Thursday, September 29, 2005

On Beauty

In the course of reading Elaine Scarry's On Beauty and Being Just, I came across a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem I'd never seen before. His more popular poems always left me cold, but this one is both arrestingly beautiful and speaks truth on the subject of beauty, so I'll share it with you:

The Beginning of the End

My love is lessened and must soon be past.
I never promised such persistency
In its condition. No, the tropic tree
Has not a charter that its sap shall last

Into all seasons, though no Winter cast
The happy leafing. It is so with me:
My love is less, my love is less for thee.
I cease the mourning and the abject fast,

And rise and go about my works again
And, save by darting accidents, forget.
But ah! if you could understand how then

That less is heavens higher even yet
Than treble-fervent more of other men,
Even your unpassion'd eyelids might be wet.


I must feed Fancy. Show me any one
That reads or holds the astrologic lore,
And I'll pretend the credit given of yore;
And let him prove my passion was begun

In the worst hour that's measured by the sun,
With such malign conjunctions as before
No influential heaven ever wore;
That no recorded devilish thing was done

With such a seconding, nor Saturn took
Such opposition to the Lady-star
In the most murderous passage of his book;

And I'll love my distinction: Near or far
He says his science helps him not to look
At hopes so evil-heaven'd as mine are.


You see that I have come to passion's end;
This means you need not fear the storms, the cries,
That gave you vantage when you would despise:
My bankrupt heart has no more tears to spend.

Else I am well assured I would offend
With fiercer weepings of these desperate eyes
For poor love's failure than his hopeless rise.
But now I am so tired I soon shall send

Barely a sigh to thought of hopes forgone.
Is this made plain? What have I come across
That here will serve me for comparison?

The sceptic disappointment and the loss
A boy feels when the poet he pores upon
Grows less and less sweet to him, and knows no cause.
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