Sunday Night Journal, August 26, 2018
Sunday Night Journal, September 2, 2018

52 Poems, Week 35: The Lantern Out of Doors (Hopkins)


Sometimes a lantern moves along the light,
   That interests our eyes. And who goes there?
   I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where,
With, all down darkness wide, his wading light?

Men go by me whom either beauty bright
   In mould or mind or what not else makes rare:
   They rain against our much-thick and marsh air
Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite.

Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
   What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.

Christ minds: Christ's interest, what to avow or amend
   There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kind,
Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.


Hopkins has a note (written to his friend and editor Robert Bridges I think) about his use of "wind" in this poem:

I mean that the eye winds only in the sense that its focus or point of sight winds and that coincides with a point of the object and winds with that. For the object, a lantern passing further and further away and bearing now east now west of one right line, is truly and properly described as winding.

This kind of precision is typical of him. If you get the Penguin Classics Poems and Prose, you can read selections from his notebooks which are full of extremely detailed descriptions, mainly of nature. I mean extremely. I would quote one, but I've discovered in the process of doing this series that there are a lot of books which it is nearly impossible to lay flat and hold there with some object so that you can see the page and type at the same time.

Hopkins is another one whom I expected from the first to include in this series. But I wanted to do one of his lesser-known poems. I think every Catholic with any literary inclination has probably read "God's Grandeur" and/or "Pied Beauty" ("Glory be to God for dappled things..."). And maybe "The Windhover." I like this one as well as any of those, though it isn't as immediately striking. It occurs to me that this image of a single small light moving through general darkness is not something most of us see very often at all. There are in fact probably millions of people who never have seen it. 

There's an excellent biographical sketch of Hopkins at the Poetry Foundation. I started reading it and realized that although I've been reading Hopkins since I was in college I really knew almost nothing about his life, apart from the fact that he was a Jesuit, and nothing at all about his family and upbringing. 

--Mac is the proprietor of this blog.


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I just posted a link to this on Facebook, as I usually do, and found myself making this comment: "To tell the truth I find some of his verbal fireworks a little over the top, just as a matter of taste, and this one is a bit plainer (by Hopkins standards)." I had not consciously articulated that to myself, but it is part of the reason I like it. I tend to prefer plainness and restraint, and this poem seems a near-perfect unity, with no spectacular details standing out as is sometimes the case with Hopkins's work.

It somehow seems to go with last weeks.

I can remember lying in my bunk at camp and seeing people moving around with flashlights.

Of course, I'm sure I do see that around here, Bill is outside with a flashlight often, but I haven't really thought about it.

I like this very much. It makes me want to go sit on the porch tonight and watch for a light.


Hmm, yes, it does very much go with last week's.

A few years back a Jesuit priest came to the summer institute at Spring Hill to teach a 1 hr course on Hopkins in that program. I did not take the course, but went to a lecture he gave beforehand. The hour long lecture was pretty much going line by line over "The Windhover" and explaining it all. Then at the end he put down his notes and recited it to us by heart. That was the best part!

I don't think it was that one, but I heard a lecture on Hopkins there, too, I think also by a priest. Seems like it was a good bit more than "a few" years back. I don't remember much of the lecture but he read a Hopkins poems that has always baffled me--"Spelt From Sybil's Leaves" maybe--and it seemed to make sense for the first time.

"The Windhover" made no sense to me until that lecture and listening to him recite it correctly. Unfortunately I woke up the next morning back where I started. :)

Poetry is very ephemeral in my brain.

An opus dei priest gave me one volume of a two volume biography of Hopkins. Its about the second half of his life. Its by an atheist and its quite challenging. I found it enjoyable.

That might be more than I'm interested in knowing about Hopkins. Two volumes for the second half!--and he died at 45.

Oh wait, I misread that--you mean 2 volumes for the whole life. Still...I guess I'm just not keen on bios anyway. T

Has anyone here read Ron Hansen's Exiles: A Novel about what led Hopkins to write the "Wreck of the Deutschland"?

Marianne yes I enjoyed it a lot

I haven't but sounds interesting. I read Mariette in Ecstacy, which I liked although not as much as I'd expected to based on recommendations.

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