Tuesday, June 30, 2015

The Rise of The Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the Nineteenth Century and the Coinciding Renascence of Marian Poetry (Seven); The Rossettis

  The year 1848 witnessed the establishment of the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood "with a view of adopting a closer study of nature and as a protest against academic dogma" [Barnhart 1956:892].
  Although the Pre-Raphaelites [who embraced the arts as they were practised before Raphael's school changed its tenor] disbanded some five years later, they made a decisive mark on the painting and poetry of the era.

Dante Gabriel Rossetti 
 The leader of the movement was Dante Gabriel Rossetti [1828-1882]. His organization, which was from all accounts a loosely-organized one with fluid parameters, drew vituperative criticism.
  It may have been Rossetti's Italian roots that drew him so powerfully to the mediæval Italian heritage, which represented to him "a vast storehouse of stately imagery in which his deepest personal emotions could array and recognize themselves"
[Wahl 1953:28].
  He and his sister, the poetess Christina Rossetti [1830-1894], belonged to a family of four children, born of a free-thinker Italian father who, while respecting the moral and spiritual Gospel teachings, had little truck with religion, and a devoutly Anglican mother who, though English on the distaff side, was Italian on the paternal side. According to Cary [199:4], she belonged to the Polidori family.

Christina Rossetti 
 Christina Rossetti wrote verse in honour of the Blessed Virgin. The first poem title refers to the feast of the purification of Mary a number of days after she bore her first son in terms of the Jewish law.
  The poem from its first line focuses on the baby. Christ is the Purity born of a maid [1]. Mary figures in the poem in the background of her Son, who is the central figure.


    Purity born of a Maid:
    Was such a Virgin defiled?
    Nay, by no shade of a shade.
    She offered her gift of pure love,
    A dove with a fair fellow-dove.
    She offered her Innocent Child
    The Essence and Author of Love;
    The Lamb that indwelt by the Dove
    Was spotless and holy and mild;
    More pure than all other,
    More pure than His Mother,
    Her God and Redeemer and Child.

Turning to focus on Christ in the [untitled] poem which follows, Christina Rossetti employs the floral imagery of rose and lily, the celestial body imagery of sun and morning star and the water and stone imagery to emphasize the contrast between the mother and her divine Son.
    Herself a rose, who bore the Rose,
    She bore the Rose and felt its thorn.
    All Loveliness new-born
    Took on her bosom its repose,   
    And slept and woke there night and morn.
    Lily herself, she bore the one
    Fair Lily; sweeter, whiter, far
    Than she or others are:
    The Sun of Righteousness her Son
    She was His morning star.                                            10

    She gracious, He essential Grace,
    He was the Fountain, she the rill:
    Her goodness to fulfil
    And gladness, with proportioned pace
    He led her steps thro' good and ill.

    Christ's mirror she of grace and love,
    Of beauty and of life and death:
    By hope and love and faith
    Transfigured to His Likeness, Dove,
    Spouse, Sister, Mother, Jesus saith.                               20

  The poem with its lilting flower imagery and its suggestions of pools of limpid living water is superior in literary merit to The Purification of St Mary the Virgin. 

  Christina Rossetti writes a similar poem, titled: Feast of the Annunciation at an uncertain date somewhere before 1886.

    Whereto shall we liken this Blessed Mary Virgin,
    Fruitful shoot from Jesse's root graciously emerging?
    Lily we might call her, but Christ alone is white;
    Rose delicious, but that Jesus is the one Delight;
    Flower of women, but her Firstborn is mankind's one flower:
    He the Sun lights up all moons thro' their radiant hour.
    'Blessed among women, highly favoured', thus
    Glorious Gabriel hailed her, teaching words to us
    Whom devoutly copying we too cry 'All hail'
    Echoing on the music of glorious Gabriel.

  Christina's brother wrote the poem Ave. The version given below [Wahl 1953:12] was a revised [1848] verson of

    a counterpart in verse of 'The Girlhood of Mary Virgin' and
    'Ecce Ancilla Domini' [two paintings by the poet]. In its
    original form it was a hymn to a remote Queen of heaven.
    What we have now is a dramatic lyric on the life and passion of
    Our Lady here on earth.

