Tag Archives: poetry

An Intense Life


GMH coverINSCAPE OF AN INTENSE LIFE IN CHRIST 

Mariani, Paul. Gerard Manley Hopkins: a Life. 

New York City: Viking Adult, 2008

Reviewed by Ted Witham

 

The 13th century Franciscan philosopher Duns Scotus was one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ heroes. Duns Scotus invented the idea of haecceitas. This ugly Latin word is usually translated by the equally ugly ”isness “, but would be better rendered as “uniqueness.” Haecceitas refers to the quality that makes a thing itself and not anything else. In other words, Scotus was encouraging his readers to gaze at things until they disclosed their unique quality. Gazing, according to Sister Ilia Delio among others, is a characteristic aspect of Franciscan praying. Duns Scotus’ philosophy places him firmly in this Franciscan tradition.

Hopkins pays homage to Duns Scotus in his poem ”Duns Scotus’s Oxford.”   This sonnet deplores the way Oxford has developed and grown since the 1200s.

”… graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural rural keeping – folk, flocks, and flowers.”

Hopkins has evidently informed this judgement by gazing  at the buildings and trees he so loves until he sees what makes Oxford unique.

”Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmed, lark-charmed, rook-racked, river­ rounded.”

Hopkins was expert at gazing. Ilia Delio tells the story of Hopkins gazing at a tree in Ireland for three days until it disclosed its haecceitas. Hopkins felt at home in the natural world of Ireland and Wales. It is this world, gazed at and wondered about, that is “charged with the glory of God.”

Paul Mariani’s biography reveals that Hopkins’ expertise was profound but narrow. His powerful intellect was trained at Oxford in the classics, and he remained absorbed in Latin and Greek even after the Jesuits had thoroughly trained him in theology.

The Jesuits seemed not to know what to do with this strange, intense young man, so they eventually sent him to Ireland on the pretext that he would help other Jesuits establish a Catholic University in Dublin. Even though he was on the Catholic side, Ireland was not a congenial place for an English patriot, especially one who found it difficult to make friends. In practice, his lonely years in Ireland were an almost endless task marking the Latin and Greek exams of all the children matriculating in Ireland.

Depressed and physically ill, he battled on until his death in 1888 aged only 44. He cried out, presumably in the mid-1880s:

“My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter, kind,
Charitable; not live in this tormented mind.
With this tormented mind, tormenting yet.”

Only hours before his death, Father Wheeler heard Hopkins whispering over and over again, “I am so happy. I am so happy.” Mariani’s simple telling of this story leaves us with the impression that Hopkins is finally happy because he knows he will soon be passing from this unhappy life to his glorious reward.

Mariani’s Life is richly textured. The biographer gathers a mass of detail and tells the story of Hopkins’ life chronologically. His sources are so detailed that he often reports verbatim conversations that Hopkins had on a given day, and records what he was thinking and confiding to his journal.

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Hopkins’ story is simple. From the English upper-middle class, Hopkins would have been expected to remain lifelong Anglican were it not for his awkward conversion to Rome. This choice, made at Oxford, determined his direction.

It was a time when young Oxford men agonised over ‘going over’: John Henry Newman, another of his heroes, had done it a generation earlier, and several of Hopkins’ circle either converted or seriously contemplated it. It was a decision to be made, as Hopkins did, with lengthy deliberation and careful disclosure to family and friends. Some never forgave or understood his decision.

His lifelong friendship with the poet Robert Bridges only just lasted this decision time.

Hopkins did well enough at his theological studies and loved the setting of the Jesuit Novitiate at Roehampton, Wales. His daily walks inspired his poetry; he learned Welsh to better minister to Welsh-speakers; and he regaled his fellows with erudite jokes at end of term dinners. He was happy – or at least as happy as he would ever be.

His engagement with the craft of poetry started to flower at Roehampton. Paul Mariani shows how original Hopkins was both in developing the idea of ‘sprung rhythm’ and in paying attention to ‘inscape’. These are both complex ideas, and Mariani helped me understand them better.

