Our Featured Poem comes this week from Gill Stanyard, Project Worker for The Reader Organisation in Scotland.
A lady whom I have known well for the past six years was out on her usual morning walk last Sunday and collapsed due to a stroke. She fell onto the grass verge under the clambering clematis near my house. The outline of her body can still be seen on the flattened wet grass, studded with damson coloured petals. It is her funeral on Tuesday. Her name was Rosemary and she was a prolific artist, inspired by the colours of nature. This poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins reminds me of Rosemary and her love of the natural world. She favoured plants over people, mainly I think because flowers can’t hurt you or let you down in the same way as people can. Her garden was like a living painting, with huge bursts of vibrancy and arching sprays of colour coveting stone steps. I will miss my conversations with her in the garden – she loved literature and poetry. The last time I saw her she gave me a book of Rumi, one of her favourites.
I walked by her house yesterday, the orange of the Calendula glowing like kingfishers in the fading light, alongside the luminous stars of the Michelmas daisies. Like the line in the poem, the flowers seemed to ‘flame out.’ A beacon of loveliness lit in her name.
I go to nature for answers and comfort. Feeling tight with frustration yesterday, I went out into the garden and pruned the hedge. Cutting through the sap-soft greyness, watching the bees mine pollen from the foxglove tunnels, gave me a diversionary purpose and the rhythm and physical effort of work helped to relieve the constriction in my head. It was however, when I heard the wind whispering through the beech trees, like a secret congregation, outside the Minister’s house at the bottom of the road, that I stopped pruning and just stood, listening. I felt soothed by the sound of the leaves and with the knowledge that whatever happens in our messy lives, nature is never spent, and there is wonder all around. I don’t know what I mean when I think of ‘God’, but when I see a red kite soaring on the thermals high into the clouds, and see the rust of the rowan berries getting ready to transform into scarlet beads, I feel the ‘charge of grandeur’. I think of Rosemary, and imagine her bright wings will be rainbow coloured.
The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge |&| shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast |&| with ah! bright wings.
Gerard Manley Hopkins