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Featured Poem: My Own Heart by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Written by Rachael Norris, 7th October 2019

This week's Featured Poem is My Own Heart by Gerard Manley Hopkins, chosen by The Reader's Learning and Quality Leader, Chris Lynn.

This week, we're spending some time with Gerard Manley Hopkins whose writing never fails to please with its musicality, richness and unexpected turns of phrase. Feelings painted with words springs to mind!

After a few initial readings, I’m noticing a split self at the heart of it. I almost feel I am witnessing an internal conversation, one filled with angst and frustration. That said, lots in here that is recognisable and illuminating for me.

I'm immediately drawn to the presence of the word 'let' and how it impacts on the dynamic of this internal howl. It almost feels as if it's out of this person's control - who is able to ‘let’ them have more pity, a higher power, themselves?

My own heart let me more have pity on; let

Me live to my sad self hereafter kind

These phrases feel jumbled up, in an unusual word order. What does that do for us when we read it or listen to it aloud? Also, I wonder why ‘heart’?

The rhythm of these lines mean we lean into the word 'Charitable'. What would being charitable to yourself look like? It's odd that we often seem to be our own worse critics, whilst perhaps reserving more balanced, kinder judgements for other people. Is this the case do we think?

Not live this tormenting mind

With this tormented mind tormented yet

This repetition is disorientating and feels detached. Again a strange phrase 'live this tormented mind' -as if we live our minds, are we a passive essence, observing, at the mercy of something that can spiral out of control?

It feels like we regain some control in a shift from frantic desperation to a much more peaceful, reassuring voice later in the poem.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise

You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts a while

If only we could turn off thoughts at will. Having experienced some mild insomnia recently, it can almost feel like thoughts can have a life of their own, and aren't we all so thankful when we can find rest. 'Let be'. A wonderful moment of acceptance and comforting advice - a much needed reminder.

In the closing lines, the words that stand out most are the 'unforeseen times', an unrealised, yet to be lived possibility is waiting. We're left with an image where hopeful serene future lights the way forward…


My Own Heart

My own heart let me more have pity on; let

Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,

Charitable; not live this tormented mind

With this tormented mind tormenting yet.

I cast for comfort I can no more get

By groping round my comfortless, than blind

Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find

Thirst ’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise

You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile

Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size

At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile

’s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies

Between pie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

Gerard Manley Hopkins


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