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November 24, 2008

Poetry

As a brief note I'd like to apologise for last week's abomination; I really should stick to writing non-fiction. In my defence, I had little else to give, and now I've started updating I feel a certain sense of -- as Yahtzee put it -- 'blogligation' to make sure I have something at the same time every week.

A long while ago now, when I was nary more than a nipper at the teat of education, my A Level English teacher introduced me to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is hard to explain the effect this had on me really, especially since I had been incredibly interested in poetry before, but I will attempt to do so anyway. All good poetry has an effect on you, as a person. D.H. Lawrence's verse embeds itself within you, it stamps out words like engraved ink on bronze across your brain; Siegfried Sassoon's visceral poetry is almost tactile, thudding itself with great guttural blows to your head and assaulting your senses; Hopkins -- though -- Hopkins' work burns its way through you like a white-hot trail on your soul. Every carefully constructed line flies out like shards of napalm screeching their way across your core, and you are left -- bare, naked and burning.

Douglas Adams once said something similar of the music of Bach, but Hopkins' work truly speaks to the personal element. When you read Homer you know what it is to be a hero, when you read Browning you know what it is to be Browning, but when you read Hopkins you know what it is to be human.

It's difficult to understand what it is that makes me connect so much with Hopkins, especially because we are -- on the face of it -- so dissimilar. Hopkins, for those of you who don't know, was a man of massive faith who rejected his family to become a Jesuit priest, and then was sent away from his friends and colleagues at Oxford University to become a teacher in Dublin. He wrote poetry for most of his life, though he burnt much of it in his massive fits of self-doubt, but it is the poetry written at this stage, at the very ends of his life, that interest me the most. The so called 'Sonnets of Desolation'

Hopkins wrote that in moving to Ireland he was at a "Third Remove" from his old life, but not "in all the removes [he] could get". The final sonnets of Hopkins' life detail his desperate and faltering belief in God.

At first, all Hopkins expresses is his anger at God for his situation, but the tone of the sonnets become slowly more questioning -- and eventually pleading. I cannot nearly communicate how incredibly fantastical these poems are, your only recourse is to read them; and thank me later. Hopkins captures impeccably the feeling of howling loneliness, of utter and total abandonment as one by one of all the things that keep his life tethered disappear. All his connections to reality slowly fall away, and to read the final sonnets before his death is to see the look of desperation in a dying man's eyes as he fruitlessly scrabbles at the cliff edge.

This is, of course, somewhat depressing as you might imagine; and not something I would recommend for light reading. If ever you want to know what poetry should be, however, Hopkins really is the place to start. It almost details the fall of a man, as you read each poem detail the gloriousness and true awesomeness of God (I'd recommend 'God's Grandeur' or 'The Windhover' for this stage) and see the true hopelessness as the poems decline in mood, and then decline further; and finally: stop.

Why do I choose to write about this now I hear you cry? Well, I am in Canada now, I am at a first remove. I'm not one for large groups of friends, I typically find a few select people I really care about and latch on to them like an irritating -- but loving -- barnacle. This is why I really don't like loss of connections. It is happening, now, not in great numbers nor in any way definitively but it is happening. I'm drifting apart from people that used to be major parts of my lives, people that at other times I genuinely could not imagine living apart from. It is true, certainly, that I am forming new connections constantly, and there are plenty of people here in Canada I find myself honestly attached to. You never really, truly, forget the people that formed stages of your life: how many of you can still remember some of your kindergarten friends? We grow into life, around the mould that other people imprint upon us. I don't like losing these connections, but I suppose I am. I don't like losing people, but I suppose I will.

There's not really any cause for me to moan about this. I'm worlds away, and it's a decision that I made. As well as this, making new connections all the time does blunt any accusations of loneliness I might field. Me losing people was always inevitable, and I was always aware of it as a consequence. I left Jersey, then I left England, and soon I'll leave Canada (too soon) and I don't suppose I thought that I was going to stay close to everyone I knew. That doesn't mean I have to like it though, and that it doesn't mean I'm not going to take advantage of your time, reader, to bitch about it. It just leaves me in a state of nostalgic depression, as if I were indoors by myself with a mug of hot chocolate, wistfully staring at the beating rain outside. Unfortunately it tends to snow here, so that option is out.

Things will be better, I assume, when I get back to Warwick and get to talk to my old friends back there. I'll bet you, however, that around this time next year I'll be bemoaning all of my friends in Canada that I'm fading away from. That will be until I come back the year after, of course. Watch this space.

Christmas time, Chil'rens! I think a new theme will develop in these latest album recommendations. I suggest 'We Three Kings' by Reverend Horton Heat. Check out some of their other stuff too. Also: feel free to suggest bands for me, I don't want this to become a one sided relationship.


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