Thursday, April 9, 2015

Long Live the Weeds! ~ Hopkins' "Inversnaid"

"Loch Heron", September 2014 - Photo by Mary Woods
I happen to live right on the border of where the sprawling Chicago suburbs begin to peter out into flat Illinois farmland. Consequently, in my town, the orderly ranks of streets and lawns and strip malls are occasionally invaded by wildness. Streams flanked by armies of reeds and young willows. Wedges of forest, stubbornly holding out between baseball diamonds and residential build-ups. Spreading creekside trees, like bulwarks of romance against the mundane tyranny of Suburbia.

Loch Heron. Linden Cove. Smuggler's Nook. The Forest of Silver Hands. You won't find these names on any map of Frankfort, IL, but they are important places, nonetheless, for me. They are my own haunts, my own landmarks. Wonder is the guide which leads me to them. They are beautiful spots, in their unobtrusive way, with endless surprises for those who wait and keep open eyes. Old mussel shells, washed from mud, which gleam royal pearl inside. Muskrats nuzzling through cool water, slick-furred and beady-eyed. Geese taking flight in magnificent, thunder-winged, trumpeting hundreds. These are the poems I read and love from God's "First Book" of nature.

Recently I came across a poem--with human words--expressing much the same sentiments. Not very surprisingly, it's by Gerard Manley Hopkins. This 19th-century English poet and Catholic priest is most famous for his inimitable descriptions of nature in pieces like "Pied Beauty", "God's Grandeur", and "Hurrahing in Harvest". Not just descriptions--raptures. The mere way he uses words usually makes me want to fall flat on my face for sheer joy (in the beauty) and utter despair (because I will never even touch his skill and imagination).

Despite that, I never regret picking up a volume of Hopkins. Some of his works are so richly and convolutedly packed with ideas, like glittering mosaics, that they are hard to comprehend. But many of his poems are simpler in concept and no less lovely in art. One of these small gems is "Inversnaid".

Written in 1881, the poem describes the landscape of Inversnaid, a small settlement in the Scottish Highlands near Loch Lomond. Hopkins' natural descriptive abilities, his skill in playing with alliteration and assonance, and a sprinkling of Scots vocabulary, make for a poem as delicious in the mouth as it is lovely in the mind's eye. I myself am not certain what all the words mean precisely, but I let my ear create images for me--if that makes the least ounce of sense.

Finally, Hopkins ends the poem with a poignant cry for the preservation of wilderness. Let it be left, he says, O let it be left. It is good for the mind and body; it is good for the soul. Let it be left--even small corners of it, for the good of us all.

Inversnaid
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
 
This dárksome búrn, hórseback brówn,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
 
A wíndpuff-bónnet of fáwn-fróth
 
Turns and twindles over the broth
 
Of a póol so pítchblack, féll-frówning,
 
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
 
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
 
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
 
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
 
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
 
What would the world be, once bereft
 
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
 
O let them be left, wildness and wet,
 
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.