The theme of Hurrahing in Harvest is an experience of union with Christ as he is alive and present in Nature. The idea of Nature as an outward and visible expression of the presence of Christ is found in the New Testament, where Christ is described as: “a Son who is the radiance of his Father’s splendor and the full expression of his being; all creation depends for its support on his enabling word.” In the radiance and energy of an autumn day, Hopkins meets his Christ whose fire, beauty, and energy suffuse all created forms. Christ is seen by the poet as embodied in the power and beauty of the hills; Christ’s power and beauty are then found reflected in the proud stallion and the modest violet. The full power and beauty of a scene of Nature are released only when a human witness arrives there; then this power and beauty lends wings to the human heart which almost leaves behind earthly existence and soars upwards to the sky in a mood of ecstasy.
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Analysis, Stanza by Stanza
Summer ends now; now, barbarous in beauty, the stooks rise
Around; up above, what wind-walks! What lovely behaviour
Of silk-sack clouds! has wilder, wilful-wavier
Meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies?
The poem, Hurrahing in Harvest, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is written in the sprung rhythm with ‘out-riding’ feet. It is the end of summer and the time of harvest. On both sides of a road, the poet sees the sheaves of reaped corn piled in stocks, “barbarous in beauty”, that is, unkempt but beautiful. Then he looks up at the sky, and admires the movement of the clouds blown before the wind in serried ranks, as though reflecting in the heavens his own walk along the road. In their texture, the clouds seem to combine opposite qualities: the delicacy of silk and the roughness of sackcloth. In the movement of the clouds, there is something wild and wilful, even wanton. The clouds drift along the sky like white meal or flour, successively moulding, forming, and dissolving.
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, éyes, héart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
In the second stanza, as the poet walks, he lifts up his eyes and his heart in rapturous prayer of adoration. He even imagines himself moving with the clouds along their “wind-walks”; at the same time he thinks of himself walking over the newly reaped fields to glean or to obtain Christ the Saviour who is the true bread from heaven. He then asks his own eyes and heart in a spirit of wonder whether they have ever received so loving a response from the looks or lips of man, as they are now receiving from Christ. Christ’s reply to the poet’s prayer is no less real and no direct than if the poet were face to face with Christ.
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic – as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! –
In this extract, the poet, filled with the vision of Christ, declares that the “azurous hung hills” are, as it were, the shoulder of Christ who carries weight of the whole world. Such a majestic display of strength reminds the poet of the pride of a powerful male horse and at the same times of the humility of a violet.
These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet.
In this fourth last extract of the poem, the poet now says: all this beauty of Nature, though very impressive, is incomplete without the appreciation of man. It is then Nature and man meet together that love is born in a flash (like “shining from shook foil” in God’s Grandeur). Under the impulse of this love, the heart seems to acquire wings, and man, not wishing to remain on earth, feels the urge to leap up to heaven, pushing the earth from under his feet.
Ecstatic Mood in Hurrahing in Harvest
Hopkin’s own note on this poem said: “The Hurrahing Sonnet was the outcome of half an hour of extreme enthusiasm as I walked home alone one day from fishing in the Elwy”. Actually, the poem is not just enthusiastic in its mood but ecstatic.
The poem is recognized for its remarkable imagery. The stocks are described as “barbarous in beauty”, the word “barbarous” suggesting the unkempt looks of the sheaves. The clouds are delicate like silk and rough like sackcloth; and their behaviour is lovely. The sky is seen as a celestial highway with the wind-driven clouds “melting “along it. “The azurous hung hills” are regarded as Christ’s majestic shoulder which bears the weight of the world. Finally, there is the poet’s heart acquiring wings and leaping towards heaven. This last image describes the joyous reaction of a man on seeing the presence of Christ in the sights of Nature.
Referring to this Sonnet as an example of Hopkins’s distinctive poetry tradition, one can immediately note here “the exuberant intelligence, the disregard for conventional rhythm, the curious rhyme, the delight in the surface of language, the exploration for the exact nature of both the detail and word to fit it, and the meticulous difficulty of the interrelationship of the parts’. Typical of Hopkins’s style are the compound words and the use of alliteration: “wind -walks: silk-sack: wilful-wavier; “meal-drift moulded ever and melted across skies”; “world-wielding”; etc., etc.
Poet’s Enthusiasm and Upsurge of Joy
Noting the poet’s stir of enthusiasm in this sonnet, it can be said that “The upsurge of joy which made him feel that he cloud hurl earth away like a soaring bird was not due to the stately floating of silk- sack clouds, but due to the inrushing feeling that these were revelations of God Himself- that the hills were ‘his world –wielding shoulder/Majestic’. Just as Christ is reborn to the world through the witness of one brave martyr, so the grandeur of God will flame out, beautiful and awe-inspiring, from the imperfect perfection of one of His creatures. Their duller glory can be converted into a divine irradiance when such a sight ‘meets’ a human heart in a receptive and perceptive mood.