The entire poem, the second version of this Ave, is an extended part-soliloquy, part-address to the Blessed Virgin by the poet, who puts his own vision of the mother of God in the words fashioned like us, yet more than we [24].

    Ego Mater pulchrae delectionis et timoris et agnistionis, et
    sancti spes.

     Mother of the Fair Delight
    An handmaid perfect in His sight
    Who made thy Blessing infinite,
    For generations of the earth
    Have called thee Blessed from thenceforth,
    Now sitting with the Ancient THree,
    Thyself a woman-Trinity;
    Being the daughter of Great God,
    Mother of Christ from stall to rood,
    and wife unto the Holy Ghost: -                                       10
    Oh, when our need is uttermost
    And the long sorrow seems to last,
    Then, though no future falls to past
    In the still course thy cycle runs,
    Bethink thee of that olden once
    Wherein to such as Death may strike
    Thou wert a sister, sisterlike:
    Yea, even thou, who reignest now
    Where angels veil their eyes and bow, -
    Thou, scarcely to be looked upon                                     20
    By saints whose footsteps tread the sun, -
    Headstone of this humanity,
    Groundstone of the great Mystery,
    Fashioned like us, yet more than we.

     Mind'st thou not (when June's heavy breath
    Warmed the long days in Nazareth)
    That ere thou wentest forth to give
    Thy flowers some drink, that they might live
    One faint night more among the sands?
    Far off the trees were as dark wands                                30
    Against the fervid sky, wherefrom
    It seemed at length the heat must come
    Bodily down in fire: the sea
    Behind, reached on eternally,
    Like an old music soothing sleep.

    Then gloried thy deep eyes, and deep
    Within thine heart the song waxt loud.
    It was to thee as though the cloud
    Which shuts the inner shrine from view
    Were molten, and that God burned through                    40
    Until a folding sense like prayer,
    Which is, as God is, everywhere,
    Gathered about thee; and a voice
    Spake to thee without any noise,
    Being of the Silence: 'Hail', it said,
    'Thou that art highly favoured;
    The Lord is with thee, here and now,
    Blessed among all women thou.'

     Ah! knew'st thou of the end, when first
    That Babe was on thy bosom nurst?                                  50
    Or when He tottered round thy knee
    Did thy great sorrow dawn on thee?
    And through His boyhood, year by year,
    Eating with thee the Passover,
    Didst thou discern confusedly
    That holier sacrament when He,
    The bitter cup about to quaff,
    Should break the bread and eat thereof?
    Or came not yet the knowledge, even,
    Till on some night forecast in heaven,                                60
    Over thy threshold through the murk
    He passed upon His Father's work?
    Or still was God's high secret kept?

     Nay but I think the whisper crept
    Like growth through childhood, and those sports
    'Mid angels in the Temple-courts
    Awed thee with meanings unfulfilled;
    And that in girlhood something stilled
    Thy senses like the birth of light
    When thou hast trimmed thy lamp at night,                     70
    Or washed thy garments in the stream;
    For to thy bed had come the dream
    That He was thine and thou wert His
    Who feeds among the field-lilies.
    Oh solemn shadow of the end
    In that wise spirit long contained!
    Oh awful end! and those unsaid
    Long years when It was finished!

     Mindst thou not (when the twilight gone
    Left darkness in the house of John )                                    80
    Between the naked window-bars
    That spacious vigil of the stars?
    For thou, a watcher even as they,
    Wouldst rise from where throughout the day
    Thou wroughtest raiment for His poor:
    And, finding the fixt terms endure
    Of day and night, which never brought
    Sounds of his coming chariot
    Wouldst lift through cloud-unexplored
    Those eyes which said, 'How long, O Lord?'                       90
    Then that disciple whom He loved,
    Well heeding, haply would be moved
    To ask thy blessing in His name;
    And thy thought and his thought, the same
    Though silent, then would clasp ye round
    To weep together, - tears long bound,
    Soft tears of patience, dumb and slow
    Yet, 'Surely I come quickly', - so
    He said, from life and death gone home.
    Amen: even so, Lord Jesus, come!                                      100