Hopkins’ concept of ‘inscape’ is the poetical descendent of Duns Scotus’ haecceitas. Where landscape is exterior, ‘inscape’ is interior. It describes the qualities revealed when you gaze on something in nature or on the action of a person. Poetry is partly about capturing inscape, as a painter, in depicting trees and sky, communicates the qualities of the landscape.

Hopkins deeply understood the contribution Shakespeare had made to poetry and to the English language by adapting iambic pentameter to English poetry in both drama and poems. Hopkins believed that English is not a syllabic language and questioned whether iambs and dactyls and other syllabic patterns were best for English. So he experimented with a line of five beats – still a pentameter – that was independent of the number of syllables: this was sprung rhythm.

Mariani explores at some depth the influence of Duns Scotus on Hopkins. In a book of over 400 pages, I was a little disappointed not to find more about another influence: Ignatius of Loyola. I felt Paul Mariani played down the Jesuits’ influence of Hopkins. However, there is no way that a sensitive man like Hopkins could have completed the 40-day Exercises without being deeply permeated by Ignatian spirituality. Mariani may have thought that David Downes in his study on the Ignatian spirit and Hopkins had sufficiently covered the notion of Hopkins the priest-poet.

While still in simple vows, the Jesuits put Hopkins into a classroom. He taught zealously, and students remembered him as gentle and trustworthy.

They would surely remember his illustration of how Achilles hooked Hector’s bloodied corpse behind his chariot and dragged it beneath the walls of Troy. ”Hopkins lay on his back and had a student drag him around the floor.” (p. 333) His zany pedagogy sometimes connected with his students, but often, his students simply found him over-scrupulous and strange. Teaching was not his vocation.

Meanwhile, Hopkins struggled on with his craft: sprung rhythm and internal rhymes pressed into service to express his insight into the true nature of the world around him. Not that Hopkins was always convinced that being a poet was the heart of his vocation. He stopped writing for some years, disappointed that he was not being published, and unsure of what his superiors really thought of his poetry.

And so to Ireland, and to the lonely room with the desk piled high with papers to mark, and the daily walk and his poetry his only escape.

We might be tempted to conclude that he had lived the life of the archetypical Romantic poet: the genius whose suffering was transmuted into Art. This was the ideal that Byron, Keats, Coleridge and others proposed. Yet I doubt Hopkins would want to be placed with the Romantics. Every day, he might say, he had the privilege of seeing the ‘dearest freshness deep down things’, and though to the observer, his life may seem to carry the shape of the Crucified Lord, Hopkins knew every day the presence of the Risen Lord:

‘EnoughI the Resurrection,//A heart’s clarion!
Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection.’

This disciple was not waiting for the after-life to taste the joys of life in the Risen One. He was enchanted by it now.

Bridges and GMH 1863For this lover of Hopkins’ poetry, this life was not only fascinating to read, but it was also good to hold such a beautiful book. The narrative is sustained with clarity over 435 pages, and a handful of illustrations add much it. I found myself often looking back to the photos of Bridges and Hopkins taken in 1863, and used as a pictorial epigraph for Part 1, and then flicking forward to the photos taken in 1888 months before Hopkins’ death in Dublin. These show  Bridges as a mature man with a vital eye looking forward to the future. Hopkins, by contrast, looks exhausted and grim, with his hair receding and his head tilted slightly backwards as though he already looking up in anticipation.

Mariani has captured for me the haecceitas of Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, priest and poet. Mariani’s inscape is an insight into his intense, short life.bridges-and-gmh-1888.png

 

 

 

 

 

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Claude Beausoleil’s WINTER


Claude Beausoleil’s Winter

Translation by Ted Witham

First published in Azuria #5 (Autumn 2016) by Geelong Writers Inc.

