The Annunciation by Henry Ossawa Tanner
Feast! Today is the Solemnity of the Annunciation. I've been running behind on everything this week, including getting a Poetry Friday post together, but this morning Atticus suggested "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe" by Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Ah. Yes. Perfect.
Hopkins has always fascinated me. From Poetry Foundation:
Gerard Manley Hopkins is considered to be one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era. However, because his style was so radically different from that of his contemporaries, his best poems were not accepted for publication during his lifetime, and his achievement was not fully recognized until after World War I. Hopkins’s family encouraged his artistic talents when he was a youth in Essex, England. However, Hopkins became estranged from his Protestant family when he converted to Roman Catholicism. Upon deciding to become a priest, he burned all of his poems and did not write again for many years. His work was not published until 30 years after his death when his friend Robert Bridges edited the volume Poems.
The Poetry Foundation says:
According to his own testimony Hopkins was subject to melancholy all his life, but his “terrible pathos,” as Dixon called it, is most obvious in these late sonnets. Following Saint Ignatius, Hopkins defined “spiritual sloth” or “desolation” as “darkness and confusion of soul ... diffidence without hope and without love, so that [the soul] finds itself altogether slothful, tepid, sad, and as it were separated from its Creator and Lord.” Called acedia in Latin, this sin is differentiated from physical sloth by the fact that the victim realizes his predicament, worries about it, and tries to overcome it.
The sense of coldness, impotence, and wastefulness evident in Hopkins’s religious poetry of the 1860s is an important feature of acedia, but by far the most important is “world sorrow,” the predicament lamented in Hopkins’s “No worst, there is none” (1885).
See? I told you I was a party killer.
Because today is not about death and grief, but about life and a particular kind of celebration, so it's time to switch gears a bit. At the Annunciation, Mary was asked if she would say yes to the incomprehensible. (I do feel compelled to point out that this was, in its way, a kind of death, the death of the life Mary had known but hey, we melancholics can relate everything to death. It's a talent.) The Annunciation was also a turning point and a model for us: Mary said yes to a staggering request. What am I asked to say yes to? When God asks the incomprehensible of me, do I remember Gabriel's words to Mary: "Do not be afraid"? On a good day, I both say yes and am not afraid. Not every day is a good day but today I'm shaking off my melancholic tendencies and party-killing ways and I will celebrate accordingly. I will not be afraid, I will say yes, I will take comfort in the Comforter and find relief in Mary's ways.
Here are some excerpts from Hopkins's beautiful poem, "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe":This air, which, by life’s law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God’s infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
(Read the whole thing here, at the website of the International Hopkins Association.)