For a few weeks, it felt like there was a huge crack in the core.
I know it sounds pretty melodramatic and cliche, but the past weeks I’ve been wrestling with myself, and my most essential beliefs. It all fell apart, and I couldn’t imagine moving forward with my work. I think of it as a dark night of the soul. This crack in my foundation left me no way of moving forward.
I spent some time in college studying the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Despite the rigid, conservative Catholicism that defined his life and work, I’ve always felt a resonance with his poetry. In The Norton Anthology of Modern Poetry, by Richard Ellman and Robert O’Clair, they offer some interesting insights in Hopkins, which I think suggest in part what I find attractive about Hopkins’ poetry:
Most of his poems set anguish and rapture against each other, either in the same poem or in parallel poems….Hopkins is at his best in poems where the combat is continued to the last moment, as in “Carrion Comfort,” where Christ is adversary as well as savior. This poetry needs pain as the principal ingredient in joy, but the pain is more convincing.
Not being a Jesuit, I can’t entirely sympathize with this conflict embodied in Hopkins’ work, but regardless, I see a manifestation of belief that I find convincing, one that always lies on shaky ground. And I like the idea of the poetry itself embodying this conflict, of faith versus self.
There is one Hopkins poem in particular I come to time and again:
I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day./What hours, O what black hours we have spent/This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went! /And more must, in yet longer light’s delay./With witness I speak this. But where I say/Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament/Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent/To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree/Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;/Bones built in me, flash filled, blood brimmed the curse./Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see/The lost are like this, and their scourge to be/As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.
I also often think of the last lines in “Carrion Comfort:”
That night, that/year/Of now done darkness I wretched lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
The conflict makes his belief more real, convictions that can never be fully resolved. I like these poems enough that once I tried to make a picture of them.