No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness. It is the vice of distinctiveness to become queer. This vice I cannot have escaped.
—Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, 1879
1. In the cool quiet
Of his study and most private thoughts
He writes the last few lines; blotting the page
He closes and locks the desk drawer.
Raising his hands he studies the stains the black ink
Has left on his long pale fingers; shuddering,
He plunges the besmirched members in the corner
Jug and scrubs and scours until all that is stained is made clean.
2. For a moment he dwells
On a young man’s fanciful dreams
Of worldly fame, praise for his verse, the
Inky accolades of heroes and peers in print;
This secular angel is one he knows too well; his brassy wings
Have brushed his face too often in dreams as he grapples
With their owner on the edge of a dizzying height,
Waking in a cold sweat with the itch to write upon him again.
3. Walking out he seeks to cleanse
His mind, he opens himself to the glory
Of all God’s pied creation; as the sun breaches
The dappled ranks of the clouds of Wales he prays
For renewal like the soft earth after spring rain;
Enfold me O God in your soft strong arms shore up my
Weakness my fame-hungry idolatry my flawed mortality
And bring this penitent sinner home to God-grandeur, heaven-haven, Amen.
Joanna Grant is a Ph.D. candidate at the University of Rochester in upstate New York. The inspiration for these pieces came from contemplating the idea of “off-beat:” what it is, has been, or might be. Gerard Manley Hopkins is a truly off-beat poet in his tortured relationship to the act of writing and in his simultaneous yearning for recognition and in his devotion to his God, a devotion which made him destroy most of his early verse. Hopkins’s legacy to modernist poetry consists of his revolutionary and certainly “off-beat” uses of rhythm, of pushing emphases onto different syllables with his uses of accent marks, etc., which he termed “sprung rhythm.” It’s not surprising that he had a great interest in and some talent for musical composition; his poems, diacritical markings and all, form an ecstatic hymn to his Creator and the beauties of His creation.
The first poem is an experiment, one in which Joanna appropriates the stanzaic form of “The Wreck of the Deutschland” and approximates some of Hopkins’s linguistic effects. It is a way to get “off-beat,” to fuse one style with another very different style.