A Retreat with Hopkins: Good Friday

‘No Worst’

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old ánvil wínce and síng–
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
Ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

– Gerard Manley Hopkins 1885 or 1886


A dark poem for a dark day. This is one of Hopkins’s “Terrible Sonnets” or “Sonnets of Desolation.” These poems are why he is sometimes thought of as a poet of despair. But remember the same crushed, desiccated soul of the Terrible Sonnets will end with the final coda, “I am happy, so happy.” For Hopkins, the tension between life and death, as beautifully represented in the final line here, is resolved by the comfort of the resurrection. The body may die and crumble to ash but, “In a flash, at a trumpet crash, / I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and / This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, / Is immortal diamond” (Final lines of “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire”).


Post previously published here on 3-25-2016

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