Sunday, March 30, 2008

Binsey Poplars: Gerard Manley Hopkins

I was leafing through some of Gerard Manley Hopkins' journal entries tonight and felt a little stab of nostalgia at one point, where he describes walking 'at S. Hinksey' on the outskirts of Oxford, when he was an undergraduate at Balliol. This is South Hinksey, a village not far from where I used to live in North Hinksey, on the far western outskirts of Oxford.

Hinksey is a flood-plain area, a fact which keeps it green and quietly wooded, in spite of its proximity to the A34 Ring Road; while a resident, I spent many happy hours walking the damp fields and scrubby hills there with my crazy dog. "The Name Hinksey is Anglo-Saxon, dating from the thirteenth century. It probably derives from Hengestesieg meaning Hengist’s Island or Stallion’s Island," the local website tells me.

My eye then fell on the following poem, Binsey Poplars, one of Hopkins' most famous ecological pieces and particularly relevant in this century as we struggle to undo past - and ongoing - damage to nature before it's too late.

Binsey is another village on the north-western boundary of Oxford, not far from where I lived back in 2000. The name, I discover, possibly derives from 'Byni's island', in the nearby Thames. The land there first belonged to St Frideswide's Priory and later Christ Church (whose meadow Hopkins also mentions in his diary).

I can't reproduce the beautiful left-hand margin insets without great difficulty, but hopefully the words will be enough on their own.

Binsey Poplars
(Felled 1879)

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled ,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
Áll félled, félled, are áll félled;
Of a fresh & following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack & rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To tóuch, her béing só slénder,
That, like this sleek & seeing ball
But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


Bo said...

Ha! Everytime I go up that end of town I think a) of you, and your house in 2000, and the curry you made for Dan and Will and I, and b) of this poem.

Thanks for putting it up!

Jane Holland said...

Wasn't Peter there too? Or am I confused about the occasion?

I'm never going to live that curry down, am I? Actually, it's not the curry I remember, but the rice. The damned rice! I'd never cooked rice for so many people before and I completely ruined it ... soggy mass of white blearh.

And most of us had to eat sitting on the floor, because there weren't enough chairs. And then the dog went mad at about midnight and started barking at some mysterious intruder in the back garden.

Good times ...

Andrew Philip said...

Glorious poem. Hopkins was the first poet whose work I fell in love with. Reading "The Wreck of the Deutschland" for the first time was a truly unforgettable experience, the precise quality of which will stay with me for ever. Maybe I'll blog about it.