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Sing again soon

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 (1844–89). Poems. 1918. [1]

This poem! *Sigh*. This poem. Yesterday, not for the first time, it rescued me. It gave feelings that would otherwise overwhelm a safe and beautiful space to run around until they wearied themselves and slept. Or, conversely, I might say rather that an otherwise undesirable mindset became the scene in which these words played themselves out in all their sweet bitterness, wisdom, determination and tentative hopefulness. Either way, there is something about it which makes it feel mine -- it is for me, about me...but not...not by me.

Part of me would like it to have been 'by me'. A still smaller part is tempted to think that it just as easily could have... I read it, and think "Aha! this is just like what is inside me. It therefore follows that I have all the makings of a phenomenal poet!" Of course, this naive surmise supremely does not follow. Showing someone else something inside of them is an entirely different, entirely more difficult thing to seeing it inside yourself once it has been pointed out to you. It is still yet substantially different to and more difficult than telling someone else what's going on inside yourself -- an exercise which generally produces the type of indulgent, cloying journalling which, no matter how well rhymed-and-metered, is best reserved for the personal gratification of the author. Sadly, most of my poetic attempts so far most definitely fall into this category.

I think I'm starting to get the hang of the fact that if I want to make poetry 'for other people to read' I need to learn to detach my words from me, to make them no longer 'personal'. I have achieved that a handful of times, perhaps; there now exist poems written by me which I can read (and like, even!) as though someone else had written them. But the process itself was still personal, and at times pretty painful...
"What is a poet? An unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music.... And people flock around the poet and say: 'Sing again soon' - that is, 'May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us, but the music, that is blissful.” ― Søren Kierkegaard, Either/Or
Carrion Comfort examples this perfectly: exquisite but, one wonders, at what cost to the poet? For better or worse, no-one is yet wishing torment on me that I may 'sing again soon'. Nor am I wishing torment on myself. But life has this way of making you feel things, I find...and I figure, if I'm gonna feel a thing anyway, I might as well make something of it; cash it in for a well-crafted line or two. So lately I've been giving it a go, with renewed intent. [2] My sighs don't consistently sound like 'lovely music' yet, but I can see a marked improvement. I'd like to share a few on here but, well, erm, (*gulp*), I've actually begun to dare to approach 'proper' publication channels, and prior self-publishing creates obstacles... [3]

I continue conflicted about the whole writing thing, though. For starters, it seems rather indulgent to mess about so much in my own internal head space, and arrogant to think that I can, from there, bring forth words that other people would want to read. And then, if it turns out I can? That's even more scary...words are dangerous, and powerful, and troublesome: "When words are many, transgression is not lacking..." (Proverbs 10:19a); "...for by your words you will be justified, and by your words you will be condemned.” (Matthew 12:37); "The words of the wise are like goads, and like nails firmly fixed are the collected sayings; they are given by one Shepherd. My son, beware of anything beyond these. Of making many books there is no end, and much study is a weariness of the flesh."(Ecclesiastes 12:11-12).

But wasn't I describing just a few paragraphs ago how Gerard Manley Hopkin's poem had benefited me? Encouraged me? And in good, sound, Bible-believing, Jesus-following ways, too. "Anxiety in a man's heart weighs him down, but a good word makes him glad." (Proverbs 12:25) Yep. And, after all, the Bible says that we're made in the image of a loving creator God (Genesis 1:27) -- so we have the potential to be loving and creative too, no?

OK, so it may be possible to do 'good' stuff with words. But the desire to somehow 'make it' as a writer is quite a minefield of "selfish ambition and vain conceit" (cf Philippians 2:3). And it's definitely mixed up with some weird sort of twisted, implicit endeavour to ensure the extension of one's earthly existence beyond death -- which, for a Christian, doesn't seem very faith-filled.

Realistically, though, I somehow don't think I need fret myself TOO fervently about the terrible dangers of becoming a successful poet... ;-) "Keeping myself humble" is unlikely to be the foremost of the challenges ahead of me! So I reckon I'll keep on exploring this growing (God given?) passion for poetry...cautiously, prayerfully...ready, I hope, to be stopped in my tracks if need be...
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight, O LORD, my rock and my redeemer. (Psalm 19:14) 

[1] As far as I can make out, this poem is in the public domain -- which is why I've quoted all of it. If informed otherwise I will replace the full text with a quote and a suitable link...

[2] Hence the lack of recent output on here, as if anyone had noticed. It is hard to juggle poetic and prosaic efforts around a full-time job and conference submission deadlines, even for someone as socially 'minimalistic' (ahem) as myself! I have a big backlog of "stuff what I think about things", so I hope to eventually find time for a post or two...

[3] If any of my acquaintance are reading this and are curious enough, feel free to ask... Poor Mr. W is labouring under the burden of being more-or-less my only reader, and is rather wearied of the task I fear. I'm not shy about letting people view my attempts so much as reluctant to inflict the expectation on them!

[Thumbnail image CC from V. H. Hammer on]


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