The descending blue

Of all the images that come with Christmas, the one that's been in my mind this time is that of a seed. A tiny seed sprung from another world, struck into our old soil. Breaking through it, growing to fruit and shade - graft, and gift. So, rather than a poem of bleak midwinter, or Christmastide, it's Hopkins' “Spring” that I think of today. 

Nothing is so beautiful as spring—
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling. 
What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.—Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord, and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and Mayday in girl and boy,
Most, O maid's child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

Sweet especial rural scene

Driving through acres of Canberra as yet unsettled - hills and slopes blanketed with verdure under a wide blue sky - I had a vision of their future: razored of trees, plotted with a brick patchwork of leggo houses, threaded through with concrete driveways. I hope somehow these acres are spared that fate, but the hope is slim. That fate seems to overtake most empty spaces in the bush capital sooner or later. It’s odd to me that the more we know about our environment’s needs or our own social needs, the less we seem able to meet them. The more we learn about environmental degradation, the more efficient we become at doing it. 

The sense of loss that came with my vision - aesthetic as much as moral - is at least as old as the industrial revolution. It was behind the protest poems of Blake and Wordsworth long before it infused the environmentalist movement of a generation ago. You can find it in just about any nature poet of the past two centuries - and probably as far back as you care to go. I’m not familiar with Virgil’s Georgics, but I wouldn’t be surprised if they contained a lament for the spoliation of land. 

On the eve of last century, Gerard Manly Hopkins wrote this poem because some of his favourite trees had been cut down. A small thing, perhaps, to cut down a dozen trees, but Hopkins saw more in it than that act. Uncannily, he saw the future. ‘If we but knew what we do.’ Indeed. The thing is we after-comers do know now, but we reck still less our strokes of havoc. This is ‘Binsey Poplars’, written in 1879.

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, 
All felled, felled, are all felled;   
Of a fresh and following folded rank 
Not spared, not one                      
That dandled a sandalled        
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew—   
Hack and rack the growing green! 
Since country is so tender 
To touch, her being só slender, 
That, like this sleek and seeing ball    
But a prick will make no eye at all,      
Where we, even where we mean       
To mend her we end her,        
When we hew or delve: 
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. 
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve          
Strokes of havoc únselve      
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,    
Sweet especial rural scene.

All sweetness to your Lenten lips

Here's Hopkins, breaking Lent and breathing Easter with a sonnet. The poem's about churchfolk coming to their chilly service, taking wine and wafer for a feast; but Christ is in it and them, putting aside pain and shame to drink of joy and ease, his brimming reward. 

Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast: 
God comes all sweetness to your Lenten lips.
You striped in secret with breath-taking whips, 
Those crooked rough-scored chequers may be pieced
To crosses meant for Jesu's; you whom the East 
With draught of thin and pursuant cold so nips
Breathe Easter now; you serged fellowships, 
You vigil-keepers with low flames decreased, 
God shall o'er-brim the measures you have spent
With oil of gladness, for sackcloth and frieze
And the ever-fretting shirt of punishment
Give myrrhy-threaded golden folds of ease.
Your scarce-sheathed bones are weary of being bent: 
Lo, God shall strengthen all the feeble knees.