“Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself.” —Isaiah 45:15
God, though to Thee our psalm we raise
No answering voice comes from the skies;
To Thee the trembling sinner prays
But no forgiving voice replies;
Our prayer seems lost in desert ways,
Our hymn in the vast silence dies.
We see the glories of the earth
But not the hand that wrought them all:
Night to a myriad worlds gives birth,
Yet like a lighted empty hall
Where stands no host at door or hearth
Vacant creation’s lamps appall.
We guess; we clothe Thee, unseen King,
With attributes we deem are meet;
Each in his own imagining
Sets up a shadow in Thy seat;
Yet know not how our gifts to bring,
Where seek Thee with unsandalled feet.
And still th’unbroken silence broods
While ages and while æons runs,
As erst upon chaotic floods
The Spirit hovered ere the sun
Had called the seasons’ changeful moods
And life’s first germs from death had won.
And still th’abysses infinite
Surround the peak from which we gaze.
Deep calls to deep, and blackest night
Giddies the soul with blinding daze
That dares to cast its searching sight
On being’s dread and vacant maze.
And Thou art silent, whilst Thy world
Contends about its many creeds
And hosts confront with flags unfurled
And zeal is flushed and pity bleeds
And truth is heard, with tears impearled,
A moaning voice among the reeds.
My hand upon my lips I lay;
The breast’s desponding sob I quell;
I move along life’ tomb-decked way
And listen to the passing bell
Summoning men from speechless day
To death’s more silent, darker spell.
Oh! till Thou givest that sense beyond,
To shew Thee that Thou art, and near,
Let patience with her chastening wand
And lead me child-like by the hand
If still in darkness not in fear.
Speak! whisper to my watching heart
One word-as when a mother speaks
Soft, when she sees her infant start,
Till dimpled joy steals o’er its cheeks.
Then, to behold Thee as Thou art,
I’ll wait till morn eternal breaks.
“Nondum” is Latin for “not yet.” Hopkins’ moving poem echoes the Psalmist who cries, “How long, LORD? wilt thou hide thyself for ever?” (Psalm 89). In a time of spiritual darkness, Hopkins fails to find any comfort in prayer or in nature. He pleads for a single whisper from God’s “still, small voice” (1 Kings 19), to strengthen him until the time he can know God “even as I am known (1 Cor. 13).
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
A Fine Picture—While other painters of the Hudson River School would merge the two in Romantic scenes, Thomas Cole chose in this painting to make clear the dichotomy between wilderness and cultivation.
Long after the painting was completed, Matthew Baigell identified the logging scars on the distant hill as Hebrew letters. Viewed upright they seem to spell the name “Noah”; viewed upside down, as though from God’s perspective, the word shaddai, “the Almighty,” is formed.
A tiny self-portrait of Thomas Cole with his easel can be spotted on the rocks in the foreground.
The painting is an entry submitted by Fiona of Vista Court.
Righteous art Thou, O Lord, when I complain to Thee, yet I would plead my case before Thee. Why does the way of the wicked prosper?—Jeremiah 12:1
Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just,
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavor end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my freind,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavéd how thick! lacéd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.
Hopkin’s poem is a translation and expansion of Jeremiah 12. Always prone to depression, the Jesuit priest and poet had come to feel that his life was wretched and that he had failed to accomplish anything lasting. The earliest manuscript of the poem is dated March 17 (St. Patrick’s Day), 1889. Hopkins died of typhoid fever less than three months later. Today, he is recognized as a poet of enduring quality, the writer of such classics as “Spring and Fall,” “The Windhover,” “The Grandeur of God,” and “Pied Beauty.”
A Fine Picture—”I’ll tell you that we’re having some superb autumn days, and that I’m taking advantage of them,” Vincent wrote to his brother Theo in October 1889, and sent him a number of “studies” including The Mulberry Tree. Vincent was staying at the Saint Paul Asylum in Saint-Remy, following his estrangement from Ganguin and subsequent nervous breakdown. Like the mulberry tree growing on the rocky hillside, he created beauty in a hard place; his thick brushstrokes flame on the canvas in vivid blues and oranges. Vincent sent Theo more paintings that December, but wrote that The Mulberry Tree remained his favorite.
A Little Poetry—The autumnal fall of leaves is a reminder of man’s mortality. Little Margaret weeps, for, though she has no words for the thought, her heart aches with the recognition. In this poem “To a Young Child,” Hopkins used the Germanic “sprung” rhythm that counts only accented syllables, and used words of Germanic origin (with three exceptions). Two words—’wanwood‘ and ‘leafmeal’—Hopkins created on a Germanic basis. The effect is strangely primal but beautiful.
The word ‘ghost‘ here is used to mean the living spirit.
A Little Music—Natalie Merchant beautifully sings Hopkin’s poem to orchestral accompaniment, on her album Leave Your Sleep. This was my introduction to “Spring and Fall.” <http://www.nataliemerchant.com/l/leave-your-sleep/spring-and-fall-to-a-young-child>
Goethe said that everyone should read a little poetry and see a fine picture every day, to prevent worldly cares from overcoming our sense of the beautiful. Get your daily dose of beauty at Wrestle with the Angel.