‘Mind has mountains; cliffs of fall/Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed.’  (Gerard Manley Hopkins)

No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?***

My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing-
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.


O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep. 

*   *    *

I think I know what Hopkins meant. Eliot talked about ‘objective correlatives’ -“a set of objects, a situation, a chain of events which shall be the formula of a particular emotion such that when the external facts are given, the emotion is immediately evoked.” Hopkins uses the effort and terrors of mountaineering as a metaphor for life, an attempt to evoke in tortured words what he experienced daily and nightly in his tortured and torturing mind.

I climbed Mount Kenya 3 times. Hopkins climbed his mountain every day.


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