     But oh what human tongue can speak
    That day when Michael came to break
    From the tired spirit, like a veil,
    Its covenant with Gabriel,
    Endured at length unto the end?
    What human thought can apprehend
    That mystery of motherhood
    When thy beloved at length renewed
    The sweet communion severed, -
    His left hand underneath thine head                                  110
    And His right hand embracing thee?
    For henceforth thine abode must be,
    Beyond all mortal pains and plaints
    The full assembly of the Saints.

     Is't Faith perchance, or Love, or Hope
    Now lets me see thee standing up
    Where the light of the Throne is bright?
    Unto the left, unto the right,
    The cherubim, ordered and joined,
    Float inward to a golden point,                                           120
    And from between the seraphim
    The glory cometh like a hymn.
    All is aquiet, nothing stirs;
    The peace of nineteen hundred years
    Is within thee and without thee,
    And if the Godshine falls about thee.
    Oh if that look can stoop so far
    It shall reach down from star to star
    And try to see us where we are;
    For this our grief cometh swift as death,                            130
    But the slow comfort loitereth.
    Sometimes it even seems tobold when thus
    We cry and hope we shall be heard;
    Being surely less than a short word, -
    Mere shadow that abideth not, -
    A dusty nothing, soon forgot.
    Yet, Lady Mary, be not loth
    To listen, thou whom the stars clothe!
    Bend thine ear, and pour back thine hair,                          140
    And let our voice come to thee there
    Where, seeing, thou mayst not be seen;
    Help us a little, Mary Queen!
    Into the shadow lean thy face,
    Bowing thee from the secret place
    St Mary the Virgin, full of grace!

  It has been pointed out earlier that Byron's shaky relationship with his mother reflected on his Marian poem. By the same token, Rossetti's loving relationship with his own mother and the Italian roots they shared is revealed in the tenderness of the passage in which Christ's reunion with His mother is recounted:
His left hand underneath thine head/And his right hand embracing thee?  [110-111].
  This conjures up a picture of the Pietà in reverse, Michelangelo's sculpture of the Virgin, her expired Son on her lap, mourning His death, turned into the joy of the Resurrection where the poet visualises her as being held by the Risen Christ.

Dr Luky Whittle

Image by Rev Catherine

Monday, June 29, 2015

The Rise of The Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the Nineteenth Century and the Coinciding Renascence of Marian Poetry (Six); Gerard Manley Hopkins Part Two

Gerard Manley Hopkins

  That Hopkins possessed all the Marian devotion of the mediævel era is clear in his majestic description of the Blessed Virgin as the mighty mother [13] and the way he gives nature into her keeping by linking Nature's motherhood [28] to Mary's own.
  However, Gardner [1949:II:270] is specific in recording that the poet does not transgress the limitations imposed by hyperdulia, saying that: "... true Catholics do not deify the Blessed Virgin or practise idolatry before her image ... Hopkins' attitude towards her is strictly and correctly one of the highest veneration".

Bright illustration 
 The poet's use of alliteration in his deceptively simple poetry is as bright as a visible illustration: flesh and fleece, fur and feather/Grass and greenworld .../ Star-eyed, strawberry breasted [17/19] star-eyed strawberry breasted [19].
  The dual unity of his religious devotion and childlike enthusiasm is reminiscent of that of his peers of the Middle Ages, while his academic brilliance and creative originality of word power deepen the poem's dimension and significance, which, while in thoughtfulness it matches the intricate metaphysical poetry of poets such as Donne, surpasses this genre by virtue of its innovative quality.
  Colour abounds in this poem in a very ingenuous way. For Hopkins the simple mention of blue, red and green does not suffice.
  On his word-palette he mixes his colours to produce bugle blue [21], drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple [37], silver surféd [40] and azuring-over greybell [41] and in so doing dazzles the reader's mind.

