I'm finishing THE ART OF DESCRIPTION, a short book that Graywolf will bring out next year as part of a series of books titled THE ART OF..., each addressing some aspect of the writer's work. I more-or-less finished the book last year, but wanted to go through one more time and polish and fiddle and amend. In one chapter, called "Remembered Stars," I've gathered a group of poems that demonstrate description as an active process, a thinking-through of a problem or question accomplished through a descriptive process. So far, the group includes poems by Henry Vaughn, George Herbert, and Hart Crane. But while I was working on it today I remembered that the Paul Mariani biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins I've been reading referred to a poem of Hopkins' I didn't know, so I went and found it, and good lord, what a dazzle of figuration, what a strange and brilliant sonnet.
THE STARLIGHT NIGHT
LOOK at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves’-eyes!
The grey lawns cold where gold, where quickgold lies!
Wind-beat whitebeam! airy abeles set on a flare!
Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!—
Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize.
Buy then! bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, aims, vows.
Look, look: a May-mess, like on orchard boughs! 10
Look! March-bloom, like on mealed-with-yellow sallows!
These are indeed the barn; withindoors house
The shocks. This piece-bright paling shuts the spouse
Christ home, Christ and his mother and all his hallows.
What an amazing performance of excess and exactitude. A "May-mess, like on orchard boughs"! "Flake-doves sent floating forth at a barnyard scare"! And you can see Hopkins thinking, as he moves from his figure of the stars as something he'd doubtless seen -- startled doves scattering in a barnyard -- to think of all of the physical world as a barn, housing the real spectacle, to which all else is simply gorgeous clothes.
And who else would ever imagine referring to the divine housed within its barn of stars as "the shocks"?