Poet's Pick April 9
Gerard Manley Hopkins: "Inversnaid"
Selected by Deena Linett
National Poetry Month 2015

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Deena Linett's Poetry Month Pick, April 9, 2015

by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 - 1889)

This dárksome búrn, hórseback brówn,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A wíndpuff-bónnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a póol so pítchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.


* Deena Linett Comments:

Inversnaid is located in Stirlingshire, on the east shore of Loch Lomond not far from the Trossachs, in Central Scotland. On my first trip to that country in 1996 I fell in love with the music of Scots’ speech, and with Scotland’s unquiet sky and glorious terrain. There are no people in this poem, whose subject may be said to be a prayer by Hopkins, a Jesuit priest, for the ongoingness of the natural world.

I find this poem important because its music is true to the feeling the land evokes in me, and because it sings—in its word-choice and rhythms—a music faithful to the timeless splash and churning of a stream over ancient granite in upland country; in Scotland, even the Lowlands are rocky, steep, and craggy.

Immediately—that is, without the operations of intellect—the reader is caught up by the music and the rhythm, the way the poem compels one into speech: “This dárksome búrn, hórseback brówn”, after which the reader becomes aware of the rhymes in a vocabulary that re-presents the rollicking movement of “His rollrock highroad roaring down”.

Hopkins’ use of the word “burn” is one of the ways his poem draws the old into the contemporary: “burn” is commonly understood in northern England and Scotland for “stream,” and the “beadbonny ash” refers to the ash being seasonally laden with orange berries: “bonny” is used in present-day Scotland to remark the beautiful. Hopkins has put “bead” and “bonny” together in the way of Old English, recasting—and revivifying—the language’s Germanic roots.

The poem’s plain speech in the first stanza, “This dárksome búrn, hórseback brówn” with its two-syllable words bookended by first- and end-words made of monosyllables, prefigures the almost completely monosyllabic last stanza, where the unadorned language is made of Anglo-Saxon words with irreducible meanings: “What would the world be, once bereft / Of wet and of wildness? ...”

The two enclosed, or middle, stanzas which, if the first and last are the banks, are the stream, are in spate in Hopkins’ art. I don’t know which of all his lines are my favorites, but one of his most extraordinary must follow the phrase “dappled with dew,” the stunning “Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,” each a single syllable, the hard-edged “brook” and “treads” declarative, the language familiar, common and clear, its meanings unmistakable. The word “braes” is often heard today in Scotland, but perhaps not elsewhere in the English-speaking world.

The poem ends with a cry, or prayer, “Let them be left, / O let them be left”, words a near-anagram of “bereft”, their music a plea in words more than a thousand years old: “O let them be left, wildness and wet; / Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet”, a longing praisesong for the natural world, a prayer not for that which is high and esteemed, but that which is untouched by the human, and most ordinary: “Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

About Deena Linett:
Deena Linett is the author of three collections of poems, The Gate at Visby (2012), Woman Crossing a Field (2006), and Rare Earths (2001). While earning her doctorate at Rutgers University, she had the first of two fellowships to Yaddo, where she completed her first novel, On Common Ground, co-winner of the Associated Writing Programs Award Series in the Novel. The second Yaddo fellowship led to the completion of her prize-winning novel, The Translator's Wife. Deena Linett was born in Boston, grew up on the Gulf coast of Florida, lived for many years in Northern New Jersey, and taught at Montclair State University. She lives now in Indiana.

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