Peace in Poetry
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I have long loved the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. As a writer, he’s kind of a shake-up of John Donne and ee cummings, with a dash of JRR Tolkien. When I heard about the elementary school shootings in Connecticut, I immediately thought of Hopkins’ poem, Peace, in which he personifies Peace as a “wild wooddove”.
At times when no word is adequate and answers aren’t really an option, I find the mystery held in a good poem speaks a presence it’s hard to articulate.
So, may what spoke to me, speak to you.
When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.
I know that poetry can be daunting or seem stilted at times. After reading the above poem, you might think, “What in the world is that Hopkins man talking about? It’s just a weird jumble of words.”
Think of it like a foreign film. You start watching, anxiously wondering — How can you make sense of everything that’s happening if you don’t understand what anyone is saying? How can you possibly keep up with both the subtitles and the action? Yet, by the end of film, it’s as if you just finished watching a movie in your native language — at some point things click. A similar thing can be said about reading poetry.
how to read poetry:
- Plunge in and immerse yourself in it. Read it several times over; try reading it aloud; listen to someone else read it.
- Let the pieces fit together. Think of it like working on a puzzle — not forcing pieces together, but allowing your eyes to roam over the pieces and see what catches your attention.
- Sit with the parts that begin to stand out to you. Could be a word or phrase, or simply the way a line sounds. Spend a little time dwelling.
- Listen to what those pieces say to you. You don’t have to understand all the complex intricacies to appreciate a poem. Sometimes you just like it; sometimes it explodes your world view; either way it doesn’t have to be complicated.
my favourite parts
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?
An oft repeated plea throughout the centuries — he wrote it in the 1800s, it was published in the 1900s and it still rings true today in the 21st century. I appreciate Hopkins’ use of peace as a noun and a verb — that somehow it can’t be described to do anything but what it is; no other word will suffice — what peaces does, is peace.
Oh patience, the virtue no one wants. But what a beautiful image of patience becoming feathered — clothed, warmed, and enabled to fly — with peace.
These lines fascinates me. The “brood and sit” bit seems the antithesis of coming with “work to do”, but he sets it against cooing. Wonder if the brooding insinuates a preparation for giving birth.
Thank you for breaking it out for me. I was much as you described in your explanation, floundering for understanding as if it were a foreign language, but your explanation and breaking down opened up my understanding! Beautiful.
thanks, Mom. glad to hear it. and be of some help.