Friday, May 06, 2005

No Worst

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief'.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who never hung there. Nor does long our small

Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

* * *

Note: I added the spaces in this poem to make it easier to read. Hopkins often did this, although in my book the poem is printed in one big block.

This sonnet is one of Hopkins' many "dark" sonnets; however, even his dark sonnets are not, like other poets', completely hopeless. He always has at least a note of hope.

In this one, he points out that the more intense sorrow is, the less likely it is to last long. The human heart can only suffer so much for so long, because after a time it gets used to it.

And also, a comfort only to the badly suffering, he finds hope in the thought that he will die someday, and that sleep is the next best thing to dying. Sleep is nothingness: but when one is badly suffering, nothingness is a great relief.


Charlemagne said...

Colin Powell always used to say "It'll look better in the morning." While I can't say that this is completely true, I can testify that the situation I once found unbearable in the night loses some of its menace in the light of day. At any rate, I can at least deal with it more rationally.

As for sleep, it is balm for the soul. "For in that sleep of death, what dreams may come?"

Andreth said...

This somehow reminds me of what my Dad so often says, "The worst has already happened. We've killed Christ, it can only get better on this side of the Resurrection." One thing also, that Tolkien helped me see, is that the sweetest joys come only after the deepest sorrows and pain. That, I think, is the essence of a Christian life. It's what Hopkins seems to be saying too.