Monday, July 25, 2005

The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

(Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well)


HOW to kéep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there ’s none, there ’s none, O no there ’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there ’s none; no no no there ’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.


There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that ’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept.—Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.—Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

* * *

This is one of my favorite Hopkins poems. It deals with the problem of the vanishing of beauty: the more we try to preserve our appearance, the more it fades away. Curling and straightening of hair, bleaching of freckles, facelifts, in the end all tend to drain the life out of us, and snatch away that elusive quality that shines through our physical appearance to produce true beauty.

This leads to despair for those for whom beauty is an end in itself. And yet there's that old paradox: whoever seeks his life shall lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake shall find it.

Therefore the secret to everlasting beauty is to keep it from being an ultimate end. True loveliness will come to those who do not seek it.

Yet it is not enough not to seek it, we must give it over to God, and not just replace it with another superficial end. We must focus our thoughts on God.

This will give us two effects: beauty in this world, and beauty in the world to come. In this world, we will gain that inner loveliness that true lovers of beauty will recognize. In the next world, we will gain the highest Beauty of all -- God. Being with Him will make us truly beautiful.

On a side note, this is the poem that inspired Meredith of Basia Me, Catholica Sum to cut off her beautiful hair. She read, "Loose locks, long locks, lovelocks . . ." and then thought, "Locks for Love," and the next thing anyone knew, her hair had gone from below her waist to her shoulders. She's living proof that the poem is right, too, because it hasn't detracted from her attractiveness in the least.


Mark said...

Ah-ha, a copycat!

Can't argue with the selection, though. It's one of my favorites.

Sheila said...

I didn't see you had posted it first! Really!

I guess great minds just think alike . . . Isn't it a great poem?