Essay

Two Poems for Eastertide

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How do we live in a world, as my minister reminds us every week, “where a Resurrection has happened.” In this now season of Easter, two poets to help. Both deserve slow, deliberate reads–without much nattering from me.

A hint for the Hopkins: he talks here about how to extend Christ’s love to ourselves, so that we can get out of circles and cycles of self-judgment and extend self-kindness, even in our darkest moments. His solutions may sound simple, but what good advice (or maybe I just need to hear it): don’t look for comfort where you won’t find it; be less “jaded,” even if for only a minute; leave some room for comfort to take hold; find joy in the unexpected, like the way that light peeks between the mountains.

My own heart let me more have pity on

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
‘s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather — as skies
Betweenpie mountains — lights a lovely mile.


And then, there’s lovely George Herbert–with one of the perfect poems for spring and Easter both. I think I’ll let you figure this one out on your own as you think about all the ways Herbert finds to compare us to “flowers that glide.”

The Flower, by George Herbert

How fresh, oh Lord, how sweet and clean 
Are thy returns! even as the flowers in spring; 
         To which, besides their own demean, 
The late-past frosts tributes of pleasure bring. 
                      Grief melts away 
                      Like snow in May, 
         As if there were no such cold thing. 

         Who would have thought my shriveled heart 
Could have recovered greenness? It was gone 
         Quite underground; as flowers depart 
To see their mother-root, when they have blown, 
                      Where they together 
                      All the hard weather, 
         Dead to the world, keep house unknown. 

         These are thy wonders, Lord of power, 
Killing and quickening, bringing down to hell 
         And up to heaven in an hour; 
Making a chiming of a passing-bell. 
                      We say amiss 
                      This or that is: 
         Thy word is all, if we could spell. 

         Oh that I once past changing were, 
Fast in thy Paradise, where no flower can wither! 
         Many a spring I shoot up fair, 
Offering at heaven, growing and groaning thither; 
                      Nor doth my flower 
                      Want a spring shower, 
         My sins and I joining together. 

         But while I grow in a straight line, 
Still upwards bent, as if heaven were mine own, 
         Thy anger comes, and I decline: 
What frost to that? what pole is not the zone 
                      Where all things burn, 
                      When thou dost turn, 
         And the least frown of thine is shown? 

         And now in age I bud again, 
After so many deaths I live and write; 
         I once more smell the dew and rain, 
And relish versing. Oh, my only light, 
                      It cannot be 
                      That I am he 
         On whom thy tempests fell all night. 

         These are thy wonders, Lord of love, 
To make us see we are but flowers that glide; 
         Which when we once can find and prove, 
Thou hast a garden for us where to bide; 
                      Who would be more, 
                      Swelling through store, 
         Forfeit their Paradise by their pride.

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). As an Army brat, I’ve never lived anywhere as long as I’ve now lived in Grand Rapids, a city I've come to love. I count myself rich in friends and family. 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 used to have a bumper sticker on my car that said: “I’d rather be reading Flannery O’Connor.” I don't have the car anymore, but the sentiment is still true.

2 Comments

  • Jim Brink says:

    Thank you Jennifer. Wonderful word and image for the hope and renewal I’m craving this morning.

  • William Harris says:

    I realize for many, Hopkins’ the thing,
    but tulips and daffs, now sprung in Spring’s start,
    proclaim a truth to winter’s once-closed heart,
    to join with Herbert and with glad mouth, sing.

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