Trollope’s Warden and the Problem of Medievalism

Rev. Stephen Harding, the warden of Hiram’s Hospital, is a gentle and humble man. He wants nothing more than to continue as precentor of the local cathedral in Barchester, leading the liturgy and filling the church with his voice, within his comfortable position as a beneficed clergyman at the hospital. There he has a comfortable house, his loving younger daughter, twelve bedesmen as neighbors, and £800 annually.

That is the premise of Anthony Trollope’s 1855 novel, The Warden. I recently finished it as part of a Victorian reading list and thought we would look at it together today.

That £800 that enables the comfortable middle class lifestyle that Harding enjoys becomes the central problem in the novel. Coming at about 46,824 modern pounds or 60,880 modern dollars, the benefice is a very generous preferment from the bishop for a clergyman. This time mid-century, there was conflict over beneficed clergymen who received preferments of this nature without perhaps direct ministry. Rather than a priest being a parson who directly served a flock, he may be a pluralist (meaning that he had more than one parish or appointment that came with a living) who was also a nonresident (meaning that he hired a poorer priest to fulfill pastoral duties). Unlike Stanhope, who holds multiple livings and resides in Italy, Harding may not seem as clear an example of these abuses, but he still becomes caught up in the conflict between comfortable high churchmen and ecclesiastical reformers.


Septimus Harding in BBC’s Barchester Chronicles

In his case, the question revolves around how the circumstances of a medieval will should be carried out in the Victorian present. Hiram’s Hospital was founded in 1434 as a place for elderly wool carders who could no longer make a living to live out their lives. They were allotted a specific income and their needs were to be met. Throughout the years, that allotment had to remain constant while the living of the warden fluctuated. By the Victorian era, the estate has grown to the point where the warden no longer had to go without but could receive a higher living for merely filling the position. The problem in this is that the bedesmen have the same income centuries later and do not share in the increased profits of the hospital.

This discrepancy comes to the attention of a young reformer, John Bold, who engages a suit on behalf of the bedesmen. His expressed purpose is to discover exactly what the will requires. He employs a lawyer who speaks with the bedesmen and encourages them to sign a petition to the bishop so that they may receive their entitled £100 a year instead of the warden receiving £800.

To further complicate matters, John Bold is in love with Harding’s daughter, Eleanor.

This claim is countered by the archdeacon and son-in-law of Harding, Dr. Grantley, a zealous high churchman who sees any attack on preferments or benefices as an attack on the dignity of the Church of England. He also employs a lawyer, the highest in the land, with the argument that the bedesmen receive a comfortable living and see all their needs supplied. That lawyer, with the wonderful name of Abraham Haphazard, finds only that the warden is but a servant and cannot be the target of such a suit.

In the end, the warden comes to doubt his own entitlement to the living of £800 and worries that he has taken from the poor what was not his. He is also worn down by the attacks of the press that present him as a greedy sinecure. His final decision is both an expression of his humble nature and a turn from his conflict-adverse personality.

At the heart of the conflict is the question of how the medieval past relates to the present.

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Summer Reading: Medieval Edition

Chaucer reading

Frontispiece to edition of Troilus and Criseyde (MS 61, fol 1v, Corpus Christi College, Cambridge) picturing Chaucer reading to court of Richard II

Is the novel too newfangled for you? Does the idea of human hair in mourning jewelry make your skin crawl? Are you just worn out by all that angst we still live with about industrialization, rapidly increasing technology, and the relationship between science and religion?

Then maybe the Victorian list we’ve been looking at the last couple of weeks isn’t for you.

But today’s list might just be what you’re looking for. It’s filled with poetry and monsters and monks and mysticism and gallantry and courtly love and millers and reeves and drunken cooks.

Since I’m interested in the ways that Victorians look to the past, I’m reading their medieval sources this summer.

Many of the books on the list may be familiar from a medieval survey course. That’s because these exam lists are partially part of the preparation to teach courses just like that.

So there’s Beowulf and Bede and quite a bit of Chaucer (who is so amazing). By the way, if you want to pick up one Chaucer book from this list, I have some counter-intuitive advice: read Troilus and Criseyde. I know you’ll want to read about those pilgrims as they make their way to Canterbury, but there’s something very special about Troilus and Criseyde. It’s finished. You get a full story with a beginning, middle, and end.

