Aleksandra Kedzierska examines parallels in the life, creation and reception of stories of Norwid and Hopkins. The Polish bard whose many Christian names, among them Cyprian Ksawery , Walenty and Kamil , included even that of Gerard, but never got to know or even hear of him.
Dr. Kedzierska examines parallels in the life, creation and reception stories of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Norwid, the Polish bard whose many Christian names, among them Cyprian Ksawery , Walenty and Kamil , included even that of Gerard, a rather unique biographical detail he shared with the English Jesuit he never got to know or even heard of.
Cyprian Kamil Norwid, now generally considered the best Polish poet of the second half of the nineteenth century, was born in 1821. He left Warsaw as a young man of twenty-one and lived abroad, mainly in Paris (where he died in penury, almost forgotten in 1883). Although his first poems were published in Polant, his talent as poet and painter unfolded only in exile; a talent, moreover, which was not fully recognized by his contemporaries. (...)
Only one collection of his poems was published in his life-time (by Brockhouse in Leipsig), and the lyrical cycle Vade-mecum (which Norwid had thought would `set the direction' of Polish poetry) was printed only after the poet's death. (...) [H]is poetry was a vast intellectual effort to communicate through thoughtful symbols and metaphors. Both as precursor of symbolism and a poet of complex irony, concealment and allusion, Norwid clearly points towards the twentieth century which finally gave him the recognition that had eluded him in his lifetime(5).
On 24th September 2001, 118 years after his death, Adamiec reports, writes Norwid (...) symbolically returned to his native land. During a special mass of thanksgiving and to the accompaniment of the Zygmunt Bell , (...) heard only when events of great significance to the Church and Poland occur, an urn containing soil from the collective grave in which Norwid had been buried was enshrined in the crypts of the bards, next to the remains of Adam Mickiewicz and Juliusz Slowacki in Wawel's Royal Cathedral.(1)
The greatest accolade England can award a poet (Milroy 4) is through securing for him a place in Westminster Abbey , an act of recognition which, in the case of Gerard Manley Hopkins, took place on December 15th, 1975, when a tablet was unveiled in Poet's Corner commemorating on the centenary of The Wreck of the Deutschland , the greatest religious, if not mystical poet of the Victorian Era (cf. Kyne 12).
Though Hopkins is still buried in the Dublin cemetery of Glasnevin, his return to his native land seems symbolic in more ways than one. After over one hundred years (109) of 'desertion', the Catholic convert was brought back to the womb of his Anglican Church, and thus, eventually, some deep decree had the stranger from the third remove - as he had described himself - ceremonially reinstated in England, returned to this wife to my creating thought which he had dreamed would one day know and hear his plea .
This belated come back home from a pilgrimage of life which turned each of them into a fortune's football is by no means the only parallel in the life, creation and reception stories of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Norwid, the Polish bard whose many Christian names, among them Cyprian Ksawery , Walenty and Kamil , included even that of Gerard, a rather unique biographical detail he shared with the English Jesuit he never got to know or even heard of.
Though pointed out by many Polish scholars (Ostrowski, Kapitulka, Zurowski etc.), the affinity between the two artists has been explored in some depth only by Jolanta Zielinska . However, written in Polish, her study could hardly drive it through to many scholars abroad that Poland also produced her "Hopkins", this commendable post occupied by Cyprian Kamil Norwid whose poetic development as well as his poetic programme anticipates, mirrors, and/or sometimes complements the views of Gerard Manley. Hence, being a fragment of a greater whole, aspiring to be the first extensive rendering of the parallels between Hopkins and Norwid, this essay concerns itself with charting out and, where possible, briefly discussing, those key ideas in the sphere of ethics and aesthetics which made the poets, each in his own right and country, the forerunners of the modern poetry.
While retracing their lonely and troubled passage into fame, one is tempted to say that both Hopkins and Norwid were the victims of their own biographies. A voluntary exile in Paris (from 1849), at first misunderstood, then ignored by compatriot émigrés (Pietrkiewicz CN ix) rejecting his radicalism and criticism of them, Norwid, to the end convinced of his poetic greatness, wrote, and prolifically, as if it were his antidote against loneliness and insanity. And like Hopkins, he wrote in a manner which his critics would rebuke only too often, " bewailing the impenetrable obscurity of his style and his jarring syntax, until no one would publish him. " (Milosz 268). He was too "dark" for their liking.
