Oh sure, I seem amiable enough. Young women smile at me on the street these days, because I remind them of their kindly old fathers. But inside? Big weltschmerz. Dark nights of the soul stretching into weeks, months, and decades. The one really precocious thing I did as a child had nothing to do with math or the science fair. It was me figuring out futility way ahead of the curve.
Which may be why I read poetry. Whitman makes an especially good antidote to despair. He knew he was deathless and said so. He was always busy jetting the stuff of far more arrogant republics. Who wouldn’t be delighted?
But there’s a certain dark delight in embracing the beast as well. So when I really want to sink into the great, musty arms of wretchedness—when I want the best worst time possible—I take down my book of Gerard Manley Hopkins poems.
A 19th-century English convert to Catholicism who became a Jesuit priest, Hopkins wrote some great devotional pieces (“Glory be to God for dappled things”) and straight-out gifts to creation, like “The Windhover”:
“I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing. . . .”