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17 July 2011

the Bluebell Forest in Essex, and Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The May Magnificat"

Click image, I think it will get Very Big.

in Colonel's Covert, East Leake, 
South Nottinghamshire, England. 
End of May, beginning of April.
52.81459N 1.18986W

IF there are any funny things in the punctuation of this poem, that may lead you to believe they are errors or typos, they are something else. More than any poet whom I enjoy, Gerard Manley Hopkins attended to -- obsessed upon -- every dot of ink in each poem he wrote down on paper. So when I went looking for this Hopkins poem just now -- a Hopkins poem new to me until today -- and filched it (I think he's been dead long enough not to hear any complaints from his estate, and he possibly has no estate because he was a Jesuit priest, and such have sworn an oath to poverty, among other intentionally unnatural desires), I have reproduced it hither WYSIWYG, hoping only that the site from where I filched it reproduced Hopkins' original intentions.

S.W.M.B.O. does not share my appreciation for Hopkins. One reason Hopkins obsessed so on punctuations and diacriticals was that he was trying to re-inject into modern English poetry as much as he could reflect of our lingo's root lingo, circa 650 A.D. Anglo-Saxon a.k.a. Old English poetry, a task Hopkins called "sprung rhythm."

Anglo-Saxon literature is S.W.M.B.O.'s métier -- she is your Go-To Human for all your Beowulf needs* -- and regards Hopkins' sprung rhythm experiment as having all the authenticity of EuroDisney's animatronic talking Madame de Pompadour. (But I am sure many men and perhaps a few women have fallen under Mme Electric Pompadour's spell, too, and visit her often.) In general, S.W.M.B.O. has very little appreciation or regard for anything claiming to be English literature more recent than Ælfrǣd the Great (died 899). 20th century literature she regards largely with confused unpleasantness, like accidentally drinking Moxie soda pop, and what litherachoor the young 21st century has produced so far strikes her with blunt horror, outrage, and the frequent urge to phone the police. Mostly she wonders why sane humans would even write this stuff in the first place, and immediately realizes her question contains its own answer.

This beautiful early summer Sunday morning began gently with a kiss from the satellite TV, from the BBCA = BBC America channel. This fellow Robert Macfarlane

(born Halam, Nottinghamshire 15 August 1976), is a British travel writer and literary critic. Educated at Nottingham High School, Pembroke College, Cambridge and Magdalen College, Oxford, he is currently a Fellow of Emmanuel College, Cambridge, and teaches in the Faculty of English at Cambridge.

had a show called "Unexpected Wilderness," and prowled all over the environs just beyond London to find areas still wild (and that's not easy, but Macfarlane knew where the wild places are), places pretty much as they were before The Angles and Saxons or Picts and Scots canoed from the Continent to the island of Britain.

We tuned in just as Macfarlane was in a Bluebell (Hyacinthoides non-scripta, or Endymion non-scriptum, or Scilla non-scripta, or Agraphis nutans) Forest on the cusp of April/May. At this moment, spring sufficiently warms the soil for the bluebell bulb to revive and bloom, but this woodland explosion of wild blue has only a brief time to shock, scream, astonish and thrill us. Soon the forest canopy will revive, and block sunlight to the forest floor, and all the bluebells will be gone.

Macfarlane is also a Hopkins freakazoid, and as he stood ankle-deep in a lurid blue flood of these gorgeous but temporary wildflowers, he quoted from this poem, and said Hopkins saw the yearly thrill of the bluebell forest as a miracle which always had the power to lift his heart -- which was usually depressed, bleak and unhappy. (Whatever else Hopkins was, no one has ever called him a Happy Camper.)

So here's the whole poem thing.

I think "Unexpected Wilderness" was originally broadcast in UK as "The Wild Places of Essex" in a series called "The Natural World." (Essex is from
Ēastseaxe = "the East Saxons." I think the Saxons were originally hired to come to England as mercenary soldiers.) An astonishing documentary of beauty and ideas -- Who knew these amazing places were there?

Macfarlane makes clear that they were here before we got here and made so much noise and destruction, and they will be here to watch us go. (This week they are watching News of the World and a dozen of its top pervs go extinct, or prepare to defend themselves from criminal charges, or are hiding from outraged lynch mobs.)

