Sunday, August 23, 2015

Recitative By Death

The following poem is the second of Auden's "Two Don Quixote Lyrics". The first, entitled "The Golden Age", is a little piece of doggerel that describes the Golden Age and its subsequent decline. In 1963, Auden and Chester Kallman had been asked to write lyrics for the musical, The Man of La Mancha (imagining how it would have turned out, if he actually did write the lyrics, is not a little amusing). But, their version was not actually used in the musical. 

Auden and Kallman
Kallman and Auden met in 1939 and began what Auden called his marriage, even though after a few years, their sexual relationship ended, when Kallman no longer wished to practice monogamy. Nevertheless, they remained partners till Auden's death, maintaining various households together and collaborating upon various works. 

In 1951, the widow, Thekla Clark, and her young daughter became a part of their entourage on Ischia. In her memoirs, Mrs. Clark reports how Auden had a great fondness for her daughter, and at one point, 

He and his small friend once had "a dreadful row" over who was going to play Mrs. Tiggywinkle in one of their elaborate games, a dispute finally settled by Kallman, who "declared that Wystan, with his feet, could only be Jemima Puddleduck." (
Such anecdotes, I think, help us to appreciate the man who, though he claimed never to have finished Don Quixote, nevertheless deeply loved the character and gave many lectures on the book throughout his life. As with a child's imaginative play or Don Quixote's madness, there is a kind of playful seriousness to Auden's work. He may write a "Recitative by Death", but it is free of gloom and heavy handedness (contrast this with Death in Bergman's Seventh Seal). Auden's death is a liberal, a progressive and a charmer who, while maintaining his own euphemistic polish, slices through the lies and circumlocution of modernity. He is contradictory and terribly funny.

Recitative by Death

Ladies and gentlemen, you have made most remarkable
  Progress, and progress, I agree is a boon;
You have built more automobiles than are parkable,
  Crashed the sound-barrier, and may very soon
  Be setting up juke-boxes on the Moon:
But I beg to remind you that, despite all that, 
I, Death, still am and will always be Cosmocrat. 

Still I sport with the young and daring; at my whim,
  The climber steps upon the rotten boulder,
The undertow catches boys as they swim,
  The speeder steers onto the slippery shoulder:
  With others I wait until they are older
Before assigning, according to my humor
To one a coronary, to one a tumor.

Liberal my views upon religion and race;
  Tax-posture, credit-rating, social ambition
Cut no ice with me. We shall meet face to face,
  Despite the drugs and lies of your physician,
  The costly euphemisms of the mortician:
Westchester matron and Bowery bum,
Both shall dance with me when I rattle my drum.

December 1963 

Thursday, August 13, 2015

Dr. Johnson's Cat

I remember reading Dr. Johnson's novella, Rasselas, in high school and not being much taken with it. And so, I'd rather forgotten about Samuel Johnson until a dear friend of mine gave me a curious book entitled, Horace Walpole's Cat. The book is a delightful literary labyrinth of unexpected connections, sparked initially by the author's dissertation on Rousseau's novel. And in this curious maze, we meet some of the creatures that kept the authors company in their vale of tears.   

Watercolor Cat by Endre Penovic
Having shared (perhaps foolishly) Horace Walpole's estimation of Johnson (that he was a "saucy Caliban" and a "tasteless pedant"), I was charmed to discover his affection and gentility towards his lowest leonine, Hodge: 

On one occasion, Boswell, on seeing Hodge scrambling his way up the north face of Johnson's belly in a very affectionate manner, while the Doctor 'smiling and half-whistling, rubbed down his back, and pulled him by the tail', remarked on how fine the cat seemed to be. Johnson replied, 'why, yes, Sir, but I have had cats whom I liked better than this.' Then, as if perceiving that Hodge was a little 'out of countenance', he immediately added for the cat's benefit, 'but he is a very fine cat, a very fine cat indeed.' 
Hodge, before the Johnson home, seated on a dictionary
On another occasion, Johnson tells Boswell about some feckless young gentleman of good family who has been reduced to such depths of depravity that he was last seen 'running about town, shooting cats.' At which point Johnson picks up Hodge and strokes him reassuringly: 'But Hodge shan't be shot; no, no, Hodge shall not be shot.' 
(Frayling 9-10)

Reading through these anecdotes, I was delighted by the character of Johnson, by his deference for his pet. There is something curiously universal about how humans, smiling and half-whistling, relate to pets. And yet, anyone who has owned multiple pets knows that each animal has a distinct personality and that one's relationship with that animal differs from one's relationship with any other pet. They are as much individuals as you and I. 

