As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Excising this first stanza from the famed sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins—the quintessential poet of a kind of labyrinthal lyricism, one merging a highly-individuated mysticism with a dreamy sensuality where exuberant experimentation: ornamental alliterations, archaisms embedded among neologisms created through chains of compound adjectives (alas, missing here, but found most overtly in “The Windhover,” where the narrator observes the flight of one “king- / dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon”), and rhyme schemes that chime as much internally as at the end of lines, all of which never fail to dazzle—might, after all, be as much a mistake in its own right as the attempt to compress my thoughts about the poem itself in a single sentence; nevertheless, it was this poem’s initial complex sentence that inspired me to examine it, to regard the first half’s composition as a series of delays, burdening the reader with images of both a bird and an insect in flight (the bird a composite of both high and low: the “king” and “fisher,” as well as, presumably, an evocation of Jesus Christ, himself both a king and a maker of “fishers of men,” while also intimating the legend of the Fisher King; and then, also, the insect, a composite, too, of the mythological dragon with the earthly fly), the smattering of sounds: the ploop of stones dropped in “roundy” (a lovely colloquialism) wells, vibrating strings, and bells, of which one must marvel at how the handbell’s “tongue” conjures both its voice and its clapper—the notes of each thing evoked by those rhyming ells; delays that paradoxically (well, through Hopkins’s artful technique) thrust the reader forward toward drawing a metaphorical connection between the abovementioned imagery with the idea that every animate thing does one and the same thing: it “selves” (this functional shift, or verbification, is, perhaps, this sentence’s most exhilarating moment): that what it does is what it is and why it came; all of which speaks to me about the possibilities bubbling within language, and spells me, well, at least until I get weighed down, inevitably, by hours of limp local prose.
John Madera's fiction may be found in Conjunctions, Opium Magazine, The &Now Awards 2: The Best Innovative Writing, and many other journals. His criticism may be found in American Book Review, Bookforum, The Review of Contemporary Fiction, Rain Taxi: Review of Books, The Believer, The Brooklyn Rail, and many other venues. Recipient of an M.F.A. in Literary Arts from Brown University, John Madera lives in New York City, where he runs Rhizomatic and manages and edits Big Other.