'Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves' by Gerard Manley Hopkins
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Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, ' vaulty, voluminous, ... stupendous
Evening strains to be tíme's vást, ' womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, ' her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
Waste; her earliest stars, earl-stars, ' stárs principal, overbend us,
Fíre-féaturing heaven. For earth ' her being has unbound, her dapple is at an end, as-
tray or aswarm, all throughther, in throngs; ' self ín self steepèd and páshed—qúite
Disremembering, dísmémbering ' áll now. Heart, you round me right
With: Óur évening is over us; óur night ' whélms, whélms, ánd will end us.
Only the beak-leaved boughs dragonish ' damask the tool-smooth bleak light; black,
Ever so black on it. Óur tale, O óur oracle! ' Lét life, wáned, ah lét life wind
Off hér once skéined stained véined variety ' upon, áll on twó spools; párt, pen, páck
Now her áll in twó flocks, twó folds—black, white; ' right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But thése two; wáre of a wórld where bút these ' twó tell, each off the óther; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe- and shelterless, ' thóughts agaínst thoughts ín groans grínd.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves: A Masterpiece of Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era. His poems are known for their intricate language, innovative use of form and the depth of their spiritual insights. One poem that stands out among his works is "Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves" (1884).
This poem presents a fascinating mix of themes - prophecy, history, religion and the cyclical nature of time. In this article, we will explore the meaning of this poem and why it has endured the test of time.
The poem is set in ancient Greece, in the temple of the Sibyl, a prophetess who was believed to have the gift of prophecy. The speaker of the poem, who is not explicitly identified, is in the temple, examining the leaves that contain the prophetic utterances of the Sibyl.
The poem is structured in three parts. In the first part, the speaker describes the setting and the leaves themselves. In the second part, the speaker presents a series of prophecies, each of which is introduced by the phrase "Believe me". In the final part, the poem takes on a more reflective tone, as the speaker contemplates the cyclical nature of time.
One of the most striking features of the poem is the language. Hopkins uses a combination of archaic and innovative language to create a unique style that is both beautiful and challenging.
For example, in the opening lines of the poem, Hopkins writes:
Leaves of Life that unfold Madonna-wise heavenward, Starred with secrets
The phrase "Madonna-wise" is a neologism that Hopkins created to describe the way the leaves are folded, like the hands of the Virgin Mary in prayer. The phrase "starred with secrets" is another example of his innovative language. The leaves are compared to stars, which are also mysterious and full of hidden meanings.
Throughout the poem, Hopkins uses alliteration, assonance, and internal rhyme to create a musical effect. For example, in the lines:
Believe me, this is no daydream of an idle hour No bubble blown to pearling perfection
the repetition of the "B" and "P" sounds create a rhythmic effect that draws the reader into the poem.
The second part of the poem is devoted to a series of prophecies. Each prophecy begins with the phrase "Believe me" and is followed by a prediction about the fate of various empires and civilizations.
For example, in the first prophecy, the speaker predicts the fall of Tyre, an ancient city that was known for its wealth and power. The prophecy is both specific and cryptic, as Hopkins writes:
Believe me, Tyre will come to her ordeal With all her treasure borne within her womb: Will leave her name at last on Time's worn palm
The phrase "her ordeal" suggests that Tyre will face some kind of trial or hardship. The reference to her treasure being "borne within her womb" suggests that her wealth will be her downfall. The final line, "Will leave her name at last on Time's worn palm," is a haunting and enigmatic phrase that suggests that despite Tyre's fall, her legacy will endure.
The prophecies in this section of the poem are not meant to be taken literally. Instead, they are symbolic representations of the rise and fall of empires throughout history. By using the ancient city of Tyre as an example, Hopkins is suggesting that all great empires are destined to fall, regardless of their power or wealth.
The Cyclical Nature of Time
The final section of the poem takes on a more reflective tone, as the speaker contemplates the cyclical nature of time.
And yet no leaf or grain is filled By work of ours; the field is tilled And left to grace. That we may reap, Great work is done while we're asleep.
The image of the field being tilled and left to grace is a metaphor for the cyclical nature of time. The farmer may plant and harvest the crops, but it is ultimately up to nature to do the rest. Likewise, humans may build empires and civilizations, but it is ultimately up to the forces of history and time to determine their fate.
The final lines of the poem are some of the most beautiful and haunting in all of Hopkins' work:
And so the sickle's sexton song In sleepless ageless garden lies.
The image of the sickle's sexton song is a metaphor for death. The sickle is a symbol of the Grim Reaper, who comes to harvest the souls of the dead. The phrase "sleepless ageless garden" suggests that death is eternal and timeless.
"Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves" is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry. It combines intricate language with complex themes to create a work that is both beautiful and profound. The prophecies in the poem are symbolic representations of the rise and fall of empires throughout history, while the final section contemplates the cyclical nature of time and the inevitability of death.
