Tuesday, December 16, 2003
Landscape Reverie: Frederick Goddard Tuckerman and Gerard Manley Hopkins
By Brenda Iijima
Landscape is hardly allocated a significant proportion vast enough to generate its former ambient qualities. Old growth forests have long ago given way to fields and tracts of land that in turn gave way to strip malls: adjacent sprawl of suburban and urban build up found ubiquitously now, where ecosystems once thrived. Steadily, clumps of housing are overtaking even the most fragile remnant vestige of free flowing growth. Both Frederick Goddard Tuckerman (born in Boston, Massachusetts, in 1821) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (born in Stratford, Essex, England, in 1844) embedded their concerns in the landscape, in nature. Their poetry is a manifestation and evocation of what is steadily fading. Their songs came forth from the verdant terrestrial world that may be soon relegated to text only—hypertext, for that matter and designated to a defunct imagination. Threatening beyond a poetry is this relegating of the growing panorama to an outmoded way of life. Nature will no doubt be taken up as object trouvé and this will lead to a poetry of oblique generalization, a state devoid of dynamic actuality, devoid of flux. The visceral rush and pursuit of metabolic pathways remain tentatively in a niche without much room for inquiry.
Both Tuckerman and Hopkins’ pastoral reveries are linked to an ineluctable gleam of spirit. Perhaps they had already shunned a contorting title as nature poet in their time. Intense focus on phenology and the land unraveled their understanding, so elucidating the vitality of a spiritual realm. Both strove for the intrinsic qualities revealed in the natural object, so inner connected and connected up with all else. Hopkins coined the term inscape, “for that natural energy of being by which all things are upheld, for that natural (but ultimately supernatural) stress which determines an inscape and keeps it in being—for that he coined the name instress” as W.H. Gardner’s 1952 introduction to the Penguin Classics collection of Hopkins’ poetry explains. Gardner suggests that instress is akin to what Shelly (following Plato) called ‘the One Spirit’s plastic stress’, which sweeps through the ‘dull dense world’ of matter and imposes on it the predestined forms and reflections of the Prime Good. But what is illuminated is not necessarily a moral chart, rather, ‘instress is not only the unifying force in the object; it connotes also that impulse from the inscape which acts on the senses and, through them, actualizes the inscape in the mind of the beholder (or rather ‘perceiver, for inscape may be perceived through all the senses at once). Instress, then, is often the sensation of inscape—a quasi-mystical illumination, a sudden perception of that deeper pattern, order, and unity which gives meaning to external forms.” again, a continuation of W. H. Gardner’s essay.
Tuckerman’s numinous sense is a bit more subdued, but very present as evidenced in these final four lines of his Sonnet XI, from Part II:
“Look where it burns, a furlong on before!—
The witchlight of the reedy river-shore,
The pilot of the forest and the fen,
Not to be left, but with the waste woodland.”
The transcendence at hand is a transcendence not of a concrete dualism where one distinct thing or state leads to another, different distinct thing or state. These conditions are bound up in their being, in their growing, in their catalytic, generative states—offering up and partaking in experience. Perhaps what their poems arrive at is a binary condition much like Daoism. Opposites affirm. Positive and negative charges stabilize atoms. Theirs is about things and their relations. As Jung would have it, the binaries of alchemy and Daoism are ultimately insights not into matter, but into mind. I would add, by extension, spirit. The landscape doesn’t differentiate between high and low, base and graceful. The lush, varied ambient splendor and wonder that the landscape holds and generates is gleaming. It is much like Deleuze describes. This, from his essay, “Dualism, Monism and Multiplicities (Desire-Pleasure-Jouissance)” found on the Internet at http://www.usyd.edu.au/contretemps/2may2001/deleuze.pdf:
“…from becoming intense to something yet again which is a kind of becoming molecular, as if the disorganization of the organism in favor of a body living in another mode, again implying something more. And that’s clairvoyance.”
Their ecstasy has religious fervor, and in Hopkins’s case, a closer awareness of that which is intrinsic is a connecting awareness of a resonating spiritual dimension, a connection with God and a revelation of the mystery of the spirit. He suffered the paradoxes as a Jesuit priest, of what was at once sensation, brought to hedonistic heights and of soulful epiphanies imbued with sensual beauty. His early work he had burned, thinking it counter to the intentions God had for a person entering the priesthood. His passions would not be squelched, for he continued writing poetry that fused his spiritual intensity with the passions of the sensual world. Tuckerman abandoned his city life and career as a lawyer in order to find solace emanating out of the rolling hills in and around the country town of Greenfield, Massachusetts, where he relocated his family. There, his interest in literature, botany and astronomy sustained him. He became evermore reclusive and grief-stricken after his wife died in childbirth. Witter Bynner, in an essay published in the 1931 Knopf volume of Tuckerman’s sonnets wrote of his work and person: “He is isolated in an intense integrity toward nature, toward his own mind, and toward the unknown God. The austere melancholy that dominates the sonnets is tempered throughout, let me stress, with his sense of natural beauty, which heals even while it wounds:
“Yet Nature, where the thunder leaves its trace
On the high hemlock pine of sandstone bank,
Hating all shock of hue or contrast rant,
With some consenting colour heals the place.” *
Truly, a main aspect of both Tuckerman and Hopkins’ reverie is a tugging along of grief, quite ponderous and gravity stricken, through a landscape where sustenance and relief is infused by, and thus transmitted in each adjacent thing. The centerpiece of Tuckerman’s sonnet XXVII:
“…Or grudge one hour of mournful idleness.
To idle time indeed, to moan our moan
And then go shivering from a folded gate,
Broken in heart and life, exheredate
Of all we loved! Yet some, from dire distress,
Accounting tears no loss and grief no crime,
Have gleaned up gold and made their walk sub-
Hopkins was vividly aware of nature’s distress and demise and often lamented the potential loss of so much more of its grandeur (manifested, as in weeds and wilderness). The last stanza of his poem, Inversnaid hails the landscape:
“What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
And presently, Gerrit Lansing’s new book, A February Sheaf, just out from Pressed Wafer, arrives to me by mail. Within, Lansing hails Tuckerman’s poetry. For me it is a first— to spot praise and admiration for Tuckerman’s work in a contemporary setting.
*This fragment is taken from one of Tuckerman’s poems, which mysteriously does not appear in the Knopf edition I have. Bynner has presented it, to make his point, but he fails to give its title. Collections by Tuckerman are exceedingly hard to come by in libraries or bookstores. There are no books of his poetry in print. I was lucky to come across this volume, on the Internet at abebooks.com. The most readily available title containing Tuckerman’s work is The Complete Poems of Frederick Goddard Tuckerman, New York, Oxford University Press, published in 1965.