It occurred to me, while reading about Johnson, that anyone who showed such gentility to a humbler creature of the Lord doubtlessly must show deference to all creation. And, in spite of any sardonic filter, he must ardently love the world and see it with the clarity only love produces (the kind of clarity that allows one to perceive defects vividly while recognizing that the defects are not what defines). I must give Johnson a second chance. 

Perhaps you disagree? Benevolence towards animals, you say, is nothing more than foolish sentimentality. I answer that, although Boethius says authority is not the strongest argument, David Bentley Hart has already written a nice piece about why you're wrong, and I would rather include a poem by Auden than answer myself. 

Auden and puss
From "Ten Songs" 


DOG     The single creature leads a partial life,
        Man by his mind, and by his nose the hound;
        He needs the deep emotions I can give,
        I scent in him a vaster hunting ground.

CATS    Like calls to like, to share is to relieve
        And sympathy the root bears love the flower;
        He feels in us, and we in him perceive
        A common passion for the lonely hour.

CATS    We move in our apartness and our pride
        About the decent dwellings he has made:
DOG     In all his walks I follow at his side,
        His faithful servant and his loving shade. 

(I can't help but point out that while DOG critiques "apartness", he speaks as an "I" and CATS, while valuing it, speak as a chorus...) 

Friday, March 20, 2015

Too Good a Workman to Live

the original babe
What a pleasant feeling it is to read something other than Plato (or scholarship about Plato) without guilt. At the beginning of Spring and of Spring Break, I turn again to Thomas Hardy, who never fails to delight. For who can so thoroughly immerse his reader in the intricacies of our world as Hardy? If we except Vergil from the competition, I think no one can. Like the Georgics, Hardy's novels work because he does not sacrifice agrarian precision for aesthetic value. Rather, the detail he provides in shepherding or masonry or dairy-farming are essential to the beauty of the text. Indeed, I think I would still enjoy Hardy without his plots. When such a poet turns his pen to the seemingly ordinary practices of the field, we uninitiated city-dwellers must rejoice, for Hardy is no Levin, who delights in the agrarian world from the safe distance of the study; rather, he knows it intimately, is a son of it, and clearly loves it, as one can only love one's own. 

Not unlike his own character Gabriel Oak, we could say of Hardy that "Being a man not without a frequent consciousness that there was some charm in this life he led, he stood still looking at the sky as a useful instrument, and regarded it in an appreciative spirit, as a work of art superlatively beautiful." (Far from the Madding Crowd 15, Norton Critical Edition) Hardy's recognition of the marriage of utility and beauty breathes life into the hard fibres of earth and stone and star. For Hardy, beautiful things are not still and lifeless like the stillness of a chinese jar in Proust (or Eliot). Rather they throb with birdsong and the bleating of ewes. Part of this liveliness grows from the fact that Hardy is not bent on making distinctions and systems. The categories of "useful", "beautiful", and "good" do not necessarily denote a separation from each other, rather beauty, for Hardy, is enhanced by utility, goodness by beauty, utility by goodness and so on. 

In what is little more than an aside about an ill-fated and overzealous sheepdog, Hardy remarks:
George's son had done his work so thoroughly that he was considered too good a workman to live, and was, in fact, taken and tragically shot at twelve o'clock that same day--another instance of the untoward fate which so often attends dogs and other philosophers who follow out a train of reasoning to its logical conclusion, and attempt perfectly consistent conduct in a world made up so largely of compromise. (33-34)
What was the dog's mistake? He understood his task to be the herding of sheep and did not foresee their tragic plunge over a precipice! 

George & George's son--the evolution of the English sheepdog

Sunday, March 1, 2015

Nonsense Botany

To break up the monotony of serious writing, I thought I'd share some of the work of this blog's namesake's (well, the inventor of this blog's namesake).

I've always thought botanical names were a bit nonsensical (pseudo-Latin and all). But, here's the proof. In his book of Complete Nonsense, Edward Lear includes some rare and wondrous specimens of plants (some so bizarre and obscure botanists wonder whether they are plants at all). I am particularly fond of the Pollybirdia Singularis because of the delightful trans-linguistic pun at work. Enjoy. 

