I recently re-read G.M. Hopkins' "The Wreck of the Deutschland"—really, I was reading
it for the first time since my previous encounter was in graduate school and I rushed through it as one tends to do in such cases. it struck me with great force this time. It is not intended as a narrative and doesn't tell the "story" of the disaster; indeed, the tragedy is not even mentioned until stanza 12 in Part the Second. Rather, it came across to me as 35 tight, intensely composed poems linked by their theme of struggling to perceive God's grace and mercy in the midst of pain, suffering, and sorrow. The poem beautifully displays Hopkins' powerful gifts—his highly original rhythms and brilliant images—as well as his occasional lapses into obscurity and labored diction. I strongly commend this poem to your attention. It will remind you in some places of Whitman, in others early Robert Lowell (cf. especially "The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket), yet remains utterly original.
The lines from the first stanza have inspired me toward a possible new poem (watch this space!):
"Thou hast bound bones in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Once again I feel thy finger and find thee."
As if carrying that around in my head and trying to bring to life what it evoked isn't enough, last night another image floated into my imagination; this morning on the bus I composed the following fragment—or maybe it's a full first draft? Comments welcome as always.
One small cloud floats over
white smudge on otherwise
perfect sky I watch it
drift beyond sight edges
Labels: clouds, Gerard Manley Hopkins, poem, poetry