Intricately wrought grandeur
  No less refreshing than The May Magnificat, though perhaps even more intricately wrought and impressive in the grandeur of its encompassing splendour, is Hopkins' thoughtful and thought-provoking The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe, the poem Gardner [1949:I:32] describes as being as much the consummation of pure joy as any [poems] in the language.


     Wild air, world-mothering air,
    Nestling me everywhere,
    That each eyelash or hair
    Girdles; goes home betwixt

    The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
    Snowflake; that's fairly mixed
    With, riddles, and is rife
    In every least thing's life;
    This needful, never spent,
    And nursing element;                                            10
    My more than meat and drink
    My meal at every wink;
    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,                              20
    Birth, milk, and all the rest
    But mothers each new grace
    That does now reach our race -
    Mary Immaculate,
    Merely a woman, yet
    Whose presence, power is
    Great as no goddess's
    Was deeméd, dreaméd; who
    This one work has to do -
    Let all God's glory through,                                   30
    God's glory which would go
    Through her and from her flow
    Off, and no way but so.

     I say that we are wound
    With mercy round and round
    As if with air: the same
    Is Mary, more by name.
    She, wild web, wondrous robe,
    Mantles the guilty globe,
    Since God has let dispense                                      40
    Her prayers his providence:
    Nay, more than almoner,
    The sweet alms' self is her
    And men are meant to share
    Her life as life does air.

     If I have understood/She holds high motherhood
    Towards all our ghostly good/And plays in grace her part
    About man's beating heart,                                     50
    Laying, like air's fine flood/The deathdance in his blood;
    Yet no part but what will/Be Christ our Saviour still.
    Of her flesh he took flesh:
    He does take fresh and fresh,
    Though much the mystery how,
    Not flesh but spirit now
    And makes, O marvellous!
    New Nazareths in us,                                                60
    Where she shall yet conceive
    Him, morning, noon, and eve;
    New Bethlems, and he born
    There, evening, noon, and morn -
    Bethlem or Nazareth,
    Men here may draw like breath
    More Christ and baffle death;
    Who, born so, comes to be
    New self and nobler me
    In each one and each one                                          70
    More makes, when all is done,
    Both God's and Mary's Son

     Again, look overhead
    How air is azuréd;
    O how! Nay, do but stand
    Where you can lift your hand
    Skywards: rich, rich it laps
    Round the four fingergaps.
    Yet such a sapphire-shot,
    Charged, steepéd sky will not                                    80
    Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
    It does no prejudice.
    The glass-blue days are those
    When every colour glows,
    Each shape and shadow shows.
    Blue be it: this blue heaven
    The seven or seven times seven
    Hued sunbeam will transmit
    Perfect, not alter it.
    Or if there does some soft,                                           90
    On things aloof, aloft
    Bloom breathe, that one breath more
    Earth is the fairer for.
    Whereas did air not make
    This bath of blue and slake
    His fire, the sun would shake,
    A blear and blinding ball
    With blackness bound, and all
    The thick stars round his roll
    Flashing like flecks of coal,                                          100
    Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
    In grimy vasty vault,
     So God was god of old:
    A mother came to mould
    Those limbs like ours which are
    What must make our daystar
    Much dearer to mankind;
    Whose glory bare would blind
    Or less would win man's mind.
    Through her we may see him                                       110
    Made sweeter, not made dim,
    And her hand leaves his light
    Sifted to suit our sight.
     Be thou then, O thou dear
    Mother, my atmosphere;
    My happier world, wherein
    To wend and meet no sin;
    Above me, round me lie
    Fronting my forward eye
    With sweet and scarless sky;
    Stir in my ears, speak there                                          120
    Of God's love, O live air,
    Of patience, penance, prayer:
    Worldmothering air, air wild,
    Wound with thee, in thee isled,
    Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Of this poem Hopkins, in the diffident manner which marks letter concerned with his poetry, wrote to the poet Robert Bridges, his literary executor, that it was partly

    a compromise with popular taste, and it is too true that the
    highest subjects are not those on which it is easy to reach
    one's highest.
                                                                    [Gardner 1986:283]

