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Heaven-Haven: A Nun Takes the Veil(1864)

Gerard Manley Hopkins

I have desired to go
MeterI have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
MeterWhere springs not fail,

Note on line 2: The strangest thing about this line is not prosodic but syntactic. What is it saying? Or, a bit more technically, what is its syntax of subject, verb, and object? Presumably “not” means “do not”; but then why not say that? Hopkins’ broken English creates a chance to run the expected syntax in reverse, reading “springs” as a verb and “fail” as its subject — as if the desired place where springs don’t fail is where failure doesn’t wait in ambush to pounce on you either. A reader honoring this oddity will probably slow down and take the second foot as a spondee.

To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
MeterTo fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
MeterAnd a few lilies blow.

And I have asked to be
MeterAnd I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
MeterWhere no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
MeterWhere the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
MeterAnd out of the swing of the sea.

Note on line 8: The “green swell” may be “dumb,” but the versification isn’t. The way the final line flutters and bobs raises a doubt about how heartily the sister who speaks this poem means to renounce the world’s intensity and flux. Is she a committed nun, or is she still thinking it over? Has she indeed put desire behind her for the things of this world, or is she still living with it?

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