I was recently gifted a collection of poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a british poet of the 19th century. He studied at Balliol College, Oxford, worked in various posts all over England, and lived the last 5 years of his life as a professor of Greek and Latin literature at the recently formed Catholic University College, Dublin. He died very young, in his 49th year, from typhoid.
The poem below is one of his earlier pieces. The first three lines are striking. The subject is as vast as the cosmos, and yet brims with individual humility. The poem is rich in imagery and in its subtle allegory to our own experiences in the journey of life and death.
I am like a slip of comet,
Scarce worth discovery, in some corner seen
Bridging the slender difference of two stars,
Come out of space, or suddenly engender’d
By heady elements, for no man knows;
But when she sights the sun she grows and sizes
And spins her skirts out, while her central star
Shakes its cocooning mists; and so she comes
To fields of light; millions of travelling rays
Pierce her; she hangs upon the flame-cased sun,
And sucks the light as full as Gideons’s fleece:
But then her tether calls her; she falls off,
And as she dwindles shreds her smock of gold
Between the sistering planets, till she comes
To single Saturn, last and solitary;
And then she goes out into the cavernous dark.
So I go out: my little sweet is done:
I have drawn heat from this contagious sun:
To not ungentle death now forth I run.