Twin poems, 2: And it stoned me, to my soul

 

Hurrahing in Harvest

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks arise

Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour

Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-waiver

Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across the skies?

 

 

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,

Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;

And, eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a

Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?

 

And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder

Majestic – as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! –

These things, these things were here and but the beholder

Wanting; which two when they once meet,

The heart rears wings bold and bolder

And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.

*

imagine that sunlight as moonlight

 

Seeing the Moonlight

by Ono No Komachi

 

Seeing the moonlight

spilling down

through these trees,

my heart fills to the brim

with autumn.

*

Let me start this twin-poem discussion with third poem. Anna Swir’s “The Same Inside” is a kind of touchstone for me, a poem I carry in my heart. The poem recounts a time the poet, on her way to a romantic rendezvous, meets an old woman begging on the street. The poet is instantly drawn to her. She takes the old woman’s hand, speaks at length with her and finds she can’t leave her—

 

she was

the same inside as I am,

from the same kind,

I sensed this instantly

as a dog knows by scent

another dog.

 

That’s the image that came to mind when I paired “Hurrahing the Harvest” and “Seeing the Moonlight.” While it might seem that a sonnet almost rococo in its language and a spare and ancient Japanese poem have nothing to say to each other, they are, in fact, the same inside.

 

 

The Hurrahing of the harvest and the Seeing of the moonlight are happening at the same time of year, late summer as autumn creeps in. Both poets look up at the sky, albeit at different times of day, and become overwhelmed by the beauty of the natural world. Different as they are, these two poems will surely ease me into a seasonal change I hate.

 

I suppose I could have paired Keats’ “To Autumn” with Hopkins’ “Hurrahing the Harvest”; and I could have paired any number of autumnal haikus with “Seeing the Moonlight.” But difference allows for clarity. Plate a chocolate éclair with a few plump raspberries and see how the richness of one highlights the simplicity of the other. And vice-versa.

 

*

 

It’s a marvel how simple word choices make Komachi’s poem a visceral experience. The participles seeing, spilling (rather than “I see” and “the moonlight spills”) create a sense of ongoing activity. The article these (instead of “the trees”) pulls us right into the scene. We are there with her, watching the moonlight fill up her heart like a cup. Much else is said without being explicitly said—the darkness, the coolness of the air, the spacing of the trees, the poet’s state of mind. For a mere gesture of a poem, it’s packed with emotion and physicality.

 

*

 

I confess I haven’t read much Hopkins. “Pied Beauty” and “Spring and Fall” (one of my all-time favorites) are as far as I’ve gotten with him. But this poem is going to change my ways. More Hopkins! “Hurrahing” knocks me off my feet the same way the speaker is upended by beauty at the end of the poem.

 

The phrases . . . silk-sack clouds . . . wind-walks . . . the music . . . the stooks arise/around . . . wilder, wilful-waiver/Meal-drift moulded ever and melted. . . the upside down syntax . . . O half hurls earth for him off under his feet . . . Too much! But just enough! Wow and wowza is all I can say.

 

 

*

 

Ono No Komachi, considered one of the Six Immortal Poets of Japan, was born between 820 and 830. Very little is known about her life. She probably served as an attendant in the imperial court. Her fabled beauty is such that “Komachi” is synonymous with “beautiful” in modern Japanese. Her poems are passionate, full of erotic love, longing, and loneliness.

 

Side note: here’s an eye-opening description of the role of poetry during Komachi’s time at court (from the website, Togofu, a teaching website for Japanese language and culture):

 

Poems were the primary form of communication between those at court, men wrote poems to men, women to other women, and of course, lovers and married couples wrote poems to one another.

 

Imagine that!

 

*

 

Gerald Manley Hopkins (1844-1899) was born in a London suburb, the oldest of nine children in an Anglican family. His father owned a marine insurance firm but also published and reviewed poetry. Both parents were creative and literary and encouraged him in drawing, music and reading.

 

At boarding school Hopkins was drawn to asceticism, and once abstained from drinking water for a week. He ended up with a black tongue. Later at Oxford, he gave up poetry for Lent. An intense fellow, you see, and a brilliant student. John Henry Newman’s Oxford Movement drew him in while he was at university, and he converted to Catholicism, a move which caused a rift with his family. He became a Jesuit priest. Conflicted by his love of poetry and his devotion to God, he burned all his poetry. He didn’t write for many years until he was tasked by a superior to commemorate a shipwreck that killed five nuns on their way to America.

 

He taught Greek and Latin at various colleges in England and was assigned, towards the end of his life, to teach at University College of Dublin. He didn’t like living in Ireland and felt isolated. And yet on his deathbed he said, “I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life.” He was only 44 when typhoid fever killed him.

 

 

 

 

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