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Tanner's Open Tomb

When I went to the Chicago Art Institute a few weeks ago, I was struck by Tanner's painting of Christ's tomb. The painting's ambiguity captivated me. At what point in Passion Week are we encountering Peter and John? 

photo cred: moi
It is clear from the shadowy background that it is either dusk or dawn, and yet, light radiates from within the tomb. Where does the light come from? Is it from torches or some angelic light (I am reminded of Tanner's Annunciation, in which Gabriel is represented as a beam of light)? Are Peter and John watching as Jesus' body is laid in the grave? Or, are they returning after the resurrection to see for themselves the emptiness of the tomb? We are told in the Gospels that Peter, upon hearing from the Holy Women that the tomb was empty, got up and ran to it (Luke 24:12). 

The ambiguity of the painting pressures the viewer to answer this question for himself: if I went to the tomb, would I find it empty? The tomb is open, because the question is open: did he rise or not?

In a lovely little poem, Charlotte Mew remarks how the death of a mere rat can "unmake the spring":

The Trees Are Down

                           "and he cried with a loud voice: 
                      Hurt not the earth, neither the sea, nor the trees"--

Revelation 7.2-3

They are cutting down the great plane-trees at the end of the gardens.
For days there has been the grate of the saw, the swish of the branches as they fall,
The crash of the trunks, the rustle of trodden leaves,
With the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoa', the loud common talk,
        the loud common laughs of the men, above it all.

I remember one evening of a long past Spring
Turning in at a gate, getting out of a cart, and finding
        a large dead rat in the mud of the drive.
I remember thinking: alive or dead, a rat was a god-forsaken thing,
But at least, in May, that even a rat should be alive.

The week's work here is as good as done. There is just one bough
On the roped bole, in the fine grey rain,
        Green and high
        And lonely against the sky.
                  (Down now! -)
        And but for that,
        If an old dead rat
Did once, for a moment unmake the Spring, I might never have thought of him again. 

It is not for a moment the Spring is unmade today;
These were great trees, it was in them from root to stem:
When the men with the 'Whoops' and the 'Whoas' have carted the whole
        of the whispering loveliness away
Half the Spring, for me, will have gone with them.

It is going now, and my heart has been struck with the hearts of the planes;
Half my life it has beat with these, in the sun, in the rains,
        In the March wind, the May breeze,
In the great gales that came over to them across the roofs from the great seas.
        There was only a quiet rain when they were dying;
        They must have heard the sparrows flying,
And the small creeping creatures in the earth where they were lying--
        But I, all day, I heard an angel crying:
          'Hurt not the trees.'

If we answer "no" to the question, then every rat and every fallen tree unmakes the Spring, reminds that all things must die. But, if we answer "yes", then every dead or dying thing is a quiet reminder that "Death, thou shalt die."

Tuesday, January 27, 2015

Constancie #2

I am indebted to my friend and former professor, Karl Maurer, for sending me some notes on the poem I referenced in the previous post (Herbert's "Constancie"). I quote the poem again for reference and beneath it offer his notes. I found them helpful, though I am still pondering the Mark-man.

   Who is the honest man?                           1

He that doth still and strongly good pursue;
To God, his neighbor, and himself most true;
   Whom neither force nor fawning can
Unpinne, or wrench from giving all their due.       5 

   Whose honestie is not
So loose or easie, that a ruffling winde
Can blow away, or glitt'ring look it blinde;
   Who rides his sure and even trot,
While the world now rides by, now lags behinde.     10

   Who, when great trials come,
Nor seeks nor shunnes them, but doth calmly stay,
Till he the thing and the example weigh:
   All being brought into a summe,
What place or person calls for he doth pay.         15

   Whom none can work or wooe
To use in any thing a trick or sleight,
For above all things he abhorres deceit;
   His words and works and fashion too
All of a piece, and all are cleare and straight.    20

   Who never melts or thaws 
At close tentations: when the day is done,
His goodnesse sets not, but in dark can runne:
   The sunne to others writeth laws,
And is their vertue, Vertue is his sunne.           25

   Who, when he is to treat
With sick folks, women, those whom passions sway,
Allows for that, and keeps his constant way;
   Whom others' faults do not defeat,
But though men fail him, yet his part doth play.    30

   Whom nothing can procure,
When the wide world runnes bias, from his will,
To writhe his limbs, and share, not mend, the ill.
   This is the Mark-man, safe and sure,
Who still is right, and prayes to be so still.      35

