A Meditation on a Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins
It is late February where I live, here in California, and the triumphant forces of springtime are everywhere. After the welcome rains of winter, the dandelions now festoon my yard with their brilliant yellow cups. The early fruit trees —plums, almonds, apricots, wild pears—are crowned with delicate pink and white blossoms, and the air is so rich with their fragrance it is nearly intoxicating. The earliest seedlings are beginning to emerge, and the yellow calendulas and blue forget-me-nots will soon cover the garden beds. My husband’s beautiful biodynamic vegetable garden is now putting forth its bounty of spring lettuces and other greens, providing delicious and nurturing meals for the dozens of shareholders he feeds. On the fields, the new-born lambs are gaining their wobbly legs and will soon be racing about the fields.
Early spring is a beautiful season in California. The air is sweet, the temperatures are mild, and the senses are filled to overflowing. My heart is glad.
These are the pictures that the exquisite poet Gerard Manley Hopkins frames in loving words in my favorite poem, “Spring.” This wonderful sonnet open with a joyful celebration of budding growth, blue skies and racing lambs. The poet then declares that this power of spring gives us a moment to live each year as if in the paradise garden of earth’s beginning, when we were given the delights of the sense world to taste and to savor. “Have, get!” he declares, receive the gift of creation!
Yet paradise did not continue forever. In the Christian calendar, this season is called Lent. This is a season of conscious repentance and sobriety. We are reminded that spiritual traditions around the world have considered fasting and self-discipline to be important steps on the journey towards self-realization.
If we choose to live through this season as a spiritual quest, we are asked to hold in mind the counter-picture of joyful spring. We must not only rejoice in spring’s fecundity: we must also face its shadow-side, the dilemma of too much “astrality,” too much greed and too little kindness.
We as a humanity have eagerly tasted the fruits of the earth and harvested the gifts of nature, but in such excess that we ourselves have brought about the end of paradise. This is all too evident in the sad and evil news that we read and hear every day. Global warming, homelessness and refugees, politics and enmity: all these are created out of our own misdeeds. And even if I myself bear goodwill towards the downtrodden and miserable, I am complicit in the web of destructive deeds that have marred the Garden of Eden. I cannot escape this awareness at any time, for even as I walk through these spectacular spring days, my thoughts are not consistently kind and loving. I must work the complexity of my humanness every day.
This is the mystery of the season of Lent.
All of us were created in the springtime of the world, in the spirit of Love and Life and Abundance.
Each of us bears within us the sting of death, evil and illness.
And each one of us, vouchsafed the gift of Free Will, has the possibility of overcoming these negative attributes at any moment of time. We can do this, if we are willing to relinquish our self-seeking drives and activate the divine forces within us, through conscious thinking, feeling and willing.
The vision of Easter speaks of the power of resurrection. Here we are presented with a mystery so great that it takes a whole lifetime to solve. How could the Creator Spirit that brought this whole universe into being, touch into this realm of darkness and retrieve it without violating humanity’s free will? How could the Spirit of Love extend a hand to us without forcing us to take it?
Many traditions speak of the childlike nature, the inncoence of an enlightened person. They speak of “the eyes of a child,” or “beginner’s mind.” Can we become such beginners that we evolve beyond our self-serving desires and once again see the world with the eyes of a child and gladly grasp the outstretched hand of love?
At the end of his poem “Spring,” Hopkins pens an elegant tribute to Easter. This beauty of Spring, he writes, is
“Most, oh maid’s child, Thy choice,
and worthy the winning.”
This, the earth, the passion and power and life and abundance of spring, is what the Christmas child chose to be born into. This is where the Creator Spirit chose to be become human. Becoming human was death for His unlimited nature. Yet in death, He found a way to reach into our own dark places. If we can return His love for us, we can find the forces of resurrection. We can choose to be in conscious and loving relationship with the Earth and with all beings who live upon it. We can extend this love to all beings of the universe, who have participated in our becoming.
This is “worthy the winning.”
Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing:
The glassy pear tree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; the blue is all in a rush
With richness: the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning,
In Eden garden. – Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning.
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,