When I read Gerard Manley Hopkins’ “Nondum” earlier this year, I felt a curious sense of relief, the kind that only comes when you hear the details of your bleakest landscape described back to you from someone else familiar with the terrain. No two people travel the same road, but sometimes knowing that another has walked a similar valley is enough to keep hope flickering until the road begins to bend upward.
In the prayers that “[seem] lost in desert ways,” and the disoriented guesses with which “we clothe Thee, unseen King,” Hopkins shows that he understands intimately the pain of waiting in the face of silence, surrounded by seeming “abysses infinite.” The measured cadence of the first five stanzas picks up in the sixth like the sudden beat of a pounding heart — “And hosts confront with flags unfurled / And zeal is flushed and pity bleeds / And truth is heard, with tears impearled” — ebbing, afterward, into the rhythm of a checked sob, and then a prayer such as a weaned child might utter (cf. Ps. 131:2): “And lead me child-like by the hand; / If still in darkness not in fear.”
In two lines, Hopkins encapsulates my greatest request of my Father, coming out of this past year.
“Nondum” means “not yet” in Latin. So much has not yet come to fulfillment — so much that can only come to maturity in the soil of adversity and trial — but what the poem gives me is confidence that God, too, understands.
I’ve said too much already, but I wanted to share this poem this week in hopes it might encourage some of you, friends. The “morn eternal” will break, and He who bled agony in Gethsemane holds us in these long pre-dawn hours with a dearly bought word:
In the world you will have tribulation.
But take heart;
I have overcome the world.
(John 16:33b, ESV)
May peace be yours today,
‘Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself.’
is. xlv. 15.
God, though to Thee our psalm we raise
No answering voice comes from the skies;
To Thee the trembling sinner prays
But no forgiving voice replies;
Our prayer seems lost in desert ways,
Our hymn in the vast silence dies.
We see the glories of the earth
But not the hand that wrought them all:
Night to a myriad worlds gives birth,
Yet like a lighted empty hall
Where stands no host or door or hearth
Vacant creation’s lamps appal.
We guess; we clothe Thee, unseen King,
With attributes we deem are meet;
Each in his own imagining
Sets up a shadow in Thy seat;
Yet know not how our gifts to bring,
Where seek thee with unsandalled feet.
And still th’unbroken silence broods
While ages and while aeons run,
As erst upon chaotic floods
The Spirit hovered ere the sun
Had called the seasons’ changeful moods
And life’s first germs from death had won.
And still th’abysses infinite
Surround the peak from which we gaze.
Deep calls to deep and blackest night
Giddies the soul with blinding daze
That dares to cast its searching sight
On being’s dread and vacant maze.
And Thou art silent, whilst Thy world
Contends about its many creeds
And hosts confront with flags unfurled
And zeal is flushed and pity bleeds
And truth is heard, with tears impearled,
A moaning voice among the reeds.
My hand upon my lips I lay;
The breast’s desponding sob I quell;
I move along life’s tomb-decked way
And listen to the passing bell
Summoning men from speechless day
To death’s more silent, darker spell.
Oh! till Thou givest that sense beyond,
To shew Thee that Thou art, and near,
Let patience with her chastening wand
Dispel the doubt and dry the tear;
And lead me child-like by the hand;
If still in darkness not in fear.
Speak! whisper to my watching heart
One word—as when a mother speaks
Soft, when she sees her infant start,
Till dimpled joy steals o’er its cheeks.
Then, to behold Thee as Thou art,
I’ll wait till morn eternal breaks.
Amy, once again, so beautiful. You have made me think. For me, this has been a journey of greater faith. For myself, when God seems silent, I think it has to do more with me and my heart. My attitude of discontent, not really listening, or wanting to box God into MY demands. He is SO faithful beyond my feelings that He is somehow silent. Hopefully, I make sense. I appreciate this post so much coming off of reading Endo’s Silence as well. Thank you for sharing and I prayed for you to be encouraged as you walk through your valley. God LOVES you, me and is not silent. I have to believe that by faith, even though I rarely understand. I need to read more of Hopkins. I’ve seen a few things by him lately. Blessings.
Thank you very much, Amy. 🙂 I’m happy to say that I’m not walking the valley that I was back when I first read the poem, and His faithfulness has never failed to “lift my eyes to the hills” — but sometimes it takes time, and walking with friends in longer struggles has drawn me back to thinking about what it’s like to try to keep hope alive.
What I love about Hopkins is that he describes so well the feeling of being unanswered without relief — with the same candidness described in the Psalms and elsewhere — and as I watch friends birth a stronger faith (there seems no better analogy) with tears and trembling and sleepless nights, and remembering my own, I wanted to linger a while in the space where God stretches us by allowing to walk in dark nights of the soul.
Often it is words like yours that strike a match in those nights, so thank you again, deeply, for the encouragement. 🙂 (What stories we’ll all have to tell in the light of eternity — especially about each other!)
Yes and Amen. <3