Whoever read Hopkins's The Wreck of the Deutschland can easily imagine the bafflement of Father Henry Coleridge, the editor of The Month , confronting "the dragon": like Norwid's readers, he too, was defeated by what Norman MacKenziedescribed as the 'fascinating difficulty" of "high compression and strange congestion of style, richly ambiguous coinages, submerged assumptions and allusions. However, even more estranging than his attitude to poetic language proved Hopkins's conversion into Catholicism and his vocational dilemma which, once solved, left Christ in charge of his compositions, and the poet even more determined to suppress whatever attempts were made to have his poems published.
Growing out of the same Christian/Catholic tradition which formed the basis for their entire philosophy and spirituality, their artistic formation and creativity (cf. Slawñska p. 78, Nedeljkovic pp. 34,40), and which finally truned them into religious artists, both Hopkins and Norwid saw poetry as a vehicle through which to conduct search for values and educate their contemporaries to the truth. As befitted a Jesuit priest, Hopkins's poetic education was mainly religious and spiritual in character, targeted at helping to bring men closer to God and God to men, helping believers to find, see and reverence God in creation, in another human being and in sacraments. The priest of poetry and a poet of priesthood (Kelly 119), rendering frustrations and glories of both, Hopkins explored various - even the darkest mysteries of faith, himself a celebrant of the Logos, recreating through language the specificity of man's encounters with the Divine. All his works, one way or another sermonize on the grandeur of God (reflected among others in the beauty and suffering of creation) and on the smallness of man (instructed how to pray, meditate and atone for his many weaknesses and the sins he commits) and some add to these major preoccupations such issues as beauty, creation or work Norwid would also tackle in his poems.
Nevertheless, deservedly described as the most complex and the most `intellectual' poet ever to write in Polish (Milosz p. 272), Norwid - never bound by priestly vows -- had a much wider range of experiences and interests to elaborate upon and hence transcending the topics central to Father Gerard, he explored such of his own as for instance moral sense of history, the cult of the great, emancipation of women, freedom, the condition of art, or Christianity.
Like Hopkins - the soldier of Christ, believing that the interests of truth must always be the paramount consideration (SL 288), Norwid, to repeat after Milosz, was a knight of truth , concerned with restoring man to his divine roots and fighting with subtle ironies and parables against the injustices of the world around him ( Milosz 270). Convinced that Christ was the root of all truth (cf. Kopcinski 9), that man is born (...) to give testimony to the truth ( cf. Tatara 242), and that the poet should desire nothing except for the victory of this Veronica of conscience, as he once defined it, Norwid taught that truth was the only way of revealing to man his own humanity (cf. Karpowicz Pielgrzym 46) and of saving him from darkness of life.
Its obscurity would usually be conveyed through various peculiarities of style, many of which prominent also in Hopkins's poems. Latinizing syntax, ellipses, foreign language infusions, multiple neologisms, twisted sentences often contrary to the grammar of the Polish language, the use of inversions and punctuation antics,but, above all, variations of the morphological and syntactic functions, the exploitation of the rhythmophonic and expressive qualities of language , all of these are the key emblems of Norwid's poetics of darkness which, enhancing the originality of his works at the same time diminished their readability (Zamojska-Hutchins p. 33).
What is more, applying semantic shifts of vocabulary, Norwid revolutionized the poetic use of Polish syntax also by transferring the minimal semantic unit to a word rather than a phrase or a sentence (cf. Zamojska-Hutchins p. 42), a word which in his poetry is an allusion, a hint, and a sign, as well as a code, an inscript, and a hieroglyph "(Zamojska-Hutchins p. 30).
Fighting the cheap poeticalness and mantraphobia , the meaningless language which allowed one to "talk with everybody, yet speak to no one", Norwid demanded that the literary public include among poetic `graces' such notions as thought, truth, meaning and wisdom and to make his readers look anew at what he was saying, he would deliberately break the verse flow, remove rhymes, change the metre, or even endow a row of dots with an autonomic sense (Zamojska-Hutchins p. 31).
Thus, eventually, embracing the poets' attitude to their poetic language, their verity paved the way to their artistic greatness. When my Vade-Mecum comes out in print , Norwid wrote of his opus magnum (see a letter to Bogdan Zaleski from Nov. 1867): the Polish readers "will see, they will recognize what the true lyric of the Polish language is like because as yet they do not know it at all, nor have they the flimsiest notion about it" (Milosz p. 271). Translated from the Latin, the very title of the collection --"follow me" -- echoes the words Christ addressed to His disciples, thus pointing to the role the poet will assume towards his readers. Aware that his cross of spiritual guidance involves his cutting himself off from the dead tradition, he so confesses:
Laurels, I have not taken, then or now,
A single leaf from you, nor a leaf's notch,
Only perhaps a cool shade on my brow
(And that's not yours but comes with the sun's touch);
Nor did I take from you, giants of stardom,
Anything save your roads all overgrown
The son will pass this writing by, but his son
Will recall what vanishes to-day (now read
In haste) under the rule of Print-pantheism,
Under the administration of the lead
Letter. (qtd in Pietrkiewicz 45)
He will re-read that which you read to-day,
And will recall me, but I will long have vanished. (translation mine)
With wormwood, and your curse-scorched earth and boredom.
