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Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows ‘ flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs ‘ they throng; they glitter in marches.
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, ‘ wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle in long ‘ lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous ‘ ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
        
Of yestertempest’s creases; in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed ‘ dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks ‘ treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, ‘ nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest ‘ to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
        
Man, how fast his firedint, ‘ his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig ‘ nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, ‘ death blots black out; nor mark
                Is any of him at all so stark
        
But vastness blurs and time ‘ beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,
A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, ‘ joyless days, dejection.
                Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. ‘ Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; ‘ world’s wildfire, leave but ash:
                In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, ‘ since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, ‘ patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
                Is immortal diamond.

 

I first read this poem while waiting to catch a train to the Scottish coast at Kings Cross in London. It was an odd experience because the ticketing was for general seating and the station was overcrowded. This meant that when each train was to be boarded British people of all ages would race down the train pulling their suitcases and looking through the windows for open seats. The conditions favored those with the superior technology; namely, suitcases with wheels. Anyway, I read this poem standing up surrounded by thousands of anxious pedestrians who awaited spring’s thaw, and more imminently, the next open seat.

Heraclitus, who was known in his own time as an obscure propounder of riddles, wrote a book said to be called “On Nature,” a triptych with parts On the Universe, Politics, and Theology. This is likely not the case however, for a variety of evidences, not the least being that his surviving fragments appear to have oral origination. Back to the poem. Fire, for Heraclitus, was the archetypical form of matter. The order of the cosmos can be described as a fire, with some measures being extinguished and some measures being rekindled. That is to say, some aspects of the cosmos are changing while others are fixed, not everything changes at the same time. Fire is the source of the continuing processes of nature, or, as it has been said of Heraclitus, the source of nature in flux. It is also the stuff of the human soul.

Read against this background, the apocalyptic nature of Hopkins’s poem becomes all the more visible. The resurrection erupts into that which cannot be interrupted. Everything is seen in a new light—a new world has been born where joyless days and dejection are cast away. The seemingly predictable has been infused with surprise. The poor potsherd looks twice and sees immortal diamond in light of a new identity on account of Christ’s becoming human.

-Notes on Heraclitus from Kirk, Raven, and Schofield’s The Presocratic Philosophers. Hopkins, Major Works, pg. 180.

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