bit.

IMG_1554This peat: black, brown and white. Black is the most dense, and comes from the deepest part of bog, and burns the best. Brown is the middle layer, and white is the top (mostly used for gardening, I believe).

IMG_1557They differ in the strata of the bog, and are composed of different materials of different ages (there was quite a lecture but I’m sure you can find a book on peat).

Anyway, here we are, stacking peat to dry:

IMG_1545And here is the view from the top of the Bog of Allen:

IMG_1553It really is just breath-takingly wonderful. For those of us who like flowers of all sorts (lichen and otherwise):

IMG_1592This is what the bog looks like up on top, and quite frankly, reminds me a lot of the Cape. And below, I believe this is to be a type of heather which is very common on the bog.

IMG_1562Finally, after we stood on the Bog of Allen, listened to bog folk music and did reels. Also, we ate colcannon, which is quite tasty. That was an unexpected treat.

As I have said, there was much pub-visiting in the evening, and if you went, it was largely regarded as a public service that you had to perform. Here is proof that, as they say, I did my bit.




Paradox and Mystery

One of Hopkins’ most celebrated poems, it is easily one of his most anthologized and because of this, beaten, battered and bruised into the minds of schoolchildren, who henceforth regard Hopkins with the sort of terror and misery which was previously reserved for playground bullies and fish stick Fridays. This is a pity, because ‘Pied Beauty’ is lovely, in both a physical and spiritual sense. But we aren’t here to talk about the failing educational standards of the United States, but rather a closer understanding of Hopkins.

In his close textual reading of the poem, Cappella notes the importance of the comma, semi-colon section of ll.7-9, pairing as they do opposites into a whole, so that “swift” is coupled to “slow,” “sweet” to “sour” and “adazzle” to “dim.” The beauty that poet is praising is “all things counter, original, spare, strange” so that ordinary things of the world become extraordinary in the sight of the poet. This pairing of opposites into a single whole is, by nature, a paradox, but that paradox only points to the greater paradox of the poem.

Cappella made a point of noting the fact that ‘pied’ can also mean ‘variable,’ and when we consider this in light of the penultimate line of the poem, that of “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change,” we have thus hit upon the greater paradox. If Hopkins intended that reading, how can both be true? We may, of course, separate the ‘variable’ beauty into the physical beauty of the world and leave the unchanged beauty of God alone, but then we must consider also that ‘fathers-forth’ is in the present tense. It could refer to the idea of grace (for a parallel example, cf Summa III.40.iv.1), or it could refer to something akin to the spiration of the Spirit.

But what I wonder is (and this is just musing mind), when we consider the pairing of opposites in paradox, and the mundane made divine, if it is meant to refer to the mystery of the Incarnation and the paradox of the Eucharist.

The Way the World Ends

Hopkins’ poem ‘Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves’ is even more troubling than the Terrible Sonnets, in many ways. For one, does the title suggest the Oracle at Delphi, or as Takahashi suggests, is it the Sibylline Books? Or, as Egan pointed out, is ‘spelt’ meant to refer to ‘wheat’ rather than letters? That is the matter taken lightly, but the while the theme of the Terrible Sonnets may have been dark, it is somehow less terrifying than the idea of Judgement presented in ‘Sibyl’s Leaves.’

Mr. Eliot may say what he likes about a ‘whimper,’ but merely “Our evening is over for us; our night whelms, whelms, and will end us” chills the blood as he never could. Consider also the chilling effect of the end of the poem, combining as it does two different kinds of judgement. The first, “let life wind / off” into “two spools” can only refer to the Fates, the three goddesses whose allotment of life to mortals was demonstrated by the metaphor of spinning and weaving, and finally, cutting the thread. But the poet’s remembrance of that brings in another line of thought, for “two spools” becomes “two flocks, two folds” where they are “black, white; right, wrong;” and at once here is the Christian judgement, where the two semi-colons indicate how the entire terror of the thought rests on those paired opposites of black and white, right and wrong.

“Reckon but, reck but, mind / But these two,” so the poet continues (and consider the fruitful allusions of ‘reckon’ and ‘reck’), almost breathlessly, with the unbearable clever ‘mind’ at the end of the line serving as both a warning and a reminder. “Ware of a world” cries the poet, “of a rack / Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe-and shelterless, thoughts against thoughts in groans grind.” If the onomatopoeic nature of those last two words didn’t convince you, consider fully that middle clause of ‘selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe-and shelterless,’ and perhaps the consequences of a certain Garden popped into your mind.

Takahashi said it well when she called this poem “the apocalyptic hymn of Hopkins.”

