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Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889)

The Habit of Perfection

ELECTED Silence, sing to me      
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,      
Pipe me to pastures still and be 
The music that I care to hear.  

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:         
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come   
Which only makes you eloquent.         

Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark    
And find the uncreated light:                   
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.   

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,     
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:   
The can must be so sweet, the crust                  
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend       
Upon the stir and keep of pride,  
What relish shall the censers send   
Along the sanctuary side!       

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet  
That want the yield of plushy sward, 
But you shall walk the golden street   
And you unhouse and house the Lord.  

And, Poverty, be thou the bride           
And now the marriage feast begun, 
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

Hopkins was an English poet, educated at Oxford. Entering the Roman Catholic Church in 1866 and the Jesuit novitiate in 1868, he was ordained in 1877. Upon becoming a Jesuit he burned much of his early verse and abandoned the writing of poetry. However, the sinking in 1875 of a German ship carrying five Franciscan nuns, exiles from Germany, inspired him to write one of his most impressive poems “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” Thereafter he produced his best poetry, including “God’s Grandeur,” “The Windhover,” “The Leaden Echo,” and “The Golden Echo.” Since Hopkins never gave permission for the publication of his verse, his Poems, edited by his friend Robert Bridges, did not appear in print until 1918. His life was continually troubled by inner conflict, which arose, not from religious skepticism, but from an inability to give himself completely to his God. Both his poems and his letters often reflect an intense dissatisfaction with himself as a poet and as a servant of God. Though he produced a small body of work, he ranks high among English poets, and his work profoundly influenced 20th-century poetry. His verse is noted for its piercing intensity of language and its experiments in prosody. Of these experiments the most famous is “sprung rhythm,” a meter in which Hopkins tried to approximate the rhythm of everyday speech.

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