the aspens have (twelve) eyes

December 11, 2012

Binsey Poplars

BY GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS 1844–1889

felled 1879

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
  Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
  All felled, felled, are all felled;
    Of a fresh and following folded rank
                Not spared, not one
                That dandled a sandalled
         Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
  O if we but knew what we do
         When we delve or hew —
     Hack and rack the growing green!
          Since country is so tender
     To touch, her being só slender,
     That, like this sleek and seeing ball
     But a prick will make no eye at all,
     Where we, even where we mean
                 To mend her we end her,
            When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
  Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
     Strokes of havoc unselve
           The sweet especial scene,
     Rural scene, a rural scene,
     Sweet especial rural scene.

Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985)

With special thanks to The Poetry Foundation for their listing of this great poem.

FOREST_OF_ASPENS_AT_OWL_CREEK_PASS_-_NARA_-_544872

In looking for something special to post tonight on the eve of a quite notable date, 12/12/12, I turned to dear uncle Google and read about the symbolism of the number twelve with great interest, yet without much emotional connection. After that, I returned to the poets for my Truth.

I was led once again to a remarkable Victorian voice which I heard first at the dedication of a labyrinth I helped to build a three years ago in my hometown of Louisville, Kentucky. The Gerard Manley Hopkins poem shared on that crisp fall morning before we began our work was God’s GrandeurI was captivated by its final three words:

“ah! bright wings.”

Last spring on a Utah ski lift I felt a unique kinship with the aspens. It seemed as if every dark, snow-dusted nodule was like an eye staring into the very depths of my soul. I was fully exposed to their stares in the thin air and the blinding sun. I couldn’t have escaped even if I had wanted to do so. I felt a question from each tree first whispered and then shouted. Each time it was the same –

“What will you? What will you do to be our Voice? We are watching you.”

I did not recall the profound phrase I took away from that experience until this very moment when I found the poem above (which I had never read). My wisdom phrase that day was “The Aspens Have Eyes.”

Tonight, I shall spend time reflecting again on this question, for it is mine alone to answer. And though I know with all my being that it is why I am a writer, I still can’t for the life of me figure out the next step I am to take.

Yet, even still, I will trust that the aspens will somehow help me to see…

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