As we have seen, Hopkins' opinion is not shared by his twentieth century admirers who discern a warmth and freshness to this poem which derives from the impled equating of nature's motherhood with that of Mary as did The May Magnificat. The introductory lines: Wild air, world-mothering air/Nestling me everywhere [1-2] provide a sense of universal, yet paradoxically snug, security and shelter.
  The poet reveals consummate skill in juxtaposing vast concepts such as the air which circles the globe in balanced, geometric precision with the minute perfection of a single hair or eyelash and a frail snowflake and gives to each the individual respect due to an essential component of an impressive whole for In every least thing's life [8].
  Only a man with profound reverence for all created things could instil into their description so profound an aura of dignity. To Hopkins it is creation which constitutes the miracle; as a result, nothing that has been created can be trivial or undeserving of respect.
 Gardner [I:190] asserts that the line reading air girdles each eyelash [3] betrays the fact that the " 'metaphysical' characteristic is the possession of a searching, microscopic eye and an abnormally developed tactile sense".
  Noticeable is the fact that Hopkins does not consider himself bound by uniformity in the matter of the length of his stanzas.
  These number 33, 12, 27, 30, 11 and 13 respectively.
  Each time the poet tackles a different train of thought, he starts a new stanza. This enhances the spontaneity of the poem by focusing attention on its contents rather than on any elaborateness of construction.

Fantastic influence 
 An extract from this poem which requires careful scrutiny is the following: Mary Immaculate/Merely a woman, yet/Whose presence, power is/Great as no goddess's/deeméd, dreaméd
  It is evident here that Hopkins is not advocating the cult of goddesses but stating that Mary's all-encompassing presence in the heart and mind of Christ and humanity exerts fantastic influence.

  What is significant is that, having been educated in the nineteenth century, the poet, unlike his pre-Reformation counterparts, is well versed in the classics and able to use them intellectually to enhance the scope of his poem.
  Hopkins allows his knowledge to expand, rather than diminish, his topic.
  Yet the poem is enhanced by a kaleidoscopic range of glancing references to every conceivable branch of science: anatomy: welcome in womb and breast [20], botany: does some soft/On things aloof, aloft/Bloom breathe [90-92], physiology: this air which by life's law/my lung must draw and draw [13-14], astronomy: the sun .../A blear and blinding ball/ ... and/the thick stars [96-99] and geology: quartz-fret. [101]. 
  Then we have the creation of neologisms such as frailest-flixed [5], and vasty [102]. These ploys add a universal rather than global dimension to the poem's scope. By using alliterations such as wild web wondrous robe [38], fronting my forward eye [119] and patience, penance, prayer [122] the poet, while delighting his audience, lulls the reader into the passive state of meditation this poem requires in order for it to be savoured fully; at the same time marking signposts in the course of his argument.
  By presenting himself as an I-writer, Hopkins includes the reader in his address to the Blessed Virgin, yet the painstaking development of his discourse and consequent revelation of new insights ensure that the reader remains aware of his [the poet's] existence.
Innocence and dignity
What is probably most striking about Hopkins' work is that he manages to combine the freshness of a childlike innocence with the impressive dignity of formal learning without surrendering either feature, in a way that is unparalleled in any other Marian verse quoted in these blogs. Hopkins retains an easy, informal note throughout his address to the Blessed Virgin but successfully negotiates the pitfall of ever lapsing into familiarity.

Dr Luky Whittle 
Image by Rev Catherine

The Rise of The Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the Nineteenth Century and the Coinciding Renascence of Marian Poetry (Five): Gerard Manley Hopkins

  Quite as light-hearted as The Queen of Seasons and even more effervescent is the Marian praise verse of the Jesuit priest and poet Gerard Manley Hopkins [1844-1889].
  He is known for his resuscitation of sprung rhythm, last employed in the fourteenth century in the writing of Piers Plowman [approximately 1369-1370]. [Knott 1972:4}.
  This rhythm, which Little [1968:1985] defines as: "a modern form of poetical rhythm based on that of medieval alliterative verse", is characterized by its almost irregular-sounding beat which Hopkins held to be "the nearest to . . . the native and natural rhythm of speech", as "the governing principle of the scansion" [Sampson 1970:596].

