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Essay

A Heart’s Clarion

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I thought it would be fitting as we move deeper and deeper into this Holy Week to devote today’s blog to a beautiful poem by the 19th century Jesuit poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins.  The very richness of Hopkins’ poetry has a way of slowing down the reader, of helping the reader pay greater attention to the essentials. That’s something I could use this week.

In “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection,” Hopkins asks us to consider the ways that the way of the world is destruction. Both nature (here the rain storm) and mortality (here represented by the use of the pre-Platonic Greek philosopher Heraclitus’s concept that the essential character of the universe is fire) ultimately annihilate everything.  Even humanity: no matter what our accomplishments (our “firedint,” our “mark” on the world) all is eventually “blot black out,” and all is “blur[red]” and “leveled” into oblivion.

In fact, nothing remains but the “enormous dark”—and Hopkins’ anguished response, “O pity and indignation” is the response of all of us who understand the despair of a world where death is a finality.  

But that’s not the final word.  “Enough!” says Hopkins.  Christ’s resurrection is like a trumpet rousing him to remember that the resurrection has significant consequences for Hopkins himself.  It transforms not only his relationship to his own mortality, but also his own self-image.  Yes, broken and ridiculous, but also beautiful and eternal.  I won’t say more: read the powerful ending for yourself.

And then, go forth remembering that your identity—now and forever more—is an “immortal diamond.”  And that Easter is what makes that so.  That is the comfort of the resurrection, indeed.

 

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; | in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
                            Is any of him at all so stark
But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.
                            Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
                            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.

 

Jennifer L. Holberg

I’ve taught English at Calvin College since 1998–where I get to read books and talk about them for a living. What could be better? Along with my wonderful colleague, Jane Zwart, I am the co-director of the Calvin Center for Faith and Writing, which is the home of the Festival of Faith and Writing as well as a number of other exciting endeavors. Given my interest in teaching, I’m the founding co-editor of the Duke University Press journal Pedagogy: Critical Approaches to Teaching Literature, Language, Composition and Culture (and yes, I realize that that is a very long subtitle). I also do various administrative things across campus. As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids. I count myself rich in friends and family. I enjoy kayaking and hiking. I collect cookbooks (and also like to cook), listen to all kinds of music, and watch all manner of movies and tv shows. I love George Eliot, Jane Austen, Marilynne Robinson, Dante, E.M. Delafield, Tennyson, Hopkins, and Charlotte Bronte (among others). And I have a bumper sticker on my car that says: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” Which is true.

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