At the same time, these lists are orientated to my particular research interests. In my Victorian list that meant a lot more Hopkins and Hardy and some different texts from canonical authors than might be expected. For example, I’m reading Carlyle’s Past and Present instead of Sartor Resartus, and Brontë’s Villette instead of Jane Eyre.

For this medieval list, that means more liturgical texts like the Book of Common Prayer and texts from the Sarum rite. It also means that I’ll be a little loose with my periodization.

Some of the books on this list happen after 1500, that enchanted year when we magically and suddenly and without knowing it became modern. Of course, that’s a silly oversimplification of the transition from the middle ages and the early modern period with all the accompanying arguments over exactly when we should mark the divide between the two, but I still have texts on this list that were written centuries later.

For instance, there’s Thomas Percy’s Reliques of English Poetry (1765) and Thomas Chatterton’s The Rowley Poems (1778 Tyrwhitt Edition). How can I possibly include eighteenth-century texts on a medieval list?

These are examples of early medievalism, long before Hardy or Hopkins or Morris or Carlyle looked back to a medieval past. Percy collected some ballads and wrote some of his own and pretended they were all from the same source. Chatterton goes even further in pretending to be a fifteenth-century monk in his poems.

Not all of my choices are pedagogical or research-driven though. When trying to figure out which Cynewulf poem to go with, I had to choose Elene for my daughter Eleanor.

Here are a few of the books on the list, and you can follow the link to see the rest.

Beowulf Ecclesiastical History of the English People The Venerable Bede
The Word Exchange: Anglo-Saxon Poems in Translation The Dream of the Rood The Allegory of Love
The 1559 Book of Common Prayer Cynewulf's Elene The Elene of Cynewulf: Translated Into English Prose
Layamon's Brut: The Poem and Its Sources Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Pearl, and Sir Orfeo Piers Plowman
Confessio Amantis My Compleinte, and Other Poems The Riverside Chaucer
The Cloud of Unknowing The Shewings of Julian of Norwich The Book of Margery Kempe
The History of the Kings of Britain Complete Works The Poetry of Marie de France
Take a look at the rest of the list at Goodreads

As always, if you’re reading any of these works throughout the summer, let me know. I’d love to hear what you think about them. And if you are also living a summer filled with diapers and reading whenever the newborn is asleep, let us know that too. Solidarity always helps.

And if you’re interested in medieval texts, look at my post about the International Congress on Medieval Studies at Kalamazoo below. I updated Twitter feeds throughout the conference. Try searching #Kzoo2017 and an author you want to know more about from the list and I bet you’ll find something.

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Follow Kalamazoo 2017 Online


During the conference, I am adding Twitter feeds to the sessions in the schedule below, so keep coming back!

Meeting of doctors at the university of Paris

The 52nd International Congress on Medieval Studies starts in full swing tomorrow with sessions and mead tastings and vespers and teaching workshops! If you haven’t heard of the conference at Kalamazoo before, here’s their about blurb:

The International Congress on Medieval Studies is an annual gathering of around 3,000 scholars interested in medieval studies. The congress features around 575 sessions of papers, panel discussions, roundtables, workshops and performances. There are also some 100 business meetings and receptions sponsored by learned societies, associations and institutions. The exhibits hall boasts nearly 70 exhibitors, including publishers, used book dealers and purveyors of medieval sundries. The congress lasts three and a half days, extending from Thursday morning, with sessions beginning at 10 a.m., until Sunday at noon.

I’ll be presenting on Saturday about Hardy and Hopkins and attending sessions throughout the week. See, all those posts about Hardy and Hopkins weren’t obsessive, but the fruit of research. Okay…they were obsessive. But aren’t obsession and research the same thing really?…

For the sessions that I want to attend, I thought I would post the schedule so you could follow along. You can also see the full schedule here and follow the conference as a whole with the hashtag .

You can also follow the official feed of the Congress:

I’ll try to live-tweet what I can. If you don’t hear anything from me at these times, it could be that the presenters have asked us not to share their papers through social media.

