Monday, 16 February 2009


I HAVE desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.

Manley Hopkin's imaginative entry into a nun's yearning for quietude (as if a nun would yearn for such a thing! Why mightn't her heaven's be a raging passionate storm propelling her boat at exhilarating speed with the spray on her face? Still ...)

There is a deliberately judged syntactic play in 'Where the green swell is in the havens dumb', I think, as to whether dumb, there, modifies swell or havens; whether, indeed, it connotes silence or stupidity. Take the latter, for the sake of argument, and read back into the poem a critique of its death-drive quietism: 'hail' can be praise, as well as a meteorological phenomenon; blow means bloom but also the storm winds. Quite apart from anything, to take in the past tense (I have desired, I have asked) as if the desiring and the asking is now ancient history. To render heaven almost entirely in negatives, as to what is subtracted from the variety and colour of this existence ...

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