Wednesday 16 October 2019

I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark

Anthony Cronin

Hopkins' original mistake was the attempt to combine two very powerful vocations, that for the priesthood and that for the writing of poetry. Yet even in the late 19th Century, and even in the Jesuit order, it could have been done by someone who approached the problem in a different spirit. Contrary to legend, his Jesuit superiors were reasonably sympathetic to his poetic vocation. But in 1884 they sent him to Dublin as professor of classics at University College. There he wrote the poems referred to by some critics as the Dark Sonnets, by others as the Terrible Sonnets, and there, after five unhappy years, he died. He is buried in the communal Jesuit grave in Glasnevin.

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.

What hours, O what black hours we have spent

This night! What sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!

And more must, in yet longer light's delay.

With witness I speak this, but where I say

Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament

Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent

To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree

Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;

Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see

The lost are like this, and their scourge to be.

As I am mine, their sweating selves: but worse.

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