Thursday May 11 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

Hope and Despair in Malory’s Morte Darthur
Organizer: Felicia Nimue Ackerman, Brown Univ.
Presider: Louis J. Boyle, Carlow Univ.
The Knight-Prisoner, Denying Despair through Hopeful Narration
Kevin T. Grimm, Oakland Univ.
“Than may a presonere say all welth ys hym berauffte”: Cycles of Hope and Despair in Malory’s World
Felicia Nimue Ackerman
Finding Hope in Despair: A Possible Source for Malory’s Boethian Consolation
Leigh Smith, East Stroudsburg Univ.
Post-Grail Stress Disorder: Lancelot’s Response to Trauma
Sarah B. Rude, Baylor Univ.
Hope from Despair: Malory’s Political Optimism in Le Morte Darthur
Lisa Robeson, Ohio Northern Univ

At this session, I wasn’t yet sure if I had permission to post anything on social media. I loved what Grimm had to say about a narrative continuing past despairing moments being a sign of hope, and I thought Rude’s application of trauma studies to mystical moments in the grail quest was refreshing and insightful.

Here are some general tweets about Malory to tide you over:

Thursday May 11 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM

C. S. Lewis and the Middle Ages I: Lewis and Mysticism
Sponsor: Center for the Study of C. S. Lewis and Friends, Taylor Univ.
Organizer: Joe Ricke, Taylor Univ.
Presider: Joe Stephenson, Abilene Christian Univ.
As Above, So Below: Medieval Echoes in the Underworlds of C. S. Lewis’s Fiction
Nathan E. H. Fayard, Univ. of Arkansas–Fayetteville
Lewis’s Turn Toward Contemplative Prayer
Robert Moore-Jumonville, Spring Arbor Univ.
Ransom’s Mystical Vision on Perelandra
Marsha Daigle-Williamson, Spring Arbor Univ.
Yearning and Disciplining Joy: Toward a “New Asceticism” in Lewis
Matthew A. Roberts, Abilene Christian Univ

Thursday May 11 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM

The Craft (Beer) of Medievalism: Popular Culture, the Middle Ages, and Contemporary Brewing (A Roundtable)
Organizer: Megan Cook, Colby College
Presider: Megan Cook
Brewing in Hell: Infernal Imagery in Contemporary Belgian Beer Marketing and
Its Medieval Antecedents
Rosemary O’Neill, Kenyon College
Codex Cervisarius: A Pilgrim’s Guide to the Medievalism of Craft Beer in Québec
and Ontario
John A. Geck, Memorial Univ. of Newfoundland
Brewing Goes Berserk: Viking Medievalisms in Modern Craft Brewing
Stephen C. Law, Univ. of Central Oklahoma/Medieval Brewers Guild
This Must Be Belgium: Medieval Heritage Seeks Match with Craft Beer
Etienne Boumans, Independent Scholar
Drinking Like a Monk: Monastic Mystification and Modern Marketing
Nöelle Phillips, Douglas College

Friday May 12 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

The Second Shepherds’ Play: An Adaptation (A Film Screening)
Organizer: Douglas Morse, New School
Presider: Martin Walsh, Univ. of Michigan–Ann Arbor
A screening and discussion of a new film adaptation of the Wakefield Master’s Second
Shepherds’ Play. This pivotal medieval drama (also known as the Second Shepherds’
Pageant), rarely performed in the modern theater, has been adapted for the screen for the first time and shot on a working sheep farm outside of Cambridge, England.
Respondents: Maura Giles-Watson, Univ. of San Diego; Liam Purdon, Doane Univ.
(“The Second Shepherds’ Play and the ‘Inventive’ Empirical Creaturely Triune Mind”)

Friday May 12 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM

Loneliness and Solitude in Medieval England
Organizer: Travis Neel, Ohio State Univ.; Spencer Strub, Univ. of California–
Presider: Fiona Somerset, Univ. of Connecticut
The Silence of the Lay Brother: Investigating the Invisible in Carthusian Communities
Francesca Breeden, Univ. of Sheffield
“This is youre owen hous, parde”: Imposition, Interruption, and Imprudence in
Troilus and Criseyde
Sarah-Nelle Jackson, Univ. of British Columbia
Mapping Eremitic Loneliness
Christopher M. Roman, Kent State Univ.–Tuscarawas

Friday May 12 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM

Teaching Monasticism (A Panel Discussion)
Sponsor: Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies, Western Michigan
Organizer: Susan M. B. Steuer, Center for Cistercian and Monastic Studies,
Western Michigan Univ.
Presider: Stefano Mula, Middlebury College
A panel discussion with Virginia Blanton, Univ. of Missouri–Kansas City; Rabia
Gregory, Univ. of Missouri–Columbia; Colleen Maura McGrane, OSB, Benedictine
Sisters of Perpetual Adoration; Alcuin Schachenmayr, Pontifical Athenaeum Benedict XVI. Heiligenkreuz; and Judith Sutera, OSB, Mount St. Scholastica.

