It is no coincidence that Easter in our part of the world, and that in which Jesus lived, comes in spring. Also, that the Nativity is in the depths of winter near the shortest day. The nascent hope of Christmas is fulfilled in the renaissance of Easter. Our supernatural hope is mirrored in the natural world, as Shelly says, ‘If Winter comes can Spring be far behind?’
I have had a little rebirth myself lately, somewhat due to lockdown. I have been helped to rediscover poetry by Mary Murphy, sometimes attending but mostly watching her ‘Exploring Poetry’ from Saint Eugene’s Cathedral Hall, 11.00am each Friday. For an hour she will read (beautifully) and discuss and explain how she interprets and reacts to the poems, both intellectually and emotionally. As well as revisiting familiar poets, I have been introduced to names new to me, such as Mary Oliver, Jessica Powers and R. S. Thomas. Not all are to my taste or to my ear, but all are endowed with Mary’s wonderful enthusiasm.
My first introduction to poetry was as an 11-year-old by a formidable and brilliant teacher, Fr.V.L. Armishaw(RIP). To be exposed to Chaucer, Shakespeare, Donne, Tennyson and Chesterton at that age is a great education, even though one may not understand fully what they are saying. We were often told that he was ‘casting pearls before swine’ but some picked up the treasure laid in front of us. To have to read, learn and recite parts of The Canterbury Tales, Julius Caesar, No man is an Island, The Lady of Shallot, Lepanto, seemed a chore then but a happy legacy now.
One poet whom I rediscovered (although they never really leave if you have even a couple of lines or a phrase of theirs in your head) is Gerard Manley Hopkins(1844-1889). Originally an Anglican, under the influence of John Henry Newman, he converted to Catholicism and was subsequently ordained a Jesuit priest. His poem ‘Spring’ compares the burst of new growth of the season to the innocence of Eden before the fall. All this new life comes from God.
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; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have 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,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.
(Gerard Manley Hopkins)
Because of Easter this new life is available to all if we choose not to ‘sour with sinning’, we can be reborn in Christ’s spring. Happy Easter.
Kevin, married to Rosemary, is a retired optician and a member of Saint Eugene’s Cathedral Choir, Derry.