 

on the white river a whistling complaint in words

is torn from the fallout of a winter’s night

the city is shaking

the city is creaking

and the city is shivering

on this white river pale cries of smoke rise

blotting out the buildings

from a sky in the grip of the north

to this sky you ask who speaks in this silence

for how many centuries

from what mythical place

with what energy

you who watch the wind

do you know her quests her headings and her deviations

her fantasies and her festivals do you recognise yourself there

beyond the snow driven like explosions in tornadoes

the soul of your cold

city

without melancholy when rubbed does it tremble

into the white lines of a new beginning

clamouring for a story

in which is pronounced naked the word winter

and the season carries it away in its mad spinning where lures

give birth to a book that pulverises the memories of the freeze

*****                            *****                                      *****

Claude Beausoleil (born in Quebec in 1948) is a French-Canadian poet and novelist writing mainly in French. He holds Masters and Doctoral degrees in literature and teaches literature. His poetry is influenced by the Beat poets, gothic themes and a strong sense of Quebec, its landscape and culture.  The author of Black Billie has won many prizes and honours; in 2013 he was a finalist in the Académie Française’s poetry prize.

*****                            *****                                      *****

L’HIVER de Claude Beausoleil

sur le fleuve blanc de mots siffle une complainte

arrachée aux séquelles d’une nuit hivernale

c’est la ville qui chancelle

qui claque

et qui frémit

sur ce fleuve blanc se hissent

des fumées en cris pâles détachant les immeubles

d’un ciel en proie au nord

à ce ciel tu demandes qui parle en ce silence

depuis combien de siècles

depuis quel lieu mythique

avec quelle énergie

toi qui regardes le vent

connais-tu ses quêtes ses lignes et ses errances

ses délires et ses fêtes t’y reconnais-tu

par-delà la poudrerie de tensions en tornades

l’âme de ta ville

froide

sans mélancolie tremble-t-elle frottée

aux courbes blanches d’un recommencement

réclamant un récit

dans lequel se prononce nu le mot hiver

que la saison emporte dans ces vertiges où des leurres

naît un livre pulvérisant les mémoires du gel

 

Louis Dantin’s OPTIMISM


Louis Dantin’s Optimism

Translation – Ted Witham.
First Published in Azuria #5 (Autumn 2016), by the Geelong Writers Inc.

Everything suffering and vile the Ideal can lift
And shine refracted through Beauty’s prism:
The windflower’s aroma becomes the tomb’s petalled chrism
And all mud is gold in the sun’s dawning shift.

Things that are shredded shine in their splintering;
Corruption is a catalyst for nectar’s distillation.
In the murdered brain is the masterpiece’s creation
And in the night the heart’s flame is a torch glittering.

Bloody battles turn to smiles on the lips of History
And the blood as it’s spilt floods into rivers of glory;

Mudflats are transformed by Art’s chaste fingers;
Tears are rubies in the poems of their singers;

Death is beautiful in Mozart’s heavenly harmonies,
And even hell is divine in Dante’s crowning ecstasies.

*****                                    *****                             *****

Louis Dantin (alias Eugène Seers, 1865-1945) was a Québecois priest, poet, novelist and literary critic. He straddled Romantic and Symbolist styles.

Optimisme de Louis Dantin

Rien n’est souffrant ou vil qu’un idéal n’élève
Et qui n’ait son reflet dans le prisme du Beau :
L’anémone parfume et fleurit le tombeau
Et toute fange est d’or quand le soleil se lève.

Tout être déchiré rayonne en son lambeau ;
Toute corruption élabore une sève ;
Dans le cerveau meurtri le chef-d’œuvre s’achève
Et dans les nuits du cœur l’incendie est flambeau.

La bataille est riante aux lèvres de l’Histoire
Et le sang répandu coule en fleuve de gloire ;
Laïs se transfigure aux doigts chastes de l’Art ;

Les pleurs sont des rubis dans le vers qui les chante ;
La mort est belle aux sons des harpes de Mozart,
Et l’enfer est divin dans l’extase du Dante.

 

http://beq.ebooksgratuits.com/pdf/Dantin-coffret.pdf

 

The Reed and the Spring – H. Bosco


The Reed and the Spring

 

On the cape the worlds of this kingdom disappear,
Invisible vessels that towards Him you steer,
When will we see your light-house flood the space with light
And banish before it the sombre squadron of night?

