Gerard Manley Hopkins is, in a letter from 1880, asking a friend what he thinks of Wagner:
This is a barbarous business of greatest this and supreme that that Swinburne and others practice. What is the thing that has been? The same that shall be. Everything is vanity and vexation of spirit. (Penguin, p. 194)
Hopkins was a wise man. Many echo Ecclesiastes but few mean it. Hopkins had an answer to this problem, the one I would expect, as evident in the title of this 1888 sonnet-plus:
That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection
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.
Heraclites reduced all things to fire. Water is fire; clouds are fire. Hopkins is turning to a Classical source to find remind himself that all is vanity.
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!
The editor tells me that “parches” are “flat cakes of mud from wheels, etc.” – never would have guessed that. The imaginative paradox is bold here, with nature’s fire demonstrated by a rainstorm, by mud, air, water, and earth. Man is the center of Nature, her “dearest,” yet he too is just a spark, soon extinguished.
This was probably a bad place for a break since “gone” will rhyme with “shone” below. I find the alliteration of Hopkins so overpowering that I never notice his rhyming. I do not think I remembered that he rhymed so consistently. But his rhymes are pretty ordinary. It is everything else that is new.
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.
In the letter to Robert Bridges that includes this sonnet, Hopkins says its subject is also that of a sermon which will be “put plainly,” unlike the poem which is “not at all so plainly,” but once he hits “Enough!” the content becomes more conventional, returning to the Catholic Church. I would not call Hopkins a heretic – the idea is ridiculous – but some of the paths by which he reaches orthodox opinion are very much his own.
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.
The last line has three stress marks, on “Is,” “im-,” and “dia-.” Adjacent stresses are standard with Hopkins (“Jack, joke,” “patch, match-“). Or maybe “diamond” is an “outride,” more of Hopkins’s own private prosody.
To follow Newman, many kinds of assent have been imaginatively supported by Hopkins’s unusual mortal trash, at this point saved from the wildfire by his friend Bridges, not ash yet. Some of the assent has been religious of the Christian kind, other of the literary.
If, more sensibly, you would like to read the poem without my interruptions, it is at the Poetry Foundation.