  It must not be presumed that Hopkins spontaneous-seeming poetry was composed without a great deal of concentration.
  In a two-volume biography, W H Gardner [1949:II:145] explains that Hopkins studied the Welsh language and was profoundly interested in "cynghanedd ... that strict and intricate set of rules governing internal rhyme and alliteration which characteri[z]e bulk of Welsh poetry from the fourteenth to the eighteenth century and which is still widely used today".
  Hopkins' experiments with the composition of Welsh rhyme form were faulty, adds Gardner "but ... he knew all the rules".
  According to Gardner {1949:II:151], Hopkins was profoundly interested in "cynghanedd sain" [tone].
  This divides the line into three parts: the first and the second part rhyme with one another while the second and third part alliterate, as may be seen in the Hopkins poem The Blessed Virgin compared to the air we breathe in the line which reads: In grimy/vasty/vault [102].
  Details such as this give an idea of the vast amount of thought that went into poetry which paradoxically appeared gossamer light.

Living Voice 
  Though virtually unknown in his own lifetime, Hopkins became celebrated in the twentieth century as "the most living voice among ... [the Victorians'] poets" [Sampson 1870:595].
  One of the most original, refreshing and exhilarating English Marian poems ever written was his merry, informal The May Magnificat, like Newman's The Queen of Seasons intended for May.
  He deprecatingly described this poem to his literary executor and critic Robert Bridges [Sampson 1970:595] as: "A Maypiece meant for the 'Month of Mary', ... in which I see little good but the freedom of the rhythm" [Gardner 1986:272].
  In fact Hopkins' Marian poetry, like all his other work, was magnificent, as he not only had an inspired way with words but also cherished a supreme disregard for accepted academic usage thereof, permitting himself extreme latitude in the matter of poetic licence, with refreshingly innovative results.
  When Hopkins was lost for a word that rhymed, he coined a neologism, such as opportunist to rhyme with soonest [11-12].
  Moreover, to effect a rhyme he would freely shuffle his words, e.g.: How did she in her stored/Magnify the Lord [31-32].
  Such was his linguistic genius that these shortcuts, far from hampering his poetry, instead invested it with a unique, brilliant freedom, causing it to soar aloft with a bird's abandon.
  Of these lines Gardner [1949:II:269-270] writes that the poet when he wrote that Growth in everything [16] reminded Mary of How she did in her stored/Magnify the Lord "himself had perceived the analogy and wondered at the amazing humility of God."


    May is Mary's month, and I
    Muse at that and wonder why:
    Her feasts follow reason,
    Dated due to season-

    Candlemas, Lady Day;
    But the Lady Month, May
    Why fasten that upon her,
    With a feasting in her honour?

    Is it only its being brighter
    Than the most are must delight her?              10
    Is it opportunist
    And flowers finds soonest?

    Ask of her, the mighty mother:
    Her reply puts this other
    Question: What is Spring?-
    Growth in everything

    Flesh and fleece, fur and feather
    Grass and greenworld all together;
    Star-eyed strawberry-breasted
    Throstle above her nested                                  20

    Cluster of bugle blue eggs thin
    Forms and warms the life within;
    And bird and blossom swell
    In sod or sheath or shell.

    All things rising, all things sizing
    Mary sees, sympathising
    With that world of good,
    Nature's motherhood.

    Their magnifying of each its kind
    With delight calls to mind                                   30
    How she did in her stored
    Magnify the Lord.

    Well but there was more than this:
    Spring's universal bliss
    Much, had much to say
    To offering Mary May.

    When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
    Bloom lights the orchard-apple
    And thicket and thorp are merry
    With silver-surféd cherry                                      40

    And azuring-over greybell makes
    Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
    And magic cuckoocall
    Caps, clears, and clinches all-

    This ecstasy all through mothering earth
    Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
    To remember and exultation
    In God who was her salvation.