 

What celestial map showing how to take the promontory
Are you carrying with you as you race around eternity?
And when will you reach the stopover of prayer
to pick up the Eternal One if the harbours won’t let you there?

 

When on the sheltered docks of love and unreason
Did you load onto the admiral’s nave
Some fugitive demon a dream on the run from prison,
The chief of stars, pilot in the starry wave?

 

In heaven’s calm expanses disappear
The ephemeral wakes of vessels of prayer.
Has the ship’s astrologer hoisted the beacon of humanity
Far from earth on the Holy Spirit’s firmity?

Translation into English by Ted Witham 2014

Le cap sur ce royaume ou les mondes s’effacent,
Invisibles vaisseaux qui gouvernez vers Lui,
Quand verrons-nous vos feux illuminer l’espace
Et chasser devant eux l’escadre de la nuit ?

 

Pour affronter le cap quelle carte céleste
Avez-vous emportée en vous courses du Ciel ?
Et quand toucherez-vous, si nul port ne vous reste,
L’escale de prière où l’on prend l’Éternel ?

 

Avez-vous embarqué sur la nef amirale
Aux darses de l’amour et de la déraison
Quelque démon du songe évadé de prison,
Chef d’étoiles, pilote en la mer sidérale ?

 

Dans les grands calmes du ciel où s’évanouit
Le sillage évasif des vaisseaux de prière
L’astrologue du bord a-t-il loin de la terre
Hissé le feu de l’homme au mât du Saint-Esprit ?

H. Bosco, ‘Le Roseau et la source’, Poèmes,
Paris : Gallimard, 1949, pp. 266-267

Beach Walk — Haiku


Our “Good mornings” thrown
jauntily into the air
like brightly coloured frisbees.

Ted Witham, September 1, 2013

 

Jesus Aviator


Translation from the French poet Guillaume Apollinaire. Forthcoming in Ezra: An Online journal of translation. Apollinaire, of Belarussian background, was a contemporary of Pablo Picasso, Jean Cocteau and Eric Satie. 

Christ (not the Wright Brothers) was “First in Flight”,
Ascended like a rocket to a record height.

Apple Christ of the eye
Twentieth favourite of the centuries he flies comprehending,
This century like Jesus has changed into a bird ascending.
The devils in the abyss lift their heads to see him dash.
They said he was imitating Simon Magus wanting cash
They shout that if he is so light he can steal into the sky, they must have caught him stealing.
The angels dance around the dancer’s dizzy wheeling
Icarus, Enoch, Elijah, Apollonius from Thyana’s philosophy scene
Float weightless around this first flying machine
They spread out from time to time to let those go past
Who get carried away by the Holy Eucharist
These priests who go up eternally elevating the bread
The plane alights at last its wings wide spread
Then the sky is full of millions of swallows
Swiftly the crows the falcons the owls all follow
From Africa arrive the ibis the flamingos the marabou storks, all sky-dwellers,
The Roc bird celebrated in talks by poets and story-tellers
Held flat in the greenhouses Adam’s skull the first head
The eagle from far-flung horizon shrieks to wake the dead
And from America are with wings blurred
macaws roadrunners little hummingbirds
From China the Pihi birds long and supple
Who have only one wing each and fly as a couple
Now watch the immaculate spirit-dove advise
As it is escorted by the lyre-bird and the peacock full of eyes,
The phoenix this flaming pyre which is of itself begotten
In an instant all his burning cinders fall forgotten
Sirens leaving the dangerous straits and dire
All three arriving singing beautifully in choir
And eagle phoenix Chinese Pihi all remain
To fraternise with this fascinating aeroplane.

