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Earthy Topics

Happy Earth Day everyone. Earth Day is celebrated in the U.S. on April 22nd and internationally on the Spring Equinox. (in March in the northern hemisphere). If I was doing a good job of keeping up with my schedule (instead of gardening and playing Wii Tennis with Alex), I’d have all of the Nature-related parts of the Subject Index updated.

Sorry, not there yet. But we can at least look at a poet whose works celebrated nature in striking and memorable ways. That would be Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest whose unusual rhymes and sprung rhythms are best appreciated when read aloud. Some, like Inversnaid may take a few practice runs before you can say recite them and stay in rhythm. The overall effect is excellent though, and the last two pleading couplets are especially topical on Earth Day:



THIS darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

How would this be for a English class assignment – write a poem about things with dots. From Hopkins we get a short piece - a prayer and a sonnet that celebrates nature with images and alliterations and a basket full of synonyms titled Pied Beauty: This is a ‘Curtal Sonnet’ by the way – a format condensed by Hopkins to 10 ½ lines.


Pied Beauty

GLORY be to God for dappled things,
For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow,
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls, finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced, fold, fallow and plough,
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange,
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change;
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The purpose of Earth day was to recognize that our perceived human progress comes at a price, and we should stop and give thought to what we do, and just how much impact it has on the world around us. Here is a poem about deforestation (on a small and personal scale), from a small village where Hopkins like to walk, along the river near Oxford:


Binsey Poplars


MY aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, all are felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering
weed-winding bank.
O if we knew but what we do
When we delve or hew--
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch her, being so slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even when we mean
to mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

Gerard Manley Hopkins



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