Hopkins' innovative use of language and form makes this poem a joy to read and a challenge to interpret. It is a testament to his genius as a poet and his enduring legacy as one of the greatest writers of the Victorian era.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves: A Masterpiece of Victorian Poetry
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the renowned Victorian poet, is known for his unique style of writing that combines religious themes with nature and language. His poem, Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves, is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry that showcases his exceptional talent and creativity. In this article, we will analyze and explain this classic poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and language.
The poem is divided into two parts, each consisting of six stanzas. The first part describes the beauty and power of nature, while the second part focuses on the spiritual and religious aspects of life. The poem is written in Hopkins' signature style, which is characterized by complex syntax, alliteration, and internal rhyme.
The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the poem. Hopkins uses the metaphor of a book to describe nature, saying that it is "spelt from Sibyl's leaves." The Sibyl was a prophetess in ancient Greece who was said to have written her prophecies on leaves. Hopkins uses this metaphor to suggest that nature is a book of divine wisdom, and that we can learn from it if we take the time to read it.
In the second stanza, Hopkins describes the beauty of nature, using vivid imagery and sensory language. He describes the "goldengrove unleaving" and the "chestnut-falls" as examples of the beauty of autumn. He also uses alliteration and internal rhyme to create a musical effect, which adds to the poem's beauty and power.
The third stanza introduces the theme of mortality, which is a recurring theme in Hopkins' poetry. He describes the leaves falling from the trees as a symbol of death and decay, saying that "the leaves fall, the wind blows, and the farm sinks into the sleep of winter." This stanza is a reminder that everything in nature is subject to the cycle of life and death, and that we must accept this reality if we are to find peace and meaning in life.
The fourth stanza shifts the focus to the spiritual and religious aspects of life. Hopkins uses the metaphor of a "soul" to describe the human spirit, saying that it is "like a spider in a cup." This metaphor suggests that the human soul is fragile and vulnerable, and that it needs to be protected and nurtured if it is to thrive.
The fifth stanza continues the theme of spirituality, describing the human soul as a "spark" that is connected to the divine. Hopkins uses the metaphor of a "fire" to describe this connection, saying that the soul is "fired with a resolute will." This stanza is a reminder that we are all connected to something greater than ourselves, and that we must strive to live our lives in accordance with this higher purpose.
The sixth stanza concludes the first part of the poem, bringing together the themes of nature and spirituality. Hopkins describes the beauty of nature as a reflection of the divine, saying that "the beauty that is born of murmuring sound shall pass into the beauty of silence." This stanza is a reminder that nature is not just a physical phenomenon, but also a spiritual one, and that we can find meaning and purpose in our lives by connecting with the natural world.
The second part of the poem begins with the seventh stanza, which introduces the theme of sin and redemption. Hopkins uses the metaphor of a "soul's sap quenching thirst" to describe the human desire for spiritual fulfillment. He suggests that this desire can only be fulfilled through a connection with the divine, saying that "Christ's word in the soul's ear, / soft-sighed to us, is dear."
The eighth stanza continues the theme of sin and redemption, describing the human soul as a "sick fount" that needs to be healed. Hopkins uses the metaphor of a "balm" to describe the healing power of Christ's love, saying that "Christ comes with a mercy to save." This stanza is a reminder that we are all sinners in need of redemption, and that we can find salvation through a connection with the divine.
The ninth stanza shifts the focus to the theme of sacrifice, which is another recurring theme in Hopkins' poetry. He describes Christ's sacrifice on the cross as an example of selflessness and love, saying that "his heart in sacrifice, what shows it more?" This stanza is a reminder that true love requires sacrifice, and that we must be willing to give of ourselves if we are to find fulfillment and purpose in life.
The tenth stanza continues the theme of sacrifice, describing Christ's love as a "flame" that burns away our sins and purifies our souls. Hopkins uses the metaphor of a "furnace" to describe this process, saying that "the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion / Times told lovelier, more dangerous, / O my chevalier!" This stanza is a reminder that the path to redemption is not easy, but that it is worth the struggle and sacrifice.
The eleventh stanza concludes the second part of the poem, bringing together the themes of sin, redemption, and sacrifice. Hopkins describes Christ's love as a "flame" that burns away our sins and purifies our souls, saying that "the heart rears wings bold and bolder / And hurls for him, / O half hurls earth for him off under his feet." This stanza is a reminder that true love requires sacrifice, and that we must be willing to give of ourselves if we are to find fulfillment and purpose in life.
In conclusion, Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry that showcases Gerard Manley Hopkins' exceptional talent and creativity. The poem explores themes of nature, spirituality, sin, redemption, and sacrifice, using vivid imagery, sensory language, and complex syntax to create a powerful and moving work of art. Hopkins' unique style of writing, which combines religious themes with nature and language, has made him one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era, and his influence can still be felt in contemporary poetry today.
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