Friday, March 21, 2008

Poetry Friday: Carrion Comfort

The Washington Post's Book World has a new steward of their weekly Poet's Choice column. Mary Karr is "the author of four books of poetry... a Professor of Literature at Syracuse University, and the author of two memoirs, The Liars' Club and Cherry." She also converted to Catholicism as an adult, which I learned from this interview at beliefnet, and which she confessed to in Poetry magazine, describing the experience as: “To confess my unlikely Catholicism in Poetry — the journal that first published some of the godless twentieth-century disillusionaries of J. Alfred Prufrock and his pals — feels like an act of perversion kinkier than any dildo-wielding dominatrix could manage on HBO’s Real Sex Extra.” I think I love her already. Her most recent book is Sinners Welcome (you can read a thoughtful review of it and a discussion of poetry and spirituality at that link.)

This past Sunday, she featured the compressed agony that is one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' sonnets. Being raised Catholic, I hear in Hopkins, who was a Jesuit priest, the doctrine that there is no Easter joy without walking through the depths of Good Friday. This is one of those poems that seems complicated and perhaps, difficult to parse, and yet, the first time that I read this one out loud---and I mean cold, having never seen the lines before---I was carried by the strength of his lines to the end. Say what you will about his convoluted, sprung rhythm, Hopkins doesn't ever drop you or abandon you; he's there, in full force, to the last. Don't think, just cry out his words. You won't have any trouble understanding them.

Here, then, is darkness:

Carrion Comfort

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

Not untwist--slack they may be--these last strands of man

In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;

Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me

Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan

With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,

O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee

and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.

Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,

Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.

Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me,

fóot tród

Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night,

that year

Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

-----Gerard Manley Hopkins

Poetry Friday is hosted by Elaine at Wild Rose Reader.


  1. WHEW.
    And I need to read that. And re-read that. Aloud. It brings to mind Jacob, wrestling... and me wrestling with the rhyme. But the experience brings a certain convoluted beauty, as his work always does. :)

  2. This has always been one of my Holy week reads. I am always so low by this day, but you're right in that it just makes the joy of Easter that much sweeter.

    I was thinking Hopkins today as well, though I was looking for a pick me up on this somber day.

  3. Hopkins is master of agony and turmoil. Such a powerful poem, very appropriate for today.

  4. Powerful. I don't understand it but a sob well up in my throat.

  5. Hopkins is always best read aloud. Thanks for the reminder!

  6. Oh, wow! What an incredible whirlwind, barrage, torrent of words. Very powerful!

  7. Dang, Sara. I feel like I've just been physically beaten by that poem. Fierce stuff.

    Lemme go read that again... and again...

  8. That's beautiful.

  9. Yes, don't the struggles of life beautifully parallel the struggle for the perfect balance in poetry.

  10. I'll have to check out Mary Karr-- it's interesting to read about other adult converts to Catholicism, with all of the layers of issues that implies.

    Yesterday, I found out that a friend's wife and a long-time family friend both have cancer. "No Easter joy without walking through the depths of Good Friday" hits home particularly this year. Thank you for this poem and post.

  11. wow! i'd forgotten how much hopkins kicks my butt! the things he does with words and rhythm should be illegal...and yet they're exactly perfect. i needed this powerful poem. thank you.

    and thanks for the heads-up on mary karr. i haven't gotten through either of her memoirs, though i have them (wrong timing, perhaps) -- maybe i'll start with her poetry instead.


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