Sunday 22 November 2020

And Hopkins

 Talking of Henry Purcell, I just came across this extraordinary sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which I don't remember reading even in the far-off days when I was somewhat obsessed with Hopkins...

Henry Purcell

The poet wishes well to the divine genius of Purcell and praises him that,
whereas other musicians have given utterance to the moods of man's mind,
he has, beyond that, uttered in notes the very make and species of man 
as created both in him and in all men generally.

Have fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen, so dear
To me, so arch-especial a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell,
An age is now since passed, since parted; with the reversal
Of the outward sentence low lays him, listed to a heresy, here.

Not mood in him nor meaning, proud fire or sacred fear,
Or love, or pity, or all that sweet notes not his might nursle:
It is the forgèd feature finds me; it is the rehearsal
Of own, of abrupt self there so thrusts on, so throngs the ear.

Let him Oh! with his air of angels then lift me, lay me! only I'll
Have an eye to the sakes of him, quaint moonmarks, to his pelted plumage under
Wings: so some great stormfowl, whenever he has walked his while

The thunder-purple seabeach plumèd purple-of-thunder,
If a wuthering of his palmy snow-pinions scatter a colossal smile
Off him, but meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder. 

This is a Petrarchan sonnet, written in Alexandrines (six stresses to the line) and in 'sprung rhythm' – something I never fully understood even in the days when I was studying Hopkins. He does well to find so many rhymes for 'Purcell'.

  The poet himself provides a helpful gloss:
'The sonnet on Purcell means this: 1-4. I hope Purcell is not damned for being a Protestant, because I love his genius. 5-8. And that not so much for gifts he shares, even though it shld be in higher measure, with other musicians as for his own individuality. 9-14. So that while he is aiming only at impressing me his hearer with the meaning in hand I am looking out meanwhile for his specific, his individual markings and mottlings, "the sakes of him".  It is as when a bird thinking only of soaring spreads its wings: a beholder may happen then to have his attention drawn by the act to the plumage displayed ... The thought is that as the seabird opening his wings with a whiff of wind in your face means the whirr of the motion, but also unaware gives you a whiff of knowledge about his plumage, the marking of which stamps his species, that he does not mean, so Purcell, seemingly intent only on the thought or feeling he is to express or call out, incidentally lets you remark the individualising marks of his own genius.'
  Hopkins explains those 'quaint moonmarks': 'By moonmarks I mean crescent-shaped markings of the quill-feathers, either in the colouring of the feathers or made by the overlapping of one on the other.'
I like that, partly because it makes me think of similar moonmarks on the wings of butterflies, though these are usually curved inward towards the body rather than outward to the wing margins. 
  Hopkins adds succinctly, 'My sonnet means "Purcell's music is none of your damned subjective rot" (so to speak)'. Amen to that. 
  Reading this sonnet again reminded me both of why I found Hopkins so fascinating and why I grew to find him insufferably tiresome, though I still greatly admire some of his poems.   

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