Guillaume Apollinaire – Alcools – extrait de “Zone”

C’est le Christ qui monte au ciel mieux que les aviateurs
Il détient le record du monde pour la hauteur

Pupille Christ de l’oeil
Vingtième pupille des siècles il sait y faire
Et changé en oiseau ce siècle comme Jésus monte dans l’air
Les diables dans les abîmes lèvent la tête pour le regarder
Ils disent qu’il imite Simon Mage en Judée
Ils crient s’il sait voler qu’on l’appelle voleur
Les anges voltigent autour du joli voltigeur
Icare Enoch Elie Apollonius de Thyane
Flottent autour du premier aéroplane
Ils s’écartent parfois pour laisser passer ceux que transporte la Sainte-Eucharistie
Ces prêtres qui montent éternellement élevant l’hostie
L’avion se pose enfin sans refermer les ailes
Le ciel s’emplit alors de millions d’hirondelles
À tire-d’aile viennent les corbeaux les faucons les hiboux
D’Afrique arrivent les ibis les flamants les marabouts
L’oiseau Roc célébré par les conteurs et les poètes
Plane tenant dans les serres le crâne d’Adam la première tête
L’aigle fond de l’horizon en poussant un grand cri
Et d’Amérique vient le petit colibri
De Chine sont venus les pihis longs et souples
Qui n’ont qu’une seule aile et qui volent par couples
Puis voici la colombe esprit immaculé
Qu’escortent l’oiseau-lyre et le paon ocellé
Le phénix ce bûcher qui soi-même s’engendre
Un instant voile tout de son ardente cendre
Les sirènes laissant les périlleux détroits
Arrivent en chantant bellement toutes trois
Et tous aigle phénix et pihis de la Chine
Fraternisent avec la volante machine

–          Guillaume Apollinaire, France 1880-1918, Alcools : poèmes, Gallimard 1944, pages 8-9

Saison des baies


Click on image to readSaison des baies

Loneliness and the Way of the Cross


Via Dolorosa

by Nick Trakakis

RRP not stated. 187 pages, published by the author Clayton, Vic. [www.trakakis.com]

Reviewed by Ted Witham

The inspirations for Via Dolorosa include Albert Camus’ Cahiers/Notebooks and Blaise Pascal’s Pensées/Thoughts. Like both Cahiers and Pensées, Via Dolorosa consists in fragments of thoughts about philosophy and its “siblings”; theology and poetry.

Some coherence among these fragments is cinched in two lonely years Trakakis spent as a post-doctoral researcher at Notre Dame University in Indiana. Some thoughts were sparked by seminars and Masses Trakakis attended, and some by his own desperate loneliness.

But the coherence is illusory. The fragments, Nick Trakakis tells us, fragment both author and reader (p.170). Like our glimpses of God’s nature or true meanings, communication too is fragmented. This fragmentation makes this book initially difficult to engage. Persistence, however, is rewarded with rich insights and observations.

Nick Trakakis, an academic philosopher, is struggling to find language to express with integrity his thoughts about life, God and academe. The author of several books and many academic papers, Dr Trakakis criticises the Anglo-Saxon analytic philosophy for alienating the personal. Nick Trakakis here finds much to agree with Camus in ‘atheistic theism’.

These reflections were most engaging, partly because I am a long-term admirer of Camus’ Cahiers, and partly because, on this issue, our concepts of God, Trakakis pushes the limits of language. There are fragments on the cartoonist-philosopher Michael Leunig, the Greek poet Cavafy and the philosopher Wittgenstein among others.

Tratakis’ first experience of the Stations of the Cross at Notre Dame moved him and “began to remove all traces of darkness within us.” (p.176) At this point Trakakis’ Via Dolorosa might be seen to intersect with that of our Lord. If this book is a feast, it is a feast of savoury nutritious finger food concocted from the Greek and desert fathers, poetry, theology and philosophy.

You can feel some of the loneliness the philosopher experiences because of his courageous willingness to examine ideas and images to the utmost. Trakakis’ soul is vulnerably visible in these lines:

“He would write and write
but every now and again
he would reach a dead end
and what he could not write
he would sing
and what he could not sing
he would dance
and what he could not dance
he would cry
but what he could not cry
would only die.”

This review published in Studio: A Journal of Christians Writing, March 2012