I came alone, I wander on alone.
The poem closes with a prophecy of the triumph of recognition which, the poet-speaker realizes, will not come from his contemporaries but from their grandsons; their generation will finally learn to resist the worship for the lead letter and to appreciate both the power of scientia crucis -- the centre of Norwid's Christocentrism (cf. Kopcinski 8) and the power of poetry which, cleansed of print Pantheism , false appearances and emptiness, will prove capable of implementing moral transformation of mankind.
Hopkins, too, was more willing to cope with the consequences of his originality than to pay homage to some giants of stardom . Defining his attitude towards tradition he explained that the effect studying of masterpieces has on him is to make me admire them and do otherwise (SL p. 282). Aware of the fact that his poems made an obscure reading, and admitting that his poetry errs on the side of oddness and that he did not succeed in escaping the vice of queerness , Hopkins, nevertheless, defended his art suggesting that the readers' lack of understanding may as well be indicative of their own unwillingness to contemplate his message. Addressing R. Bridges's criticism, he stated: [o]bscurity I do and will try to avoid so far as is consistent with excellences higher than clearness at first reading . 'Wait a generation and come to me again' (qtd in Reder p. 53), he would add, predicting that, like Norwid's, his works will also find their ideal readers, the "grandsons" who would understand and follow their message.
As evidenced by one of Norwid's famous poems, " Darkness " (Ciemnosc 1877), he, too, could effectively defend himself against his critics, subtly redirecting their blame to themselves.
Ah but my speech is dark, the man complains.
Has he once lit the tape or merely bidden
His servant bring it in, whom he disdains?
(Many reasons in this way are hidden).
The wick, touched by the spark, burns first and blinks
Melting the wax which climbs up curlicue.
A luminous star then slowly sinks.
Pale is its brightness, pale and blue.
Now, you think, now it will go dark,
Quenched by the liquid wax below its turns.
Ah but faith is needed, ashes and sparks
Are not enough. Look! By your faiths, it burns!
So it is with my songs, oh fellow man,
You who denies them in a fleeting game,
Before wintry age warms up - it can,
It will flare up, a sacrificial flame. (Pietrkiewicz 55)
Comparing a poem to a candle which burns evenly when tended by the reader, the poet speaker turns to those who complain of being left in the dark and, realizing their indifference and laziness, he mockingly asks if they have at least tried to light the wick.
Interestingly, in his essay Clarity and Obscurity ("Jasnosc i ciemnosc") Norwid condemned the avoidance of obscurity as a contemporary trend which would devour itself through its own sterility. He , Leeming continues, aligne[d] himself with others who are considered obscure , men like Dante, Socrates, Shakespeare or Saint John the Apocalyptic, and like them, he would apply "the figure of a sancta obscuritas , (. . . ) the principle that an author with something important to say has the right to be difficult, to force the reader himself to seek and understand the meaning (143). Demanding the readers' concentration and their active involvement in divining the truth he took pains to communicate, Norwid, like Hopkins, knew the weight of the right expression, of words most truthfully related to the experience described. In "Generalities" ("Ogólniki"), his poetic introduction to Vade-Mecum , juxtaposing two ways of formulating opinions: one spontaneous and hence given to simplifications, the other balanced and honest, Norwid concludes that the poet's paramount consideration is to name each thing with a proper word: Where would you like to do now?
When Artist-Spirit, in life's spring
Drinks of is breath as butterflies.
This only can he realize:
" The earth ----is rounded----like a ring! "
But when shivers of hoarfrost storm
The tree, and flowers all submit,
Then one must mention something more:
"It's flattened -at the poles-a bit."