16 ‘work’ = induce:  OED  <<39. trans.  a. To act on the mind or will of; to influence, prevail on, induce, persuade; (also) to strive or seek to influence in this way; to urge. Chiefly with to, into.  In early use freq. with connotations of cunning or deceit.>>  E.g. <<1610   P. Holland tr. W. Camden Brit. i. 532   Yet could hee not bee wrought... to disclose his complices.>>

31 ‘procure... to writhe’ = induce to writhe: OED << †5. trans. To try to induce or persuade; to urge, press. Obs.>>  E.g. <<1590   Spenser Faerie Queene iii. i. sig. Bb5,   The famous Briton Prince and Faery Knight,... Of the faire Alma greatly were procur'd, To make there lenger soiourne and abode.>>
     (By the way, I suspect that we should erase the comma after ‘bias’; for ‘procure’ governs the infinitive, and ‘from his will’ seems to go not with that but with ‘runnes’.)

36 ‘bias’ here an adverb:  OED: <<C. adv.  [Compare on the bias, French en biais, de biais.] 1. Obliquely, aslope, athwart. Obs. exc. of dress. 1575   R. Laneham Let. (1871) 25   Wold run hiz race byas among the thickest of the throng. (...) 1878   G. H. Napheys Physical Life Woman   A body-case of strong linen, cut bias.>>

38 ‘writhe’ = coil or wreath; transitively, to force into wreaths.  (Nowadays I think we use the word only intransitively.)  One writer on Herbert (alas, I didn't write down the reference) thinks that it refers to how bowlers twist themselves into unnatural shapes when trying to spin or bias the ball.

39 ‘Mark-man’: acc. to the OED this can mean ‘marksman’, and some readers take it that way; others think that Herbert means not that but a man whose life is a mark for others to aim at or imitate or steer by. 

     It seems very hard to decide.  But the first way seems probably right; for in 36-8 it's the constant man himself who is aiming (so the 'mark' is Goodness, or God, as in Balde's poem 'Virtue').  But I can see why the second way is tempting; compare Shakespeare, and here just change ‘it’ to ‘he’: ‘O no! it is an ever-fixèd mark, / That looks on tempests and is never shaken; / It is the star to every wandering bark, / Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.’

Saturday, January 24, 2015


N.B. There is a George Herbert poem at the end of this, and it is better than my reflections. 

When waiting, especially with children around, the words, "Be patient!" fall with a certain regularity. I remember one historic moment when my notoriously impatient grandmother, while feeding my cousin's infant, and when the child would not stop crying, exclaimed, "Why can't you learn to be patient!" But, he was an infant, so he could not. 

The curious thing about such anecdotes is not so much the absurdity of demanding virtue from an infant but the conception of virtue implied in the demand. When we say, "be patient," what we really mean is "Wait. What you want is coming." But, is the ability to delay gratification while being certain that gratification will come really being virtuous? My question is similar to Glaucon's in the Republic, can you defend justice if you take away pleasure from it? Is patience worthwhile if you're not guaranteed to get what you want, if you are waiting, but unsure of what you're waiting for? 

For the Christian, at least, patience is not merely waiting. Waiting means the ability to put up with something until you get what you want. Patience, on the other hand, means receptivity to the will of God. Or to phrase it ethically rather than theologically, patience is the denial of one's desires and steadfastness in adversity in the belief that ultimately virtue, whether or not it brings what you want, is better than its opposite. Penelope's "steadfast heart" perfectly exemplifies this constancy and patience. She hopes for the return of Odysseus, but she perseveres without any real proof that she will ever get what she wants. Penelope is not merely waiting; she endures, knowing that the instant gratification of a new mate would not bring her happiness. To be patient, to hope requires uncertainty. There is little virtue in "doing the right thing" when we feel guaranteed a reward. 

For this reason, prayer without real patience and hope is perhaps more dangerous than it is good. In Laws 688b-c, the Athenian stranger comments, "it is dangerous for one who lacks intelligence to pray, and the opposite of what he wishes comes to pass. If you want to take me seriously here, you may." What exactly the Athenian stranger's addendum signifies, I am unsure. But, the comment (and the discussion that precedes it) underscores the problem with prayer: we pray for what we want, not what is good for us. 

In his poem "Constancie", George Herbert asks who the honest man is, and as the poem develops, it becomes clear that no single virtue exists without the rest. 

