Saturday, May 06, 2006

May Magnificat

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

May is Mary’s month, and I
Muse at that and wonder why:
        Her feasts follow reason,
        Dated due to season—

Candlemas, Lady Day;
But the Lady Month, May,
        Why fasten that upon her,
        With a feasting in her honour?

Is it only its being brighter
Than the most are must delight her?
        Is it opportunest
        And flowers finds soonest?

Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
        Question: What is Spring?—
        Growth in every thing—

Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
        Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
        Throstle above her nested

Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within;
        And bird and blossom swell
        In sod or sheath or shell.

All things rising, all things sizing
Mary sees, sympathising
        With that world of good,
        Nature’s motherhood.

Their magnifying of each its kind
With delight calls to mind
        How she did in her stored
        Magnify the Lord.

Well but there was more than this:
Spring’s universal bliss
        Much, had much to say
        To offering Mary May.

When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple
        And thicket and thorp are merry
        With silver-surfèd cherry

And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
        And magic cuckoocall
        Caps, clears, and clinches all—

This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ’s birth
        To remember and exultation
        In God who was her salvation.

* * *

For the first Saturday of May, here is a bit of Hopkins. I had to memorize this poem for Mother's Day at school in tenth grade. I never performed it. But in the one afternoon I had to learn it, I discovered that if you say it really fast, especially with a certain rhythm, you sound like a rapper.

Anyway, it's typical Hopkins: exhiliarated love of nature, down to the little details like tiny birds' eggs and the colour of apple blossoms, coupled with the religious ideas that he knew were not separate from the beauty of nature.

The thesis is quite simple: Mary has the month of May as her own month because it is a time of growth and birth, symbolising her motherhood, and because it is joyful, as with the joy with which Mary rejoiced in God her Saviour.

I'm beginning to get back into Hopkins after a bit of a break from him. This morning I went back to practising "The Wreck of the Deutschland." I have been trying to learn that poem, off and on, since I first read it in the tenth grade, and I nearly have it now. It's just the order of a few stanzas that I get mixed up. Once I get all 280 lines of it pat, then my quest will begin for one single person who will want to hear it. It is probably my favourite poem of all time, alongside "The Seafarer" and few others, but it's difficult enough that hardly anyone wants to hear it. I think I will post on it, in another multipart series, someday, because after you've read it a few times and have heard the ringing beauty of the lines and understand a tiny bit of the mystical meaning, you can't help but love it. Hopkins is like that.

A little random note: I have heard the tradition that the first Saturday of May is the perfect time to ask any favour you like of Mary. She will go to any effort to obtain it for you. I have tried this before, and have never gone unanswered. In fact, I credit Mary's intercession on the first Saturday of May five years ago for the birth of my first younger sibling. I suggest you try asking her something today.

1 comment:

White Phantom said...

You rapped this for me once!