“No Worst, There is None” by Gerard Manley Hopkins

No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries have, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief-
woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing–
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked “No ling-
erring! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.”
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! Creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

Recommended readings: Psalm 88, Psalm 130

This poem is pure lament, which is why I love it.  The author describes a fearsome depression, a “world sorrow”, that baffles the mind.  It is a grief that is thrown (“pitched past”) far beyond the blackness of despair (“pitch of grief”). The newer pains seem to learn from the previous ones (“schooled at forepangs”) and are the more severe for it (“wilder wring”). The author asks for deliverance from both the Holy Spirit (“Comforter”) and Mary.

The author describes his sorrows as a herd that huddles together, focusing in on a single problem – “world sorrow”. A sorrow that comes from merely existing in this world.  He describes these pains like being repeatedly struck on an anvil.  And like the striking of an anvil with hammer, the pain is short (“lull then leave off … no lingering … [per]force I must be brief”) but nevertheless intense (“wince and sing”).

My favorite lines are what come next: “O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap / May who ne’er hung there.” There is such a mental anguish through depression and “world sorrow” that those who have never experienced it “hold them cheap”.  Our endurance (“durance”) does not hold out long in the face of such an abyss.  These lines are a bit of a mystery to me – are “Creep” and “Wretch” vocative nouns or imperative verbs? What does it mean to find comfort under a whirlwind? Whatever the answer is to those two questions, the last image is very clear: just as every day “dies” with sleep so all life ends with death.

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