  It is the academic precision of the magnificent word power Hopkins was able to marshall to his aid whenever he needed to recreate the existing norm or fill gaps in the existing vocabulary that renders valid his innovational ploys.
  What other poet gives us imagery at once to frothy and yet so definitive as Hopkins does in The May Magnificat with his drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple/Bloom [37-38], azuring-over grey-bell [41] and the magic cuckoocall/ [which] caps, clears, and clinches all [43-44]?

Dr Luky Whittle

Image by Rev Catherine


Friday, June 26, 2015

The Rise of The Oxford Movement and the Pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood in the Nineteenth Century and the Coinciding Renascence of Marian Poetry (Four)

Poems of Keble
  Woodhouse's assessment that the religious content of Keble's poems has greater merit than their literary component would therefore seem to have come nearer the mark than Cardinal Newman's eulogy in which he pays homage to both the religious and the poetic aspect in these words:

    It is not necessary . . . and scarcely becoming,  to praise a
    book which has already become one of the classics of the
    language.  When the general tone of religoius literature was
    so nerveless and impotent,  as it was at that time,  Keble
    struck an original note and woke up in the hearts of
    thousands a new music,  the music of a school,  long unknown
    in England.  Nor can I pretend to analyze,  in my own
    instance,  the effect of religious teaching so deep,  so pure,
    so beautiful.

  This assessment is self-contradictory,  since in the same breath Newman lauds Keble's poetry as "original" and "a new music",  before stating that it hails back to "the music of a school,  long unknown in England". 
  What he is clearly endeavouring to put across is not so much that Keble is an innovator in poetic device but that his employment of the poetic devices of a former age  -  the Middle Ages  -  which serves to rekindle the flame of religious fervour in the hearts of his readers,  is new to the readers of his own period. 

  Newman's appreciation of Keble's work appears to be based primarily on its religious aspect and secondarily on its poetic aspect,  although it is clear that he fully approves of both these features. 
  However, reading the work in retrospect,  Keble's poetry with its Victorian officialese appears curiously dated,  in contrast with much earlier works in praise of the Blessed Virgin.

  This dichotomy is a repetition of what is found in mediæval Marian poetry,  much of which appears to constitute the poet's endeavour to transmit a message of spiritual fervour rather than to gain a lasting name in the saga of English poetry. 
  This message is further confirmed by the anonymity of much of the work concerned. 
  We have seen how in the fourteenth century Friar William Herebert  (one of a few poets of the era whose name does happen to have come down to us although very little else is known about him)  employed his poetic gifts in the service of his religious beliefs with his translations of Latin church documents into English  (Brown  1924:15-18). 

  In the same way Keble in the nineteenth century utilised his poetic talent to teach the precepts of Christianity to the citizens of the more doctrinally developed,  literate and cultured nineteenth century in which he preached. 
  That both men were able to translate their religious insight into proficient poetry appears to have been merely an additional fortuitous circumstance.

  Admirers of hyperdulia in poetry own a debt of gratitude to Keble  -  both for resuscitating the poetic genre and for rendering it acceptable among his Anglican followers,  since this enabled celebrated non-Catholic poets of the era to add to its dimensions and,  in conjunction with those writers of Marian praise verse who were theologians first and poets second,  to build up an impressive corpus of Marian poetry for the nineteenth century. 

  Their number variously includes recognised poets of the calibre of the Anglicans Dante Gabriel Rossetti and his sister Christina and the Catholics Francis Thompson and Gerard Manley Hopkins,  while also admitting into its ranks theologians such as John Henry Newman who was more renowned for his prose writing  -  notably his "Apologia pro Vita Sua",  one of the most renowned autobiographies ever written in English - than for his poetry.

Cardinal John Henry Newman 
  Newman was the second member of the triumvirate responsible for the launching of the Oxford Movement, which culminated in his conversion to Catholicism in 1945. 
  According to Graef  (1965:105),  though Newman had a great appreciation of the Blessed Virgin's transcendent purity,  he initially regarded her public veneration s incompatible with the worship of God.  When at last he did come to accept hyperdulia as valid,  he based his doctrine in part on the Church Fathers' view of Mary as the New Eve.