Of all your spell, Thou! Eloquence,
Thou! Poetry, just one is linked
Eternally with highest sense:
¤ ¤ ¤¤ ¤
To give the proper word - to thing! Karpowicz and others 77
Bound with such an obligation, an artist was responsible for anchoring his work in the reality of things, and therefore carrying out a postulate which proved to be fundamental also for Hopkins's ethics (cf. Zielinska 19). Defying words that "shed like leaves" ( slowa co jak liscie leca ), Norwid wanted them pregnant with meaning, as humble as "the lowest prayer" yet also powerful and reflecting the poet's highest craft ("Promethidion"). Like Norwid, Hopkins was not a poet dedicated to singing songs to while the time away; rather, to use Norwid's phrase, he kept writing about what he was pained by ("ja to co pisze boleje"), concerned not with poetical padding but with the truthfulness of experience. (Besides, Norwid's belief that a word which does nothing is as empty as a deed which communicates nothing seems to correspond with Hopkins's What I do is me, for that I came (cf. Zielinska 20) -- a line offering an insight into his theory of inscape, the kernel and foundation of his poetics and aesthetics.)
Searching deep down things to discover and capture their unique true selves, their "what- and this--nesses , Hopkins struggled o create the language capable of not simply rendering the truthful information about a profiled object, but, simultaneously, of demonstrating the impact the object exerts upon the viewer's senses (cf. Janecka 20-21). This concern for precision, reflected in both Hopkins's and Norwid's steering away from "pretentiousness and jargon, tired phrases ... and bureaucratic vagueness [from] ... affectation and ornamentation" (Watson 39), made their poetry as exact as possible, piercingly and often disquietingly truthful about the world and [themselves] (Watson 19).
Inscaping the reality, Hopkins, who was in fact implementing Norwid's dictum -- a proper word each thing to name , succeeded in working out ways of expression far more daring than Norwid's. However, it must be noted that extending and heightening language possibilities, both artists revealed new dimensions of words and silences and that their apparently senseless torturing of syntax or violation of grammar rules was always justified by poems' inner logic and never in conflict with the spirit of language or its developmental tendencies (cf. Zielinska 20). Interestingly, in order to describe such practices, Norwid, himself a dedicated believer in compression of utterance, coined a term "above- or "pangrammatical" and claiming that it is a vocation of masterpieces to be "above grammar (cf . Zielinska 19) he grasped the essence of greatness of many poets who, like Hopkins and himself, were so very much ahead of their time.
Even the rhythms the poets' chose for their works were to render the truthfulness of the experience evoked. Hence Hopkins's reaching out for the sprung rhythm, close to natural - stress based -- speech, yet providing, through its dramatic potential and irregularities of lines, the heightening that could qualify his verse as a speech framed for contemplation of the mind (qtd. Watson 50). Norwid also experimented with rhythm. Unhappy with monotonous pounding feet of Polish syllabic verse he struggled away from them, often deliberately making his lines sound roughhewn and often abandoning the syllabic patterns for free verse (Milosz 271 ). Not only would he combine freely all verse techniques that had gained recognition in Polish literature (syllabic, syllabotonic, tonic and free verse), but he would use them in a very original manner, "closer to classicist poetics than to Romantic pioneers of syllabotonic versification" (Luczak-Wild 130). And even though he did not develop a new system of metrics, he definitely opened new vistas for interaction of metrical and rhythmic elements and for experimentation with functions of syllabic units (cf. Luczak-Wild 122). Like Hopkins, Norwid was famous for his coinages: the drollest verbal expressions , or mental hieroglyphics, as they were called by Norwid's contemporaries, affronted by these peculiarities just like Hopkins's early readers were by the dragons of his style. In the long run Norwid proved less successful than Hopkins with his neologisms, yet he surpassed the Englishman in his poetics of silence (Luczak-Wild 117): his experiments with white words , revealing through concealment or allusion, and with his graphics, viewed as an important artistic tool. Apart from parentheses, expressive pauses, interjections, exclamation and question marks, typical of Hopkins's works, Norwid would be even more generous with aposiopeses , dotted lines, dashes (both double and multiple), or extended characters.
Hopkins, rather a practitioner than theoretician of silence, would indicate its importance only in The Habit of Perfection , invoking Elected Silence to renew his senses before his encounter with the Divine. The poem's message finds its equivalent in one of Norwid's essays (Silence; Milczenie), where the Pole establishes an equally vital connection between silence and the regeneration of the whole aspect (postawa) of man (cf. "Milczenie", qtd in Zielinska 16).
