Thursday, January 25, 2007

Lanier on Hopkins

I’m still taken with the idea, new to me earlier this week, that there is a resonance between Sidney Lanier and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Maybe it is old stuff to Those Who Know, but I am not of their number and it is new to me.

But it’s worth thinking on. Hopkins is no doubt the better poet: for my money (and a lot of others’, of course), the most original, unaccountable, inimitable voice in all English poetry. Lanier isn’t nearly as rich and diverse, and as his best, there’s something a little jingly about him. But he does seem to have found a verse form that can make verse sound like the best common speech: fluent, flexible and direct.

“Direct” may not be the first word that comes to mind with Hopkins. There’s a certain otherness about his style—quaint diction, unexpected rhythm—that can be (is meant to be?) unsettling at first blush.

But it isn’t long before you realize that he’s closer to home—or closer to the bone—than you at first noticed. He’s got that uncanny knack of recapitulating all of the history of language in microcosm. I think of Benjamin Britten in, e.g., A Midsummer Night’s Dream, where he makes music that sounds both old and new.

And it is bracing to realize that those quirky, cranky rhythmic markings may bring the style closer to speech rather than (as it may at first appear) further away.

As a delicate counterpoise to Lanier, here is HopkinsPied Beauty:

GLORY be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Fn: I don't seem to know how to recreate Hopkins' line-arrangement, which is a part of the point. Sorry, I'm working on that.

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