26 April 2017
Towers and Branches
Not of all my eyes see, wandering on the world,
Is anything a milk to the mind so, so sighs deep
Poetry to it, as a tree whose boughs break in the sky.
- Gerard Manley Hopkins
The whole of Oxford is a mixture of ancient stone towers with bells that ring hourly and/or quarter hourly. In between these towers scattered all over the city are trees that are rooted deep and have seen time pass along these busy roads and quieter, narrow passages. This combination of old earth and old stone makes for a dreamy venture everywhere because you can feel the meaning in the air around it all.
As Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote of Oxford:
Towery city and branchy between towers;
It is indeed all these things in his tongue-twisting alliterative poem. This nature that rests within the towery city is the green space and air you breathe. The trees are beautiful, but also essential to life.
When I am amidst these beauties, I try to etch these scenes into my heart so they can stay with me always, and that I can share even a tiny glimpse with others what sort of encounters I had with such environment.
As I walked through Port Meadow north of the city centre, I thought about the lines by Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote about when the poplars were felled (on the edge of Port Meadow) in 1879 (but then re-planted). His verses are printed at the gate into Port Meadow. Words that dive into the heart of appreciating life that God has given us. Not to tear it down, but to help it flourish, for we do not even know the extent of damage we cause when we tear down.
O if we but knew what we do
when we delve or hew-
Hack and rack the growing green!
To have meaning placed on all the ground we trod upon adds value to each thing that depends on it for life. We cannot, as humans, discard the fact that we can take apart and destroy because we want to, but we are responsible for the beauty of creation that flourishes there. To take that away is to deprive future generations of what once was.
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the
I felt Hopkins' words keenly as I walked across Port Meadow. What if that oldest land of freely grazing cattle and horses had been taken away? We would not have the history of the land since 900 To lack such a thing would be to take away a piece of Oxford. So, a visit to such a place was fulfilling in my desire to know more about the place I love so much.
These are the feelings Hopkins felt as they felled the Binsey Poplar trees. He felt the loss of all that trees bring. Their roots grow deeply in the soul and in the landscapes of our hearts, if we pay attention to those roots. It can be something we ignore, like a prick, to let go of right after that, dying away in the echo, forgotten, to bring something modern. Oh, to cherish these walks and places of meaning.