Recreating the world which was the news of and from God, and striving to capture its uniqueness, yet also its variety and complexity, Hopkins made clear that the most fundamental opposition from which that fascinating plurality would emerge was between right and wrong . Such was the oracle he Spelt from Sybil's Leaves
Our tale, O our oracle! Let life , waned,
ah, let life wind
Off her once skeined stained vained variety upon, all on two
spools; part, pen, pack
Now her all in two flocks, two folds-black white; right,
wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But these two; ware of a world where but these two tell, each
off the other; of a rack
Where, selfstrung, sheathe-and shelterless, thoughts
against thoughts in groans grind. (Gardner 98)
A similar framework was provided by Norwid who in his famous poetic letter To Bronislaw Z . (Do Bronislawa Z 1879), claimed that:
From this world two things only will remain,
Two only: poetry and goodness ... and nothing more.
( cf. WW 152 )
enriching Hopkins's ethical skeleton of "right" and "wrong" with artistic, aesthetic values of poetry.
Also ethical assumptions of Hopkins's and Norwid's works could not but affect their treatment of beauty, viewed by each as divine in origin. Hopkins draws an equation between God and the beauty He fathers-forth and endows with piedness and dappledness ("Pied Beauty"). The superiority of immortal over sensual beauty, the way of securing it and the sacrifice involved are -- among others -- the themes rendered in Hopkins's musical dialogue between "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo". As simple as it is paradoxical, his advice on keeping beauty is to preserve it through giving it back to God, beauty's self and beauty's giver ; to resign all lovely things
and sign them, seal them, send them, motion them
And with sighs soaring, soaring sighs, deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before
Give beauty back , beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God,
beauty's self and beauty's giver. (Gardner 92)
In his dialogic Promethidion, Norwid defines Beauty as a shape of love and God's profile lost through sin. The poet realizes the significance of the biblical teaching: that, like light, beauty is not to be kept hidden under a bushel; rather it should be exposed for everyone to see and admire it, so that it could encourage people to work, and thus lead them towards resurrection and salvation. Norwid wrote: [a]ll things in this world become beautiful in their patterning after a beauty of a higher order, after non-material beauty. Only when they attain the metaphysical grounding, do they attain their own real being - an infused spiritual beauty, a beauty infused by God. In this manner then, aesthetic beauty becomes fused with moral beauty, with Goodness, with Good itself ( qtd. in Nedeljkovic p. 42). Formulated around 1850, these words seem to grow out from the same line of thought which, a generation later, would lead Hopkins to `discovering' his inscape. Who knows, perhaps when given a chance to acquaint himself with Norwid's syncretic aestheticism, Hopkins would have been spared the pain over the choice between mortal and immortal beauty. Norwid could have provided him with a way out of the dilemma.
Beauty and truth are the notions combined and inherent in the image of the diamond, the symbol which, employed by Hopkins and Norwid, canbe viewed also as an inscape of their poetic greatness as well as the survivial in the world and poetry of that which is of true relevance to man. Norwid's poem, In a Diary features a speaker who, looking at himself in the mirror of time, realizes that what he used to think of as his is in fact merely borrowed from his ancestors and traditionn
From you, as from burning chips of resin
Fiery fragments circle far and near:
Ablaze, you don't know if you are to be free.
Or if all that is yours will disappear.
Will only ashes remain and confusion
Whirling into the void? - or will there shine
Amidst the ash a starlight diamond,
The dawning of eternal victory!
Providing an answer to Norwid's question, Hopkins's "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comforts of the Resurrection" makes clear that although the world's wildfire leave[s] but ash , the spiritual flame of Christ's grace gives a man a chance of turning into immortal diamond , of entering the new universe of hope, in which, having undergone a metamorphosis from a partly dissolved, depersonalized self into one that can still preserve its identity and independence, man can find fulfillment and a better and fuller existence.
Enough! the Resur-
A heart's-clarion! Away grief's gasping, joyless days, de-
Across my foundering deck shone
A beacon, an eternal beam. Flesh fade, and mortal trash
Fall to the residuary worm; world's wildfire, leave but ash:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal
Is immortal diamond. (Gardner 105-6)
As if translating Norwid's dawn of eternal victory into the triumph of the Resurrection, Hopkins demonstrates that when the divine chip in man catches and is caught by the eternal beam , the resulting bonfire - painful as it may be - transforms the man into the Light he was destined to become.
Having traced merely some of the correspondences between the thought of G.M. Hopkins and C.K. Norwid, this study has indicated that living worlds apart, and despite very different isolations in which they found themselves, the poets were actually treading the same path towards the modern, unmistakably recognizing that the future of poetry lay in a creative, exploratory attitude to language and that this future would make sense only when anchored in the truth, the Logos to Whom they dedicated their life and their work.
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