Ah, Touched in your bower of bone,
Are you! Turned for an exquisite smart,
Have you! make words break from me here all alone,
Do you! ―mother of being in me, heart.
O unteachably after evil, but uttering truth,
Why, tears! is it? tears; such a melting, a madrigal start!
Never-eldering revel and river of youth,
What can it be, this glee? the good you have there of your own?

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins




Here Hopkins puts the narrative on hold and take some time off for inner reflection. He is addressing his own heart, inside his ribcage – the bower of bone. He asks for (or states) its response from being touched by the dreadful story: Are you! Have you! Do you!

Hopkins expresses how sincerely touched he is by the nun’s destiny, but then – in the last line – he finds that his heart feels joy and delight instead of sorrow. His heart can feel a glee there on its own: Shouldn’t it be melting of tears instead of rejoicing through them?

God touches him internally and words break from him (like water). His heart is a truthful mediator bringing deeper truth on the divinity to the scene than the poet first can grasp consciously. Even though his heart bears the stain of original sin (is unteachably after evil) it receives God’s gift and mediates. Perhaps this is the good his heart have there of it’s own?

A parallel interpretation is that the poet (his heart) rejoiced for the eternal bliss the nun was about to achieve. Yet another one is that the dreadful news made the poet write poetry again (as in “words break from me“) and that the deep sympathy for the nuns is a muse for composing songs (as in “tears; such a melting, a madrigal start!“).

I find it fruitful to compare the image of the mountain roped by water as veins (sic!) in stanza four, to the image of the heart with tears melting around it. The crying heart and the bleeding rock: Both radiates grace.

To me Hopkins brings the image of grace through the tears of the melting heart even more legible in the metaphor of water in a river of youth, as if the tears are life-giving tears. A Never-eldering revel (as in receiving eternal life) that intertwines this image with the meaning of water in Catholic symbolism: The water of life and a passage into heaven. E.g. The baptism of Christ and his grace as it is mystically explained in the vision of the holy waters issuing out from under the temple in the Prophecy of Ezechiel (47:1-12).



During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to the first stanza.