27 April 2010


As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves -- goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is --
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.

A randomly chosen poem by Hopkins, but can we call it modernist, in the way I was talking about in relation to Rilke?

Who is speaking here? Who says "I say more"? I think that in this poem Hopkins is unproblematically adopting a persona of poet. The poet's observations and opinions have a special value because they are the poet's. Poetry had established this as a legitimate stance. With Hopkins, moreover, you get a very individual diction; the poetry creates the poet. So perhaps there is the relationship with form. The verbal dexterity of Hopkins certifies him as a poet, and gives him that credibility.

Is this actually so different from Rilke, in fact? In his poems, at least as far as I can tell with the peculiar translations I have, he's depending on this assumed status and prestige. He's much less formal, but in a passage like this, you can see, even without understanding it, linguistic dexterity:

Wer zeigt ein Kind, so wie es steht? Wer stellt
er ins Gestirn und gibt der Mass des Abstands
ihm in die Hand? wer macht den Kindertod
aus grauem Brot, das hart wird ...

The most obvious trick there is the repetition of "wer", but there's a melody running through the language too. Like Hopkins, Rilke earns bardic respect from his way with words. Do modernist poets forgo this certification?

I'll come back to that, but also need to think about poems written in character, whether that be Browning or Pessoa.

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