Saturday May 13 10:00 AM – 11:30 AM

The Medieval Past
Presider: Geoffrey B. Elliott, Independent Scholar
Thomas Jefferson and the Continuity of the Anglo-Saxon Past
Michael Modarelli, Walsh Univ.
The Compromised Chronotope of Christminster: Hardy and Hopkins’s Incarnate Past
Christopher Adamson, Emory Univ.

Saturday May 13 1:30 PM – 3:00 PM

Tolkien and Language
Sponsor: Tolkien at Kalamazoo
Organizer: Brad Eden, Valparaiso Univ.
Presider: Brad Eden
“O’er the Moon, Below the Daylight”: Tolkien’s Blue Bee, Pliny, and the Kalevala
Kristine Larsen, Central Connecticut State Univ.
Music: The One Language in Which the Noldor Were Not Fluent
Eileen Marie Moore, Cleveland State Univ.
Elvish Practitioners of the “Secret Vice”
Andrew Higgins, Independent Scholar
Tolkien and Constructed Languages
Dean Easton, Independent Scholar

Saturday May 13 3:30 PM – 5:00 PM

Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae: Reception, Translations, and Influence
Sponsor: International Boethius Society
Organizer: Philip Edward Phillips, Middle Tennessee State Univ.
Presider: Philip Edward Phillips
Chancing Analogic Thought in Boethius’s De consolatione philosophiae
Lucia Treanor, FSE, Grand Valley State Univ.
“Jewels in a Crown of Lead”: The Consolatory Structure of Coleridge’s Boethian Biographia literaria
Anthony G. Cirilla, Niagara Univ.

I couldn’t make it to this session, and it looked like it wasn’t live-tweeted, so here are the tweets about Boethius at Kalamazoo this year.

Sunday May 14 10:30 AM – Noon

Victorian Medievalism: Translation and Adaptation
Organizer: Daniel C. Najork, Arizona State Univ.
Presider: Daniel C. Najork
“A Vision Rather Than a Dream”: Adaptation of Structure and Self in News from
Amber Dunai, Texas A&M Univ.–Central Texas
Fixed Forms in the Kelmscott Penitential Psalms
Arthur J. Russell, Case Western Reserve Univ.
Translation and Adaptation from Medieval to Modern in a Victorian Illuminated Manuscript
William Diebold, Reed College
Women in the East: Exoticism and Healing in Sir Beues of Hamtoun and Ivanhoe
Sarah Star, Univ. of Toronto

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Summer Reading: Hopkins and Hardy

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - La Pia de Tolomei 03

Last week, we looked at some summer reading for the Victorianist in all of us. I’m spending this summer preparing for exams with reading lists and will be sharing them over the next few weeks.

Today I thought we would look a little more closely at two of the poets that I included on the list: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Hardy.

I mentioned last time that Hopkins deserves to be on any Victorian list. Often “The Wreck of the Deutschland” or the commonly anthologized “Pied Beauty” with its celebration of “dappled things” will be included in a Victorian list. I’m including a lot more though. I need to include his nature and terrible sonnets and his very medieval works like “Angelus ad Virginem.” I also need “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo,” a poem so central to Hopkins’s aesthetic and the purpose of this blog.

Here’s the specific poems I’ve put on my exam lists:

Hopkins, Gerard Manley (1844-1889)
All poems from Catherine Phillips’s 1986 edition
Emphasized poems accompanied by an asterisk
“The Habit of perfection” (1866)
“Nondum” (1866)
“S. Thomae Aquinatis Rhythmus ad SS Sacramentum” (1876?)
“The Wreck of the Deutschland” (1876)*
“God’s Grandeur” (1877)*
“As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame” (1877?)*
“The Sea and the Skylark” (1877)
“The Windhover” (1877)*
“Pied Beauty” (1877)*
“Duns Scotus’s Oxford” (1879)*
“Binsey Poplars” (1879)
“Felix Randal” (1880)
“Spring and Fall” (1880)*
“Inversnaid” (1881)
“Angelus ad Virginem” (1882) [Chaucer and MS Arundel 248 connection]
“The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo” (1882)*
“The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe” (1883)
The Sonnets of Desolation (Mentioned to Robert Bridges in 1885)*

  • “To Seem the Stranger”
  • “I Wake and Feel”
  • “No Worst, There Is None”
  • “Patience Hard Thing”
  • “Mine Own Heart”
  • “Carrion Comfort”

“To What Serves Mortal Beauty” (1888)
“That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and the Comfort of the Resurrection” (1888)*
“Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend” (1889)
“The Shepherd’s Brow” (1889)
“To R.B.” (1889)*

If you’re following along, try getting the poems from the Poetry Foundation. Searching for Hopkins and then clicking on the Bartleby link will give you the 1918 edition with Robert Bridges’s changes. You can read more about that difference here. Sometimes the changes are small, like in Hopkins’s final poem where Bridges changes “combs” to “moulds,” but there are other times when some of the metrical marks have been removed.

