Nov 28, 2011 Sonnet 65

Here’s a beaut. My sister challenged a gathering of us at Thanksgiving to recite a favorite poem. I thought I could get through ee cummings’ “dominic has a doll,” but I botched the ending entirely. The one I decided NOT to try was today’s selection, because I knew I couldn’t remember past about the 7th line. But sonnets!–now there’s a verse form to be adored. We’ve read so many over the years–they are inescabable in English poetry–and I’m sure we’ve covered this one a time or two. It still resonates for me, musically and emotionally: Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “sonnet 65.”
So one can look at the rhyme scheme and see he’s not doing a Shakespearean sonnet–it lacks that neat couplet at the end. But his adherence to form is exacting, and he even maintains the traditional thematic break between lines 1-8 and lines 9-16. Inside the form, though, we find all kinds of whacked-out shit going on. His diction is erudite. His alliteration is overwhelming. His syntax seems, at times, purposefully archaic. And all throughout is a dramatic hyperbole that somehow maintains its purchase on lived reality–or perhaps I’m just melancholic.It is in many ways a poem about falling, and it falls forward with the mad fury of Hopkins’s sprung rhythm–which means that instead of using set “foot” patterns of a couple syllables at a time (the iambs of Shakespeare, e.g.), he employs longer, variable feet with an accented syllable always at the beginning. So there is not always the same number of accents (“beats”) per line. In this way they all fit nicely, but avoid the sing-songy effect of some of these formal examples we’ve been reading recently. It’s quite an awesome trick, when one thinks about how much verse had preceded him (1844-1889).
Hopkins never published poems in his lifetime, but they were collected by a friend and published in 1918, and went on to impress the modernist poets with their inventiveness. -ed.

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing–
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
erring! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.’
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

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