Today was a quiet day.
A whirlwind week preceded today; in nine days I wrote twenty-five pages. My days were spent in the English Faculty Library poring over The Taming of the Shrew, Measure for Measure, the poetry of Hopkins and books about Jesuit training and about Hopkins’ theology. My nights were a flurry of rehearsals, dinners, events, services. I don’t remember the week by the days, but by the amount of research I accomplished. Needless to say, today I was tired.
I awoke at 8:30 a.m., intending to cycle down to attend the final lecture of my favorite series, but I decided it would be more prudent to rest today. So I ate a breakfast of porridge and toast, wrote the final two pages of today’s tutorial essay, and spent the rest of the day playing hymns by myself, journaling, drinking tea that the lovely Jessamy brewed for me, and reading. Not books for my studies, but Frederick Buechner and the Gospel of Matthew. I can’t remember the last time I spent a day that way, and it was like drinking a tumbler of water after running in ninety degree weather, or like walking into a warm house after cycling in the rain. To regain center, to remember who and why I am, to remember that one day, in a flash, in a trumpet crash, as Hopkins says, I will be made into immortal diamond.
To remember this not only with my head, but with my heart. I’ve spent so much time writing essays on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, and quite honestly, I’ve never enjoyed any assignment quite as much as these essays, but I haven’t entered into the revelry in quite awhile. In ”Hurrahing in Harvest,” Hopkins writes,
I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour,
And eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love’s greeting of realer, of rounder replies?
This is the world to me, this is the world I want to see and the world I believe. But as I journaled today, I realized that lately I have not seen the world like this. In the bustle and flurry, in the questions and the criticism and the word counts and the page numbers, something was lost. The colors of the trees have not moved me in weeks, I rarely hold another’s gaze anymore, I chant the Psalms and sing the Magnificat and the Nunc Dimittis, but I forget that David was Christ’s forebear, or that Mary’s flesh is the very flesh of Christ, and her song of praise is the song of all of us.
Term time has been absolutely wonderful; it has afforded me with incredible opportunities: chapel choir, a cappella, formal halls, delightful tutorials, amazing research…but I have needed to center myself for quite awhile now.
And the azurous hung hills are his world-wielding shoulder
Majestic – as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet! –
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.
And but the beholder wanting. Walking through the world in a jumble of essay questions and due dates, beholden to nothing but my own concerns and anxieties. But to hurl for him! To half-hurl earth for him, for the world-wielder, for the one who greets all the world with rapturous love!
Oh, heart-knowledge. This term at Oxford has only reinforced what I knew all along – that I am more heart than brain. I love Shakespeare because his words and his stories sometimes offer consolation, sometimes give me cause to chortle for life’s wit and mix-ups and good-hearted jollity. Sometimes Shakespeare makes me want to weep for the griefs of the world, for the grief of suffering, death, madness, injustice, love. I love Hopkins because his poetry makes my heart leap and do somersaults, makes me feel like my entire body has shot up into the air. Or else it makes me know that despair is not singular to my experience, that someone else in the dark night has desperately insisted, “I can; / Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.”
And thus, the difficulty. Straddled between two worlds, between two persons. The perfectionist who will not rest until her tutorial essays are “works of art,” (I’m ashamed to admit that I actually did say this), and the wondering wanderlust who stops to marvel at a shadow, a smile, a peculiar combination of hues.
In the same way, as the term gradually draws to a close, a friend and I reflected tonight on how one thing that has been conspicuously absent here in Oxford, and that is present at our home schools, is a community of inquiry. My last essay on Measure for Measure was the first essay I’ve written here that I’ve discussed with a friend before writing. The learning style here is so independent, and everyone is writing on different topics. It makes me miss poetry hour at Eastern, sitting in the small room in Walton around the dark wood table, relishing Wordsworth or Frost or Dickinson, together. Laughing at a funny idea, considering life, often sitting in silence for stretches, but all the while learning together. There are few things more fun or more wonderful than seeking heart-knowledge together.
It’s strange to seek heart-knowledge alone. As I’ve said before, it’s hard to revel alone, and poetry is meant to be sung, to be declaimed, to be enjoyed and reveled in. I miss reveling in poetry with other people. I miss being a beholder and one whose heart hurls earth.
After I realized all of this today, I left at 5:00 p.m. for my tutorial, and through the course of the evening the world seemed to shimmer. A lovely conversation, full of good learning, a crisp, clear night, a moving anthem (for the first time in weeks I heard the music, the movement), the joy of taking air into the body and expelling it in song. The joy of encountering the people I live with not as brains that study or bodies that take up space in the kitchen, but as enfleshed miracles.
So for the remainder of the term, perhaps the most responsible thing to do would be to choose the wondering wanderlust over the perfectionist academic. Perhaps I’ll walk through the gate I’ve always cycled by, perhaps I’ll notice the gleaming blue of my housemate’s eyes as I listen to her story, or I’ll realize the immortal diamond I encounter as my friend and I share fears and hopes with each other.
Perhaps I’ll walk, I’ll lift, I’ll lift up heart, eyes.