Straining for Something

‘Hurrahing in Harvest’ is one of the loveliest and most celebrated of Hopkins’ poems. The whole literary world is still breathlessly waiting on the remarkable ambiguity of “O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.” Consider also how the line “these things were here and but the beholder / Wanting” (ll.11-2) is so similar in effect to the line “It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze from oil / Crushed” (ll.3-4) in ‘God’s Grandeur,’ and is similarly subtle in meaning.

Complexities of ambiguity aside, there are two thoughts (aside from many others) that I shall comment on. First, per that little post on Hopkins the Victorian, how the “stallion stalwart” and the “heart” which “rears wings bold and bolder” (ll.10-4) cannot help but put one in mind of the myth of Pegasus, the winged horse of Greek mythology who Bellerophon, in his hubris, tried to ride to the heavens. Since the speaker says “I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes” in order “to glean our Saviour” in the heavens, the parallels are too exact to be accident. Yet unlike Bellerophon, who suffers grievously on account of his attempt, the speaker’s last line seems rather in ecstasy, suggesting that unlike the Greco-Roman gods, who took umbrage at mortal inroads, the ‘Saviour’ of the speaker is quite different.

Secondly, let us consider the alliteration of ‘Hurrahing in Harvest,’ which since this is Hopkins, there is a great deal of and in the title no less. While there is a profusion of ‘h’ alliteration throughout, I wish rather to draw attention to the ‘g,’ ‘r,’ and ‘b.’ For ‘g,’ we have “glory” and “glean” in l.6, “gave” in l.7 and “greeting” ‘in l.8. For ‘r,’ we have “rise” in l.1, “rapturous” and “realer” and “rounder” in l. 8, and lastly “rears” in l.13. For ‘b,’ we have “barbarous” and “beauty” in l.1, “beholder” in l.11 and “bold” and “bolder” in 13. What these mean I cannot say for certain, only notice the poet’s ecstasy (‘rapturous,’ ‘glory, ‘bold’ and ‘bolder’) in seeing (‘glean,’ ‘beholder’) what reality is (‘realer,’ ‘rounder,’ ‘barbarous’ and ‘beauty’).

Man of Mystery

It seems that Hopkins is a man out of time. Perhaps it is because his poetry was not published in its entirety until after the War, and many a fine Modernist claimed him as their own. Yet Arkins’ lecture on ‘Hopkins and the Classics’ reminded me that for all of our (mis)appropriation of Hopkins, he was, himself, a Victorian. What the word chains that Hopkins uses to such great effect may not necessarily be akin to the Modernist usage at all, Arkins suggested, but being rather more like to Aeschylus’s use of compound adjectives. One notes also a certain elegance of brevity in Hopkins, which cannot be denied looks of Latin origin.

Classics aside, Hopkins’ study of etymology and philology and his use of it in his poetry is breath-takingly Victorian, almost as much as his use of alliteration and assonance, and his play with the nature and sound and rhythm of words (as had the ancient roots of English poetry done of old) is so absent in Modern poetry, which may explain much about it. In point of fact, Hopkins’ poetry is so overwhelming in the sense of language, so carefully designed and ornamented (whether within a metrical form or no), that one might suggest that he has more in common with his peers in time, than out of it.

Consider also the subtlety and double-play of his words, more akin to Herbert or Donne perhaps, than those that followed after him. And if academics have liked to make much of the Terrible Sonnets, well, they certainly take part in a literary tradition as near as that Donne and as far away as Thomas Wyatt. That is not to say he is entirely Victorian, for Hopkins is, in many ways, so entirely fresh and original, so novel that he does not fit with staid or dull verse. But if anyone deserves his own literary category, surely Hopkins does. Then again, is that not the nature of great literature?

Bearing Witness

The question is—does Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ need an introduction? While not so ubiquitous as Shakespeare, googling his name (or referring to the nearest bookstore) usually returns a tidy witness to his popularity, not including the barrels of ink spilled by academics on his account. Therefore I suggest if you don’t know who Hopkins is, you should take yourself to the nearest encyclopedia, or if that should fail you, at the very least, Wikipedia.

In any case, while the International Gerard Manley Hopkins Festival is not quite so well known as Hopkins himself, that too has a website you can google, so I shall restrain myself to describing some of the lectures which, though interesting, do not merit a whole post.

Firstly, Adamson gave a very interesting lecture, entitled ‘The Man from Petrograd,’ on precisely why Robert Bridges put off and put off, and put off yet again having Hopkins’ poetry published, despite some great demand. It took Bridges some twenty years to have Hopkins’ poetry published, which is obviously demonstrates the importance of picking your literary executor wisely (in particular, cf Letter to Mrs. Manley Hopkins, 4th of August 1890, where Bridges refers to “the peculiarities of his versification” and the “freakishness corresponding to his odd choice of words etc”). Whether it was envy (quite possibly), arrogance (without a doubt) or simply block-headedness, Adamson demurred to say, noting only his supposition that the reason why Bridges failed to understand and appreciate Hopkins-the-poet was because he did not understand Hopkins-the-priest. In any case, Adamson took particular care to note the great irony of Bridges’ letter to Mrs. Manley Hopkins on the 14th of January, 1918, just prior to the publication of edition of Hopkins’ poems, where he informed her of “what happiness it is to have one’s long patience at last rewarded.”