  One of his admirers was the poet Christina Rossetti,  who addressed him as "weary Champion of the Cross"  (Rossetti  1911:280). 
  Forced to defend his vision of Mariology against a printed attack upon him by the Rev E B Pusey,  the third founder of the Oxford Movement,  he wrote as follows concerning the practice  (Graef  1965:114) :

. . .    He (Christ) alone has an entrance into our soul,  reads our
         secret thoughts,  speaks to our heart,  applies to us
         spiritual pardon and strength  . . .  On him we solely depend.
         He alone is our inward life  . . .  Mary is only our mother by
         divine appointment,  given us from the cross  . . .  It is her
         prayers that avail,  and her prayers are effectual by the
         fiat of him who is our all in all  . . .  Our Lord cannot pray
         for us,  as a creature prays,  as Mary prays  . . .  To her
         belongs,  as being a creature,  a natural claim on our
         sympathy and familiarity,  in that she is nothing else than
         our fellos  . . .  We look to her without any fear,  any
         remorse,  any consciousness that she is able to read us,
         judge us,  punish us.

  It is with the background knowledge of Newman's long and arduous search for guidance before he was able to accept hyperdulia as valid for himself that we read and savour the exultant simplicity of his The Queen of Seasons  (A Song for an Inclement May),  which in its spontaneity and joyousness is more reminiscent of the mediæval paradigm than is the work of more accomplished nineteenth-century Marian poets such as Thompson and Rossetti  -  with the notable exception of Gerald Manley Hopkins,  to whose outstanding contribution to the genre of Marian poetry further reference will be made.

   THE QUEEN OF SEASONS  (A Song for an Inclement May)

    All is divine
    which the Highest has made
    Thro' the days that He wrought,
    till the day when He stayed;
    Above and below,
    within and around,
    From the centre of space,
    to its uttermost bound.

    In beauty surpassing
    the Universe smiled,                                                                    10
    On the morn of its birth,
    like an innocent child.
    or like the rich bloom
    of some gorgeous flower;
    and the Father rejoiced
    in the work of his power.

    Yet worlds brighter still,
    and a brighter than those,
    And a brighter again,
    He had made,  had He chose;                                                      20
    And you never could name
    that conceivable best,
    to exhaust the resources
    the Maker possessed.

    But I know of one work
    of His Infinite Hand
    Which special and singular
    ever must stand;
    So perfect,  so pure,
    and of gifts such a store,                                                                30
    That even Omnipotence
    cannot do more.

    The freshness of May
    and the sweetnes of June,
    And the fire of July
    in its passionate noon,
    Munificent August,
    September serene,
    are together no match
    for my glorious Queen.                                                                   40

    O Mary all months
    and all days are thine own,
    In thee lasts their joyousness
    when they are gone;
    and we give to thee May,
    not because it is best,
    But because it comes first,
    and is pledge of the rest.

  This Newman poem darts with the simplicity and lightness of a butterfly above and below,/ within and around,/ from the centre of space,/ to its uttermost bound [5-8], paying no heed to Victorian formality.
  Newman speaks of his Eternal Father's matchless power, saying: Yet worlds better still/ and a better than those/ and a brighter again/ he had made had he chose [17-19].
  The poet goes on to say that in one of God's creations, to wit the Blessed Virgin Mary, no room for improvement has been left, since she is so special and singular [27] . . . perfect and pure [29] that the Almighty,Who - says Newman - in Mary created perfection, is unable to improve on her since He will not go against Himself.

  The two alliterations seen here are interesting in their pyramid structure of syllables: two, three, two and one, which could be seen as denoting first God and Mary, then the Blessed Trinity, God and Mary again and concluding with the unity of God and Mary.
  The combined beauty contained in the freshness of May [33], sweetness of June [34], fire of July [35], munificent August [37] and September serene [38] evokes both vigour and serenity; two qualities the poet discerns in the Blessed Virgin.

Dr Luky Whittle
Image by Rev Catherine