Saturday, April 3, 2010

Easter Vigil Poem

One benefit of this Holy Week Poetry project has been learning new poets. Here is one from Gerard Manley Hopkins - a poet recommended to me by my wife. I love his use of language and form - and I love poems that are one, well-knit, tight idea.

If you put Chrysostom's Easter Homily - which I use every year at the Vigil - in a moonshine still and boiled it down for two days, this is what comes out:

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Easter Communion

Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast:
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips,
Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesus; you whom the East
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships,
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased,

God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent:
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.


  1. What a beautiful culmination to the week. Hopkins is spectacular, and this is a shining example. Thanks.

    I think your description is perfect, too. I tried to pick out a favorite line and quickly ended up with the whole second stanza, then the first, too.

  2. What a great series! What a great poem! What a remarkable string of exclamations!

    Seriously, thanks for this. I've enjoyed it immensely.

    The only problem with this poem is that it falls flat if we're not hungry, if we've haven't fasted. It is only for the "insiders." The advantage of the Chrysostom sermon is that it is Gospel=rich: "You that have kept the fast, and you that have not, rejoice today for the Table is richly laden!"

    Of course, Chrysostom requires very little work from his hearers. It is not poetry, it is prose. He strives to be clear. this poem, of course, requires something of us. In that sense also it is for "insiders," those willing to read again and again and strive to hear the words, not only for the meaning, but also for the sound, the meaning in context, the tone, the flavor. As always, if the poem is worthy of the name, those who do are rewarded.

    Thanks again.


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