Secondly, Bagnall gave a lecture on ‘Hopkins and the Catholic University,’ which gave an enormous amount of background for Hopkins’ employment in the Classics Department at UCD in 1884. During the time Hopkins was there, UCD was poorly run, both with regard to its accounts and the management of its faculty and students to the extent that it is amazing that the school still exists. UCD was heavily in debt, seemed incapable of collecting its student’s fees, and better still, paid faculty differing amounts seemingly without cause. Such is a recipe for disaster. This may go some way as to explaining why (beyond the obvious), Hopkins was miserable in Dublin.

Finally, Grandgeorge gave a lecture on ‘Hopkins and Habbakuk,’ and while I am inclined to disagree that the origin of the phrase “send my roots rain” comes from the book of Habbakuk, as I would guess that it rather comes from the Psalms (if one must be Biblical), or more likely from the Prologue of Chaucer. But what I found most striking was Grandgeorge’s comment on Hopkins’ conversion to the Catholic faith (it must be noted that Grandgeorge is a Protestant minister), when he remarked on what might have happened if Hopkins had remained in the Church of England. “And what could he [Hopkins] have had? Oh my friends, a man of his genius, of his particular genius, could have had all the world has to offer, including a relationship with God.”

Yet this remark, it seems to me, taking as it does an anguished look at the loss of poetry and relationships and things that Hopkins suffered on his entering into the Jesuits, is extremely ironical. For it was, as Hopkins himself might have said, only in forsaking his life that he found it.

There Will Be Time

For a city of its size, Dublin is quite clean. One need only walk up Grafton St. at three or four in the afternoon to see why, or rather, to be nearly run down by a street sweeper. On account of this, it may be a surprise to see how many beggars there are in the streets. Now, this is nothing new to a city, and quite frankly, compared to Rome or even Jerusalem — there are relatively few beggars in Dublin. But then again, the beggars in Rome and Jerusalem were blind or lame, missing hands or feet. I’ve met no such beggars in Dublin.

Perhaps though I am being unkind, for certainly one or two of them have seemed not well, though in a mental rather than a physical capacity. But perhaps also I am cynical, for I have caught more than a glimpse of an Iphone or two, despite the ragged coffee cup for coins, and perhaps also I am prejudiced, for that one or two I have seen laying drunk on the steps of the buildings in Baggot Street. Perhaps also I dislike being taken for a fool, for if I dare not look down for fear of being called at for alms, it is also true that the girl who wears a bag pack and looks much like any other young college student attracts much less begging than any appearance of purse or suit.

But as much as I am inclined to charity, I am mindful of not only the phrase ‘gentle as doves’ but also ‘wise as foxes.’ The two, you see, go together. It is has long been a thorny question for me, whether one ought to give alms to beggars in the street. And while I have been accused of sticking my head in the sand, it is not for disregard that I question, but doubt.

As it stands, I have two major qualms, if we ignore my more niggling thoughts. Firstly, the question of stewardship, which is to say, is it proper to utilize monies given for the sake of scholarship under the Smith Fellowship, as alms? While the Fellowship necessarily provides for certain items, it makes no provision in this case. Yet also, it may be argued, the funds were given to my charge to dispense as I would, within reason, during my stay in Ireland. So too, to this end, you could argue, that the terms for Catholic and Dominican Study would require this. This, it seems to me, is more than reasonable.

If such reasoning is acceptable for the first qualm, what then of the second, which is by far more long-standing than the first?  Secondly, then, what of the question of temptation? As Christians, not only are we to avoid sinning, we are to avoid causing sin for others, even to the point of offering temptation to sin. Now, we may say that if the circumstances of these beggars were truthfully known, we would have no qualms. Yet they are unknown to me, save as faces on the street. While I would and do happily give to the churches who support the indigent in their parishes, I assume that they know the needy and their circumstances.

In my case, I do not. I cannot say either, if I were to give, whether I will have done good or ill by them. If I offer in ignorance, does that ignorance excuse me of what harm I may have helped to do? If I do not offer at all, for fear of what  I may have helped to do, have I done more good than harm, or more harm than good?

I cannot say I know, and yet truthfully, the only thing I do know fully is that it weighs gravely on the soul.