As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame…
Gerard Manley Hopkins
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.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
I’ve used the Bartleby version above, because it has accents, and I think that’s neat.
The animate either “catch fire” or “draw flame,” and what is curious is that they may conjure spirit, but participate in it? From the animate, we move to the inanimate – stones that tumble, strings that vibrate, bells that “fling.” The center of the complete list is “stones,” as they move in the way the birds and insects did, freely, not tied down, although it is into the darkness. The strings and bells are in one location when they make their motion to tell something.
It is curious that stones “ring,” when that word would have been more appropriate for bells. We are moving not just from animate to inanimate, or from one type of motion to another, though. We are also moving from things on fire to things that cause fire, to sounds made from motion, to articulate sounds made from being held at rest, to finally names being articulated. There is a movement from spirit to the word, and all things in these first four lines move in some way.
In the second stanza, there is no mention of fire, and no mention of word in the sense above. It is as if spirit moved to word to end the first stanza, and Spirit has completely disappeared in the second one. The “just man” who “keeps grace” is in motion, and God and Christ are at rest, most significantly: the “just man” is in “God’s eye,” as if he is the spark in the divine, and Christ is in all of us, only in motion because we are, and most visible not in our doings, but in our manner.