To R.B.

I personally prefer Catherine Phillips’s edition, but Norman Mackenzie (her father) also has an excellent one. If you’re looking to buy some of Hopkins’s poems, the writer’s guidelines for Hopkins Quarterly can be a good place to start. These are the texts that Hopkins scholars will cite when writing about the priest-poet.

If you’re wondering why I called Thomas Hardy a poet, then you’re in the right place. Maybe you’ve read some of his excellent novels like Tess or Jude. But Hardy wasn’t just an amazing Victorian novelist. He wrote over 900 poems, and focused exclusively on poetry for the last thirty years of his life.

Some of these poems even have links to his novels, taking place in the same mythic Wessex. There are also some short humorous poems like his “Epitaph for G. K. Chesterton.”

I’m using Gibson’s edition since it’s so comprehensive, but you could check some out at The Hardy Society.

Thomas Hardy The Complete Poems

You could start with some of his more famous poems with this list:

“Wessex Heights”
“Hap” (1866, 1898)
“Thoughts of Phena” (1898)
“Nature’s Questioning” (1898)
“The Impercipient (At a Cathedral Service)” (1898)
“Heiress and Architect” (1867, 1898)
“The Ruined Maid” (1866, 1901)
“I Look into my Glass” (1898)
“The Darkling Thrush” (1901)
“After a Journey”
“The Voice”

If you’re also interested in the ways that the past influences the present or how Victorians look back to the medieval period, then check out these poems on my list:

Medievalism, Ritualism, and Chronotope

Poems of the Past and the Present (1901)

“In Tenebris” (I, II, and III)
“The Lost Pyx: A Medieval Legend” [About the same Cross-in-Hand stone as in Tess]
“Tess’s Lament”

Moments of Vision and Miscellaneous Verses (1917)

“Quid Hoc Agis?”
“House of Silence”
“The Clock-Winder”
“The Shadow and the Stone”
“The Choirmaster’s Burial”

Time’s Laughingstocks and Other Verses (1909)

“In a Cathedral City”

Satires of Circumstance, Lyrics and Reveries (1914)

“The Ghost of the Past”
“The Coronation”
“Aquae Sulis”

Late Lyrics and Earlier (1923)

“The Wanderer”
“The Collector Cleans His Picture”
“Evelyn G of Christminster”
“The Children and Sir Nameless”
“The Chapel-Organist”
“The Inscription”

Human Shows, Far Phantasies, Songs, and Trifles (1925)

“Coming Up Oxford Street: Evening”

As always, if you’re reading any of these works throughout the summer, let me know. I’d love to hear what you think about them. And if you are also living a summer filled with diapers and reading whenever the newborn is asleep, let us know that too. Solidarity always helps.

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Summer Reading

Dante Gabriel Rossetti - La Pia de Tolomei 03
Looking for some books to read over the summer? I know it can be a time for lighter reading–I’ve been reading Timothy Zahn’s Thrawn as a break for the last few days–but summer can also be this magical time when we discover what Mark Edmundson calls “alienated majesty” when we find our “own suppressed and rejected thoughts flowing back” to us.

For me, this will be one of those heavy summers filled with reading and diaper changing and awkwardly explaining to librarians that baby poop from breast milk is totally water soluble and that stain will come out.

So I thought I would invite you to join me–erhm on the reading journey, not the diaper-changing-and-surviving-the-ire-of-librarians journey. For the next few weeks, I’ll put up my summer reading lists.

As part of the program I’m in at Emory, I need to design and read three lists for my exams. Normally, we have two related periods (like Romantic and Victorian, or medieval and early modern) followed by a third reading list centered on a theory (perhaps Marxism, queer theory, or disability studies).

My lists follow this format, but are a little different. Since I focus on Victorian medievalism, my periods are not adjacent to each other. My first list is a Victorian list, while my second list is a medieval one.

