The Shape of Things

Here is a long poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose work I love. I know I say

Gerard Manley Hopkins

that about a lot of the poets I post on here, but it happens to be true. There is so much good poetry out there.

Anyway, I chose this poem because of something I ran across in a collection of Roethke’s essays, On Poetry and Craft. Carolyn Kizer, author of the foreward in that book, has the following to say about Hopkins poem, “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo”:

Stanley Kunitz once said that the shape of any poem can be described in symbols: a circle, two sides of a triangle, up-side and down-side, and so on. A striking example of a down-side or avalanche shape is Hopkins’ ‘The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo,’ where the poem goes down to the basement of the soul with the lines. ‘Be beginning to despair, to despair/ Despair, despair, despair, despair.’ Then with the single word, ‘Spare!’ alone on the next line, the poem begins its ascent.

Kizer is speaking in the context of Roethke’s work, but I thought it was a nice observation. Visualizing the shape of a poem is something I haven’t done very often, so I’ve enjoyed thinking about this poem in a different way.

As you read, you may encounter some accent marks over a few words. I believe this is intended to put stress or emphasis on a particular word in a line.I hope you enjoy this poem. Reading it out loud makes it even more fun.

QOTD: Why do you think echoes are a motif in this poem? Different words echo each other, structures across the stanzas echo each other, and then the title itself contains the word “echo” twice. What do you think “echoes” have to do with the overall meaning of this poem?

“The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo”
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

(Maiden’s song from Saint Winefred’s Well) 


How to kéep– is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch
or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, … from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankéd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.


There ís one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not withing the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air,
Somewhere elsewhere there is  ah well where! one,
Oné. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet  of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets móre, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gay gear, going gallant, girlgrace–
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring sighs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept. — Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.–
Yonder. — What high as that! We follow, now we follow. –Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

[Some reading notes: If you read the first bit of this poem and quit, bewildered, I understand. If you feel like trying again, here are just a couple of things to think about that might make this poem a little clearer. 1. Every single word doesn’t matter. I mean, yes, every word does matter, but if you’re just trying to get the gist of what’s going on, and something doesn’t make sense, skip it and come back later. Don’t get hung up on trying to define “girlgrace,” for example. 2. Read it out loud. Hopkins is a very aural poet. The overall sound and rhythm of the poem matters. 3. Maybe it would help you to think of this poem as raising a problem and then proposing a solution. Look for the problem in the first part and the solution in the second. Hope that helps. Good luck!]


One thought on “The Shape of Things

  1. I’d love to answer your question… but can’t bring myself to read all of the poem! So sorry! I will have to come back when I have more time and use your tips, they sound like they’d really help me!

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