The Lantern Out of Doors
Sometimes a lantern moves along the night,
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, eyes them, heart wants, care haunts, foot follows kind,
Their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast, last friend.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, in W. H. Gardner and N. H. MacKenzie (editors), The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Oxford University Press 1967).
Hopkins was a Jesuit. Thus, the resolution of this poem comes as no great surprise. However, I have the sense that Hopkins's religious convictions were the outcome of a tempestuous, hard-won struggle. This introduces a human element into his poetry that is sometimes lacking in purely "religious" or "devotional" verse. This is evident in the first eleven lines of the sonnet. The repetition of "death or distance" is lovely. His use of "out of sight is out of mind" is devastating, yet full of empathy and rueful truth. He knows full well that he too is a solitary lantern-bearer. As are we all.
Albert Goodwin (1845-1932), "The Tower of London" (1897)
It is a matter of perennial academic dispute as to whether Wordsworth succeeded in his avowed intention to write poetry in "language near to the language of men" that is free of "poetic diction." There is no denying that, particularly in his longer poems, the results were mixed.
Still, I think that he succeeded more often than he is given credit for, and this success goes far beyond the well-known anthology pieces. This becomes clearer to me the deeper I delve into his poetry, which always reveals new, delightful surprises. For instance, I recently came across this untitled sonnet.
Even as a dragon's eye that feels the stress
Of a bedimming sleep, or as a lamp
Sullenly glaring through sepulchral damp,
So burns yon Taper 'mid a black recess
Of mountains, silent, dreary, motionless:
The lake below reflects it not; the sky
Muffled in clouds, affords no company
To mitigate and cheer its loneliness.
Yet, round the body of that joyless Thing
Which sends so far its melancholy light,
Perhaps are seated in domestic ring
A gay society with faces bright,
Conversing, reading, laughing; -- or they sing,
While hearts and voices in the song unite.
William Wordsworth, Poems (1815).
One might well say: how can a poem that begins with the lines "Even as a dragon's eye that feels the stress/Of a bedimming sleep" be written in language that is "near to the language of men"? Well, keep reading. The language is heightened, yes, but I'd say that this is the sort of syntax and tone that Wordsworth had in mind when he made his aesthetic pronouncements. I find it preferable to the often purple rhetoric of, for instance, Keats, Shelley, and Byron.
An aside: Wordsworth's poem brings to mind the following poem, which I have never been able to make head or tail of. But it sounds lovely.
My candle burned alone in an immense valley.
Beams of the huge night converged upon it,
Until the wind blew.
Then beams of the huge night
Converged upon its image,
Until the wind blew.
Wallace Stevens, Harmonium (1923).
Albert Goodwin, "Salisbury"
Masaoka Shiki died of tuberculosis at the age of 34. He is traditionally, along with Basho, Buson, and Issa, regarded as one of the four great masters of haiku. Given Shiki's early death, there is an inevitable tendency to read his tragic fate back into his poetry. However, although there is no doubt that his long illness (his tuberculosis began when he was 21) influenced how he viewed the world, he -- like any good haiku poet -- was primarily concerned with scrupulously recording what he saw. But, as is the case with the poems by Hopkins and Wordsworth, Shiki's distinctive sensibility is evident in the following haiku.
Entered a house
On the withered moor.
Masaoka Shiki (1867-1902) (translated by R. H. Blyth), in R. H. Blyth, Haiku, Volume 4: Autumn-Winter (Hokuseido Press 1952), page 283.
A side-note: there is a time-honored tradition of basing haiku upon the phrase "withered moor" ("kareno" in Japanese). The most famous occurrence of the phrase is in what is usually identified as Basho's final poem:
Ill on a journey;
My dreams wander
Over a withered moor.
Basho (translated by R. H. Blyth), Ibid, page 288.
Albert Goodwin, "Whitby Abbey, North Yorkshire" (1910)