This Friday is the first day of fall, so naturally, the literature blogs and poetry Twitter are going all out with the autumnal poems. Keats’s “To Autumn” deservedly gets a lot of praise, but my favorite fall poem is one I discovered just recently, Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Hurrahing in Harvest.”
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! what lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And éyes, heárt, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic – as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! –
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart réars wíngs bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.
The poet Tiana Clark wrote (on Twitter), “Poems are bodies that remind us of our bodies.” I like that, but what I really like is for a poem to remind me not just of my body, but of my whole person—my spirit as well as my body. Hopkins can do that.
Hopkins, of course, is well-known for poems that use the beauty of nature to point to a benevolent and all-powerful Creator, suggesting that beauty only exists in the world because God loves us and chooses to favor us with it. What I love about this poem is how Hopkins pushes us beyond mere intellectual acknowledgment of this spiritual reality by invoking bodily experience. God’s love, as demonstrated through the beauty of autumn, is compared to a look or a greeting from a lover, and found to be “realer” and “rounder” than what is perceived by the senses. The hills are identified as Christ’s “world-wielding shoulder,” reminding us that Jesus too had a body, whose destruction and resurrection brought about our salvation. And finally, when the riches of God’s love begin to dawn on this speaker, he is so overcome that he feels as if the very earth under his feet has been taken away. By bringing this spiritual wisdom to us in such physical terms, Hopkins challenges us to think of God not just in abstract, but as a real, living presence, as much apart of the world around us as the hills, the trees, and our own bodies.