Desperately Seeking Solace

Desperately Seeking Solace

12 June 2020: Poet’s Day 11

Even in the darkest days of my life, I have found hope and inspiration in poetry. When I sought inspiration for Nicola’s eulogy and the inscription on her memorial stone, I read poetry; when I felt depressed and lonely and needed a reason or a rationale to cling to, I read poetry; and when I felt more optimistic and wanted to maintain my mood, I read poetry.

The first poem links despair and hope: “The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo” is a great example of the skills of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose poetry is likely to grace many of these vignettes.

The second poem, “Time and Grief” by William Lisle Bowles evokes the familiar maxim that time heals everything.

I like “This Is Another Day” by Don Marquis because it celebrates the hope of a new day and discards the doubts and mistakes of the past.

Poem 31. The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
(Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well)

“Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace, winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—”

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844—1889)

The Leaden Echo

HOW to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some,
bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers,
still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst,
winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

The Golden Echo

⁠Spare!
There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air.
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us,
everything that’s fresh and fast flying of us,
seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth:
it is an ever-lastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks,
maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners,
sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks,
gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then whý should we tread?
why are we so haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed,
so fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that!
We follow, now we follow.—
Yonder, yes yonder,
yonder,
Yonder.

I have loved this poem since I first heard it performed by Richard Burton many years ago—Burton’s rich, sonorous voice was wonderful, and the sound of this poem is just marvellous: it really showcases Hopkins’ skills with alliteration. Apparently Colin Farrell was asked to read it at Elizabeth Taylor’s funeral by Taylor herself; he also performs The Leaden Echo (with Anthony Hopkins) during the film Solace.

There are a lot of accented letters in the poem, but most can be ignored: the exceptions are “rankéd” in The Leaden Echo which should be pronounced “ran-ked” and “matchèd” in The Golden Echo which should likewise be pronounced “mat-ched”.

The Leaden Echo really does sound leaden, like the tolling of a great bell, especially at the end with the repetition of the word “despair” providing the leaden echo—the words are all so carefully chosen to build a feeling of depression: the maidens’ sorrow over the transient nature of their beauty and the inevitability of aging and death.

The Golden Echo brings a bright and positive note that is so different to the foregoing verse, and there is so much alliteration here that one’s tongue trips over the words. Say it out loud, and I guarantee you won’t get it right first time, and if you do, you won’t manage a lot of the lines in a single breath, but you will like the sound of the words, just like a song echoing from a well. Hopkins’ poems are best read out loud.

Hopkins was an English Jesuit priest who is thought to have suffered from bipolar disorder throughout his life. He was influenced at an early age by Christina Rossetti whom he met in 1864, and while he was at Oxford, befriended Robert Bridges, who became Poet Laureate and published and promoted Hopkins’ poetry after his early death from typhoid. Hopkins was ascetic by inclination, and after he was accepted into the Roman Catholic Church by John Henry Newman, he gave up poetry for seven years and burned everything he’d done to that point. He felt that poetry was preventing his complete devotion to his religion. Fortunately for us, he eventually decided that the two were compatible after all and produced poems which he never intended to publish. He died of typhoid fever in 1889 and is buried in Dublin.

As a Jesuit, his life was austere and constrained and he was often depressed, so the feelings expressed in the Leaden Echo may have been well-founded. The implication of the Golden Echo that God is the source and the destination of Earthly beauty evidently derives from his religious beliefs. Hopkins developed a kind of poetry that was different to the traditional types: he called it “sprung rhythm” and it anticipates the idea of free verse, which also avoids the traditional verse forms. My third choice today is free verse.

The Richard Burton performance is on YouTube at https://youtu.be/WhQwFf6Qb9U.

The performance of The Leaden Echo By Colin Farrell and Anthony Hopkins in Solace is also on YouTube at https://youtu.be/yVACzwyvBB8.

Poem 32. Influence of Time on Grief

“And think, when thou hast dried the bitter tear that flows in vain o’er all my soul held dear, I may look back on every sorrow past, and meet life’s peaceful evening with a smile”

William Lisle Bowles (1762—1850)

O Time! who know’st a lenient hand to lay
Softest on Sorrow’s wound, and slowly thence
(Lulling to sad repose the weary sense)
The faint pang stealest unperceived away;
On thee I rest my only hope at last,
And think, when thou hast dried the bitter tear
That flows in vain o’er all my soul held dear,
I may look back on every sorrow past,
And meet life’s peaceful evening with a smile:
As some lone bird, at day’s departing hour,
Sings in the sunbeam, of the transient shower
Forgetful, though its wings are wet the while:
Yet ah! how much must that poor heart endure,
Which hopes from thee, and thee alone, a cure!

I discovered this sonnet while looking for something that suited the theme. It describes the poet’s hope that time will temper the initial searing agony of loss until the sufferer can accept the past, face the present and look to the future.

William Lisle Bowles was a member of a family of Church of England clergymen and was an Anglican priest himself. His “Fourteen Sonnets”, published in 1789, was very well received, and Samuel Taylor Coleridge credited him with reviving the sonnet form. He was perhaps better known for his literary criticism than his poetry, but was generally considered amiable, absent-minded and eccentric. He died in Salisbury in 1850 after a period of ill health.

Poem 33. This Is Another Day

“God knows that yesterday I played the fool; God knows that yesterday I played the knave; but shall I therefore cloud this new dawn o’er with fog of futile sighs and vain regrets?”

Don Marquis (1878—1937)

I AM mine own priest, and I shrive myself
Of all my wasted yesterdays. Though sin
And sloth and foolishness, and all ill weeds
Of error, evil, and neglect grow rank
And ugly there, I dare forgive myself
That error, sin, and sloth and foolishness.
God knows that yesterday I played the fool;
God knows that yesterday I played the knave;
But shall I therefore cloud this new dawn o’er
With fog of futile sighs and vain regrets?

This is another day! And flushed Hope walks
Adown the sunward slopes with golden shoon.
This is another day; and its young strength
Is laid upon the quivering hills until,
Like Egypt’s Memnon, they grow quick with song.
This is another day, and the bold world
Leaps up and grasps its light, and laughs, as leapt
Prometheus up and wrenched the fire from Zeus.

This is another day–are its eyes blurred
With maudlin grief for any wasted past?
A thousand thousand failures shall not daunt!
Let dust clasp dust; death, death–I am alive!
And out of all the dust and death of mine
Old selves I dare to lift a singing heart
And living faith; my spirit dares drink deep
Of the red mirth mantling in the cup of morn.

Unlike Gerard Manley Hopkins, Don Marquis dubs himself his own priest, confessing his missteps and mistakes and then cheerfully pushing them aside to face a new day with optimism and hope. I like this poem because it talks a lot of sense—we have all had those days where nothing we say or do is entirely correct: those crushing moments of embarrassment or self-loathing are here identified and then discarded.

Like Hopkins’ poem, this one has very little to do with traditional rhyme—Don Marquis was a past master of free verse, and this is a good example. The poetry lies in the alliteration and the natural rhythm of the words.

Don Marquis was an American writer, best known for his humorous characters Archy and Mehitabel, but he also wrote novels, newspaper columns and plays. He suffered a series of strokes towards the end of his life which progressively disabled and finally killed him. We will meet him again next week.