Thursday, July 22, 2010

Dusty Treasure

* * * * *
Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!

~~ Gerard Manley Hopkins ~~
from “The Starlight Night”

* * * * *

A rediscovery. Buried treasure from long-ago, unearthed most unexpectedly; savored most deliciously on this sweet summer’s day. I hear the poet cry “look!” and I stop to “look” . . . and then I “see.” I see with my eyes, ears, and heart. There are fire-folk sitting in the air, and I’m not alone in seeing it.

Today a scant bit of poetry nestled in my morning reading launched me on a journey back in time to renew an acquaintance. In my days at university I chanced by print to meet Gerard Manley Hopkins -- monk, professor, poet. In my rush to mingle with the “Lost” of a generation led by Hemingway and Fitzgerald, I nodded courteously to poet Hopkins and hurried down the path of learning and letters. Today the lines of beauty I stumbled across by chance sent me searching for my old Norton Anthology of English Literature.

I know I met G. M. Hopkins once upon a time, but where is he to be found now? Where can I find that quiet monk-professor who once burned all of his poems upon entering the Society of Jesus, fearing they would not meet with approval? And where can I find that monk’s body of work that lay unpublished (intentionally so) until nearly 20 years after his death? “Where is he?” I mutter as I scour the dusty shelf allotted to poetry, largely unread these days judging from the uniform film Time placed atop each volume. Each volume that has been lovingly packed and carted with me from one address to another as I graduated, married, set up housekeeping, moved, birthed babies, moved again, birthed more babies, and moved again. The poetry books settled comfortably into a bookcase and set about the business of aging beautifully and peacefully . . . until today.

Blowing puffs of dust, prying thin volumes away from thick, rustling pages dormant for years, I cringe at the shameful neglect. On occasion, when a fevered child suffered through the night, I would carry them away on the worthy words of Wordsworth or Keats, Shelley or even silly Mr. Carroll, but Gerard Manley Hopkins remained at rest. And the looking goes on.

A-Ha! The anthology appears and my memory guides me directly to the time period hosting Hopkins ’ offerings. I peruse the bio and breeze past the literary style notations – deeply ingrained from years of university work, I need not review – and reach out to grasp the meat: the poems. Dancing through the sprightly verses I skip over the footnotes included to define troublesome words (such as enlightening the reader that the “oil” referred to comes from an olive rather than a tanker – would one ever confuse the two herein? I hope not!) and journey up and down and all around with my monk friend as guide and songmaster in praise of the Lord’s amazing canvas – our world.

I read . . . I know . . . I smile . . . I see . . .

I lie back in the grass and seek the treasured gems dropped from heavenside down to this tarnished Eden that Hopkins sees so clearly. Even death and pain find beauteous glint from poet’s pen. I read . . . I read . . . I read long into my day.

Unlike the hurried introduction so long ago, today I linger and walk stanza by stanza through the wonderment and praise. Whereas I knew nothing much of monks when we first met, I have since undertaken many a reading voyage hosted by monks (such as Thomas Merton and Henri Nouwen), as well as followed pilgrims through the pages of recorded retreats and solitary stays in monasteries world-wide. I now greet Hopkins the monk comfortably, as well as Hopkins the poet. Those days of yesterday, when I wondered why someone would destroy their work, have been replaced with a pilgrim’s knowledge; a pilgrim knowing that sometimes SELF destroys a poem or thought as surely as a match.

I once knew someone who wrote a book. Upon notification of intent to publish, the company sent the author a list of things to “add” for completion of the book. The list called for “salty” language, snippets of sensuality, etc. The book remained clean and unpublished in the author’s possession.

Years later, lying in a hospital bed, the author revised his tale, intending to reach a younger audience. I saw the excitement in his eye as he worked anew on his book. Publication would surely happen this time around . . . or so I thought.

The man healed, left the hospital bed, and lived the balance of his life with fresh vigor. I never saw the book again.

In declining health at the end of his life I inquired about “The Book,” hoping to self-publish this achievement for his grandchildren to enjoy.

“I destroyed it,” he said matter-of-factly. “I feared that someone may think that Science could replace God and I didn’t want that to happen. I didn’t want to lead anyone astray, so it’s gone.”

Simple. Truthful. Pure. Good.

I had always anticipated reading this book as a way of knowing more about this unemotional, enigmatic person. With so little on display to be observed, I longed to read from the inside. I never did get that chance, but the brief exchange regarding the book’s destruction told me volumes.

As this summer’s day passes from dew-kissed morn to dappled afternoon, as I seek respite from the heat until the twilit sky ushers down the velvety curtain of a star-spangled night, I will marvel and delight in the lingering words of Gerard Manley Hopkins as he weaves a tapestry of poems bound in parcels addressed to a magnificent God. I read. I nod. I delight.

I’m so glad I paused to meet up with this poet over a cup of tea as he guides me through nature’s beauty: simple gems dropped heaven-side from the hands of God to bury in Eden ’s dust as treasure for this seeker.

1 comment:

Full of Grace said...

What an amazing story! You have so many experiences tucked away- it's wonderful :)