April / May 2017 - Vol. 91
The Habit of Perfection
a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–89)

ELECTED Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast began,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

"Gerard Manley Hopkins was born to an artistic and deeply religious English family. His father was a poet, his mother loved music and reading. His grandfather was a colleague of the poet John Keats, and his aunt taught him to sketch.
"His poetry was not well known during his lifetime; but after his death, Gerard Manley Hopkins became one of the leading Victorian poets. His writing is often characterized by the unique “sprung rhythm,” which is structured around feet with a variable number of syllables, generally between one and four syllables per foot, with the stress always falling on the first syllable in a foot. The innovative formula never became a popular literary form, but it helped to revive an interest in accentual verse."

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