Poet's Pick April 11
Gerard Manley Hopkins: "Moonrise"
Selected by Gretchen Primack
National Poetry Month 2013

Letter from the Editors

Dear Readers,

Our thanks to Gretchen Primack for today's Poet's Pick!

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Gretchen Primack's Poetry Month Pick, April 11, 2013

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

I awoke in the Midsummer not-to-call night, ' in the white and the walk of the morning:
The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe ' of a finger-nail held to the candle,
Or paring of paradisaïcal fruit, ' lovely in waning but lustreless,
Stepped from the stool, drew back from the barrow, ' of dark Maenefa the mountain;
A cusp still clasped him, a fluke yet fanged him, ' entangled him, not quit utterly.
This was the prized, the desirable sight, ' unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, ' eyelid and eyelid of slumber.


* Gretchen Primack Comments:
Some beauty hurts. A concerto so gorgeous it makes you wince, for instance; an oil painting that presses your stomach down. “Don’t cry, it’s only music,” starts Liesl Mueller’s poem “Joy.” Trying to name the ache of beauty, she writes,

…It’s about
two seemingly parallel lines
suddenly coming together
inside us, in some place
that is still wilderness.

Gerard Manley Hopkins’ music is the most beautiful I’ve ever heard in poetry. He is the master of sound (though Plath sits at his right hand). And the pleasure is so deep that it leaves me a little creased where, as Mueller would say, those parallel lines suddenly come together.

Hopkins wrote “Moonlight” in Wales, where he was studying to become a Jesuit priest. You may know that Hopkins threw his early poems into a bonfire when, as he wrote, he “resolved to be a religious.” But that horrifying act allowed something very powerful to happen: He was forced to see how necessary the writing of poems was to his existence. He simply could not help but pick up his pen again years later. “Moonrise” happened because he awoke in the perfectly-named “not-to-call night” and was moved utterly by what he saw, and the only way to handle that beauty was to burst out with this poem.

Oh, its music! Listen to the various linked sounds of this one line: “The moon, dwindled and thinned to the fringe of a fingernail held to the candle,”…any of these layers of sound play would bring pleasure, but together they make the line brim over with melody and harmony. I can feel the moon-viewer’s delight through the delight of these sounds.

That painful pleasure happens throughout the poem. Eventually, what Hopkins witnessed “parted [him] leaf and leaf, divided” him.  That’s just what happens to me when I read “Moonrise.”

So it seems to me that this poem is Hopkins’ response to being overwhelmed, even wounded by sheer beauty. And that feeling of his created something—a poem—so beautiful that it in turn gave me that same wounding. If only this response of mine could be anywhere near beautiful enough to move someone else to the feeling, and so on, and so on....

About Gretchen Primack:
Gretchen Primack’s poems have appeared in The Paris Review, Prairie Schooner, The Massachusetts Review, FIELD, Antioch Review, Ploughshares, and other journals. She’s the author of two poetry collections, Kind (Post-Traumatic Press 2013) and Doris’ Red Spaces (forthcoming, Mayapple 2014), and a chapbook, The Slow Creaking of Planets (Finishing Line 2007).

Primack has worked as a union organizer, working women’s advocate, and prison educator. Also an advocate for non-human animals, she co-wrote The Lucky Ones: My Passionate Fight for Farm Animals (Penguin Avery 2012) with Jenny Brown.  She lives in Hurley, NY.  Her Web site is www.gretchenprimack.com.

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