There is a poet called Gerard Manley Hopkins who wrote this line and many more lines as well, in the 19th century. This line is the title of one of the ‘terrible sonnets’. This means one of the sonnets he wrote during a time of profound depression and anguish that Hopkins seemed to have experienced for most of his life.
But I didn’t recognise the words when somebody once asked me about them hoping that I might. Then later I found copies of his poetry and read all of it.
I found the poem: No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief…
Then, one day, an old older couple from interstate came into the shop and asked for something for their son who had depression, something good to read, not necessarily happy but really good. Nothing pretentious. They said they would do anything to help him and that they were thinking that illness really was the night side of life. They asked me if anyone had written much about it. They looked impossibly sad.
I said that yes, people had written of it, had always written of it.
(I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.)
I asked them if their son might read poetry.
They said he might give it a go.
(Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark)
They asked me if I meant poetry that would actually go there.
(O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall)
I said yes and they withdrew to inspect the poetry books and also the thrillers.They asked if this poet, Hopkins, was from the classics, books not so relevant or useful anymore…
(And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.)
I said carefully that you have to read it for yourselves and then you will know if something is good for you (or not).
(..all things counter, original, spare, strange;
(Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
They bought a copy of Gerard Manley Hopkins because ‘you can’t go wrong for $5’ and also Wizard and Glass by Stephen King because he is a pretty crazy writer, good perhaps for distraction.
I wished them all the best. I have not ever seen them again.
(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, Whát I do is me: for that I came.)
Poetry by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889).
Photography by Michael Duliba