Today, I’m putting up my Victorian list. As the first reading list, it will be the largest. Each one will get subsequently smaller. Like any Victorian list, it will include essentials like something from Charles Dickens and and Charlotte Brontë. There will of course be some Tennyson, with In Memoriam holding central place. In this way, my list has been influenced by others made in my department and this standard reading list.

Where this list might look a little different is my emphasis on Victorians who look back to the medievals. I’ll have a little more early fantasy with William Morris and George MacDonald.

I’ll also focus more than usual on two authors that are at the center of my research: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Thomas Hardy.

Hopkins deserves to be on any Victorian list. Often “The Wreck of the Deutschland” or the commonly anthologized “Pied Beauty” with its celebration of “dappled things” will be included in a Victorian list. I’m including a lot more though. I need to include his nature and terrible sonnets and his very medieval works like “Angelus ad Virginem.” I also need “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo,” a poem so central to Hopkins’s aesthetic and the purpose of this blog.

If you’re following along, try getting the poems from the Poetry Foundation. Searching for Hopkins and then clicking on the Bartleby link will give you the 1918 edition with Robert Bridges’s changes. You can read more about that difference here.

Hardy will likewise be on any Victorian list as a novelist. And I’ve included three of his novels on mine. But he was also an amazing poet. Sometimes scholars will separate Hardy into a Victorian novelist and a Modernist poet with how his life straddles both centuries, but I think his poetry has strong roots in Victorian medievalism.

Here are a few of the books on the list, and you can follow the link to see the rest.

The Mayor of Casterbridge Thomas Hardy The Complete Poems Gerard Manley Hopkins
Idylls of the King The Lady of Shalott In Memoriam
Past and Present Apologia Pro Vita Sua The Idea of a University
Sonnets from the Portuguese Aurora Leigh North and South: By Elizabeth Gaskell (Illustrated) + FREE Oliver Twist
Robert Browning's Poetry The Warden Barchester Towers
A Tale of Two Cities A Christmas Carol David Copperfield
Villette The Tenant of Wildfell Hall Middlemarch
Take a look at the rest of the list at Goodreads

If you’re reading any of these works throughout the summer, let me know. I’d love to hear what you think about them. And if you are also living a summer filled with diapers and reading whenever the newborn is asleep, let us know that too. Solidarity always helps.


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A Retreat with Hopkins: Easter

Easter Communion

Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast:
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips,
Those crookèd rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesu’s; you whom the East
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breath Easter now; you sergèd fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,

God shall o’er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins, Lent 1865

I can’t get over the rhythm of this poem. Look at how the alliteration pulls the first lines together onto themselves. “Fasted faces draw unto this feast.” Stop. To “Lenten lips.” Stop. But then, the poet himself breaths Easter and the pace quickens. The enjambed lines pushes us past “pieced” and “East” as though the speaker’s excitement doesn’t actually allow for the very breath he’s talking about. And then we are back to end-stop lines as the speaker exhales and waits for divine action at the end of his sonnet.

Post previously published here on 3-27-2016

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A Retreat with Hopkins: Holy Saturday

Unknown painter - Resurrection of Christ and the Harrowing of Hell - WGA23499

‘O Death, Death’

O Death, Death, He is come.
O grounds of Hell make room.
Who came from further than the stars
Now comes as low beneath.
Thy ribbèd ports, O Death
Make wide; and Thou, O Lord of Sin,
Lay open thine estates.
Lift up your heads, O Gates;
Be ye lift up, ye everlasting doors
The King of Glory will come in.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins, March 1865

This very intertextual poem is drawn largely from Paul’s treatment of death in 1 Corinthians and Psalm 24, linking the idea of liturgically entering the Temple with the tradition of the Harrowing of Hell. As a Jesuit, it is likely that Hopkins would have read the following description of this tradition from an ancient homily:

Something strange is happening–there is a great silence on earth today, a great silence and stillness. The whole earth keeps silence because the King is asleep. The earth trembled and is still because God has fallen asleep in the flesh and he has raised up all who have slept ever since the world began. God has died in the flesh and hell trembles with fear.

Whenever I read the Terrible Sonnets, like we did together yesterday, I keep this poem in mind. It’s the ever present consolation even when all he could think was that “all / Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.” It’s that far-off yet continually arriving moment when his roots are finally given rain.

Post previously published here on 3-26-2016

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