   Who is the honest man?
He that doth still and strongly good pursue;
To God, his neighbor, and himself most true;
   Whom neither force nor fawning can
Unpinne, or wrench from giving all their due.

   Whose honestie is not
So loose or easie, that a ruffling winde
Can blow away, or glitt'ring look it blinde;
   Who rides his sure and even trot,
While the world now rides by, now lags behinde.

   Who, when great trials come,
Nor seeks nor shunnes them, but doth calmly stay,
Till he the thing and the example weigh:
   All being brought into a summe,
What place or person calls for he doth pay.

   Whom none can work or wooe
To use in any thing a trick or sleight,
For above all things he abhorres deceit;
   His words and works and fashion too
All of a piece, and all are cleare and straight.

   Who never melts or thaws 
At close tentations: when the day is done,
His goodnesse sets not, but in dark can runne:
   The sunne to others writeth laws,
And is their vertue, Vertue is his sunne.

   Who, when he is to treat
With sick folks, women, those whom passions sway,
Allows for that, and keeps his constant way;
   Whom others' faults do not defeat,
But though men fail him, yet his part doth play.

   Whom nothing can procure,
When the wide world runnes bias, from his will,
To writhe his limbs, and share, not mend, the ill.
   This is the Mark-man, safe and sure,
Who still is right, and prayes to be so still. 

I particularly love the lines, "The sunne to others writeth laws, / And is their vertue, Vertue is his sunne" because they very subtly hint at love poetry. While this poem may seem emotionless and overly stoic in its approach to virtue, these lines betray that the honest man does not merely act virtuously; he loves virtue. I also love the very last lines as well. The intelligent man prays not for particular things, but for the virtue and wisdom to know what things to pursue and to pursue them with a steadfast heart. As Thomas More once famously said, "The things, Good Lord, that I pray for, give me the grace to labor for." Amen. 

Friday, January 16, 2015

Sleeplessness. Homer.

I bought Robert Tracy's translation of Stone by Mandelstam after reading Seamus Heaney's review of it, and it's really quite lovely. For instance, Tracy's translation of "Бессоница. Гомер." one of the most famous poems from Stone and one I particularly enjoy is without a doubt the best published translation of it I have read (which isn't actually saying a lot, given the dearth of good translations of Mandelstam). Below I give the Russian: 

Бессоница. Гомер. Тугие паруса. 
Я список корвблей прочел до середины:
Сей длинный выводок, сей поезд журавлиный,
Что над Элладою когда-то поднялся.

Как журавлиный клин в чужие рубежи--
На головах царей божественная пена--
Куда плывете вы? Когда бы не Елена,
Что Троя вам одна, ахейские мужи?

И море, и Гомер--все движется любовью.
Кого же слушать мне? И вот Гомер молчит,
И море черное, витийствуя, шумит
И с тяжким грохотом подходит к изголовью.

My own rough, literal translation (I just wanted to give non-Russian speakers a line-by-line translation of the poem. This is not intended to be a poetic translation. To the extent possible, I maintained the Russian grammar):

Sleeplessness. Homer. Stretched sails. 
I read the catalogue of ships through the middle:
That long flock, that train of cranes,
that once took flight over Greece. 

Like a wedge of cranes towards strange borders--
On princes' heads the godlike spume--
Where are you sailing? Were there no Helen, 
What would be a single Troy to you, Achaean husbands? 

And the sea, and Homer--everything moves by love. 
To whom should I listen? And lo, Homer is silent,
And the black sea, rhapsodizing, thunders 
And with a heavy growl draws near to my pillow. 

There are a couple places that require attention. I translated мужи (muzhi) as husbands, because, while muzh at the most fundamental level does mean simply "man". In modern Russian, muzh is much more closely associated with the idea of "husband" than "man" in the abstract. I think, however, that Mandelstam wants us to have both meanings in mind (which is very Greek of him). The line, "everything moves by love" in Russian has what is essentially the equivalent of the Greek middle. Thus everything is moved by love and moves itself through love (the Russian uses the instrumental case, thus not specifying exactly what the connection of movement and love is). I love that in a poem about Homer, Mandelstam uses eccentricities of the Russian language that parallel Greek. 

Robert Tracy's translation:

Sleeplessness. Homer. The sails tight.
I have the catalogue of ships half read:
That file of cranes, long fledgling line that spread
And lifted once over Hellas, into flight.

