Thursday, June 23, 2005

GMH, journal-keeper

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins was a dedicated journal-keeper. Did he write in Moleskine notebooks? Who knows. Here's a sample from Hopkins' journals:

Aug. 10 [1872]. --I was looking at high waves. The breakers always are parallel to the coast and shape themselves to it except where the curve is sharp however the wind blows. They are rolled out by the shallowing shore just as a piece of putty between the palms whatever its shape runs into a long roll. The slant ruck or crease one sees in them shows the way of the wind. The regularity of the barrels surprised and charmed the eye; the edge behind the comb or crest was as smooth and as bright as glass. It may be noticed to be green behind and silver white in front: the silver marks where the air begins, the pure white is foam, the green / solid water. Then looked at to the right or left they are scrolled over like mouldboards or feathers or jibsails seen by the edge. It is pretty to see the hollow of the barrel disappearing as the white combs on each side run along the wave gaining ground till the two meet at a pitch and crush and overlap each other.

About all the turns of the scaping from the break and flooding of wave to its run out again I have not yet satisfied myself. The shores are swimming and the eyes have before them a region of milky surf but it is hard for them to unpack the huddling and gnarls of the water and law out the shapes and the sequence of the running: I catch however the looped or forked wisp made by every big pebble the backwater runs over--if it were clear and smooth there would be a network from their overlapping, such as can in fact be seen on smooth sand after the tide is out--; then I saw it run browner, the foam dwindling and twitched into long chains of suds, while the strength of the back-draught shrugged the stones together and clocked them one against another.

Looking from the cliff I saw well that work of dimpled foamlaps--strings of short loops or halfmoons--which I had studied at Freshwater years ago.

It is pretty to see the dance and swagging of the light green tongues or ripples of waves in a place locked between rocks.
No wonder Hugh Kenner referred to Hopkins' "poetic of detail." For Hopkins, looking (as in his modest preface, "I was looking at high waves") is synonymous with the most careful, extended attention to detail. The excitement of this passage for me lies in realizing just how right Hopkins' words are: "rolled out by the shallowing shore," "as smooth and as bright as glass," "solid water," "the huddling and gnarls of the water," "the looped or forked wisp made by every big pebble," "the foam dwindling and twitched into long chains of suds." Reading this passage, I can see--really see--what I've been seeing and missing.

You can see images of three pages from Hopkins' journals by clicking here.

Update: I've added the two short paragraphs that complete this GMH journal entry (I didn't know that the anthology I was borrowing from had made cuts). Thanks to Sean Payne, whose blog, Sign Language, you can visit by clicking here.

comments: 0