* Except who or what Grendel was. S.W.M.B.O. doesn't know, she says nobody knows. I had a lovely e-mail exchange with an f_minor fellow who actually lives in Friesland (their weekly newspaper is written in Fries), and he says nobody on the island has a clue either. Grendel could have been a really big, nasty, man-eating duck. Or it could have been a One-Eyed One-Horned Flying Purple People-Eater.

* * *

The May Magnificat

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why :
......Her feasts follow reason,
......Dated due to season—

Candlemas, Lady Day ;
But the Lady Month, May,

......Why fasten that upon her,
......With a feasting in her honour ?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her ?

 ......Is it opportunist
......And flowers finds soonest ?

Ask of her, the mighty mother :
Her reply puts this other

......Question : What is Spring?—
......Growth in every thing—

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together ;

......Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
......Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within ;

......And bird and blossom swell
......In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathizing

 ......With that world of good
 ......Nature’s motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind

 ......How she did in her stored
...... Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this :
Spring’s universal bliss

 ......Much, had much to say
 ......To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple

 ......And thicket and thorp are merry
 ......With silver-surfèd cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes

 ......And magic cuckoocall
 ......Caps, clears, and clinches all—

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth

 ......To remember and exultation
 ......In God who was her salvation.


James J. Olson said...

One wonders what SWMBO's opinion of Seamus Heaney's recent translation of Beowulf. I thoroughly enjoyed it.

adam said...

How familiar is SWMBO with later Middle English writing? I wrote about Piers Plowman for my thesis at Cal State LA, and am thinking of finding a good English department somewhere to do more medieval lit studies once I'm done here in Ukraine.

Vleeptron Dude said...

Yo Adam!

No one who is not a language academic could possibly understand the fine hair-splitting of these things, but S.W.M.B.O. pretty much has chosen to be unfamiliar with all English literature written later than 899. She knows ancient Irish Gaelic, Old Norse and (a real rara avis) Gothic, but in English, all the stuff you're asking about is far too recent -- like the music teenagers listen to.

But I'll ask her who she knows still teaching in your fields whom she respects and admires, and what unis have good reputations in your fields.

I mean, it's not as if she never heard of Chaucer ...

Did you visit Babi Yar? Your thoughts/comments/impressions would be welcome. Also -- sup in Ukraine these days? Gimme some gossip.

byw Eurovision Song Contest 2012 will be in Baku, Ajerbaijan!!!

adam said...

Life in my oblast is quiet; Kirovohradska is a bit like a more agrarian Illinois, particularly Dolynska, the region center I live in, and the capitol Kirovograd is a bit like Chicago. For more deets, I'd be happy to e-mail you about it; suffice to say there's a lot of stuff that can be done with the resources at hand.

As for public competitions and gossip, I think Ukraine's got some of the most compelling shows in Europe. Check out Maidan's: (you'll need to let Google translate it for you). Bottom line: major cities in Ukraine assemble hundreds of dancer/marchers led by professional choreographers to compete on the streets of Kyiv. The first season's winning team came from Kirovograd, who won 1,000,000 hryven ($125,000) which they want to use to build a playground downtown. Here's hoping they can get the ground broken before it freezes!

Vleeptron Dude said...

I've never used Google (or Babelfish or my fave, to translate more than 1 sentence. I'll try this now, but if you use it more often, how do find it? e.g., compare its skill at translating to the skill of a bright 6-year-old bilingual child.


I think half my people are from Belarus, Minsk, Pinsk.

Ny great-grandfather drank tea through a sugar cube in his teeth, but that is the closest memory linked to those places and times I have. I wonder if words and place-names associated with these places stirs some Jungian kind of Race Memory in the deepest levels of my mind.

I like cold borscht with a big plop of sour cream in the summer. They still do it that way?

adam said...

Google Translate is fairly solid if you don't have advanced language skills in whatever language you're trying to translate.

Since I don't have those yet - my Russian skills come from only about four and a half months of immersion so far - I occasionally use it if I want to get the gist of whatever I'm reading. But I'm getting better; last weekend in Kirovograd, I picked up a copy of Blake's Songs of Innocence and Experience in English and Russian, and I'm going to set up a tutoring exchange with a couple of the teachers in my school teaching them English for them teaching me Russian and Ukrainian.

adamabroad said...

As for borscht, I haven't seen a lot of it in the summer. We made it all the time in the early spring, but it gets pretty hot here in the summertime, and people have warmed up (pun unintended) to cooler foods in 30+ degree C. weather.