Wednesday, April 02, 2008


Advice to Poor Jackself

Gerard Manley Hopkins:
My own heart let me have more pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.

I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst's all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size

At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.
This sonnet is good advice for the self tormentor (Greek heautontimorumenos), but it's a bit difficult to parse in spots.

The first editor, Robert Bridges, suggested that we mentally supply world as the noun which the adjectives comfortless (6) and dark (7) modify, and on betweenpie (14) he remarked: "a strange word, in which pie apparently makes a compound verb with between, meaning 'as the sky seen between dark mountains is brightly dappled', the grammar such as intervariegates would make. This word might have delighted William Barnes, if the verb 'to pie' existed. It seems not to exist, and to be forbidden by homophonic absurdities."

Size (11) is an intransitive verb meaning "increase in size, grow, wax." See the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), s.v. size, v.1, definition 8b, which cites sizing moon (i.e. waxing moon) from another poem by Hopkins.

For the first half of the compound Jackself (9), definition 36 of OED, s.v. Jack, n.1, seems appropriate: "Prefixed to another noun denoting a person, a thing personified, a trade, or a quality, so as to form a quasi-proper name or nickname, often applied familiarly or contemptuously."

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