Like a wedge of cranes into an alien place--
The god's spume foaming in the princes' hair--
Where do you sail? If Helen were no there
What would Troy matter, men of Achaean race?

The sea, and Homer--it's love that moves all things.
To whom should I listen? Homer falls silent now
And the black sea surges toward my pillow
Like a loud declaimer, heavily thundering.

As you can see, Tracy's translation takes a lot of liberties, but in general, the liberties serve the purpose of mirroring (imperfectly, of course) the meter and rhyme of the Russian. Tracy's translation, however, starts to unravel (unravel and get caught by its suitors in the act of doing so) in the last two lines. I don't exactly know what it means to thunder heavily like a loud declaimer. The image is unclear and sloppy and ignores the fact that the Russian verb "витийствовать" in addition to declaiming or speechifying has the sense of rhapsodizing. In a poem about Homer, surely Mandelstam wants us to make this connection and realize that, even as Homer falls silent, the black sea takes his place as rhapsode and poet. 

Dmitri Smirnov's translation (from wikisource:

Insomnia. Homer. The rows of stretched sails.
I've read the catalogue of ships just to the middle:
That endless caravan, that lengthy stream of cranes,
Which long ago rose up above the land oh [sic? should be, of, I think] Hellas.

It's like a wedge of cranes towards the distant shores - 
The foreheads of the kings crowned with the foam of Gods.
Where are you sailing to? If Helen were not there,
What Troy would be to you, oh warriors of Achaea[?]

The sea and Homer - everything is moved by love.
Whom shall I listen to? There is no sound from Homer,
And full of eloquence the black sea roars and roars,
And draws with thunderous crashing nearer to my pillow.

Smirnov's translation is just sloppy, not really worth mentioning (but it's one of the few available online!). He adds words that don't need to be added. In line one, for instance, "rows". M. says nothing about rows. In the second line, the addition of "crowned" is a bit of an interpretation on Smirnov's part. Mandelstam simply tells us the foam is there. We can imagine that it is tossed up by the swift passing of ships, that it even seems crownlike upon the foreheads of kings, but that is not explicitly stated. Again in the final stanza, Smirnov assumes that if one can declaim or rhapsodize, one is full of eloquence. But, again, this is Smirnov's interpretation of Mandelstam's words. And, this interpretive tendency strips Mandelstam's imagery of its force. Mandelstam uses a verbal adverb (I translated it as "rhapsodizing"), thus connecting the activity closer to the main verb (thunders) than to the sea. But, Smirnov replaces the action with a noun and adjective combination (full of eloquence). He tries to reinsert the restless activity of Mandelstam's line by repeating "roars", but the result is a bloated line. 

Sunday, January 11, 2015

The Just Man Justices

I regret my prolonged absence from this blog. My silly side project of a fashion blog ( had been distracting me from TRS for a while. But, when I noticed that some of the posts on this blog, despite not having been updated in a long time continued to get a significant amount of traffic, I decided it was high time to return. 

Over Christmas break, I met up with my friends PLP and GG for drinks. The topic of conversation was a prolonged argument about whether or not language could exist if there were no distinction between seeming and being. It naturally evolved into a conversation about the first couple chapters of Genesis. If Word itself is a creative act on the part of God (which is fascinating if we bear in mind John's words that "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God."), it is somehow bound up in the thing itself. But, what does it mean for Adam to name the animals? After all, they already exist; God has spoken them into being. So, what can Adam's of appellation give to them? 

If we are not trying to elucidate the obscurity of appearance and reality, why speak? But, Hopkins, in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," provides an alternative reason for speech: meditation. It can add nothing to the being of a thing but merely palpates what it is. But, curiously, in this meditative speech, the rules of syntax necessarily breakdown. The distinction between verb and noun becomes irrelevant, for a thing is not just what it is, but what it is is what it does. The just man justices. 

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As kingfisher catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves--goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--
Christ--for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. 

The poem is magnificently lovely. And, one could not begin to enumerate the lovely and intriguing parts of it. But, one thing that seems particularly relevant to me now is Hopkins' choice of verb. Christ plays in ten thousand places. In Plato's Laws, the Athenian stranger describes education as play; a child must play the part of what he will become in order to learn about it. Christ plays in the nature that He created. God plays in Man. He, who knows all, comes down to us and learns with us. The image of God in the first book of Genesis is movement over the face of the waters. God moves, though there cannot possibly be anything for which he moves. He learns though he knows all.