By Meghan Perks || Dumb Ox Summer Intern
I first wrote this poem at the end of the spring semester of this year to say good-bye to a friend who was graduating. During that semester, I had the incredible opportunity to study the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, whose style and thought greatly inspired the meaning behind my farewell. In his poem “As kingfishers catch fire,” Hopkins races through a delightful catalogue of creatures expressing their “selves” through their day to day actions (line 7). It’s an explosive and radiant description, as Hopkins, in his typical style, intermingles and progresses from sound to sound, image to image, rejoicing in the sacramentality of creation and its lovely uniqueness. In the second stanza, however, Hopkins’ tone becomes even more triumphant when he turns to a consideration of man’s act of “self-ing”:
“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.”
Notice the dramatic ringing of Hopkins’ adjectives and nouns, the joyful progression and repetition of verbs, as though it’s impossible for Hopkins to express or capture the totality of the glory that he sees in man, who cannot help but be the image of his Lover, his Savior, his Christ. Again, I say it with Hopkins: Man, just by being himself, cannot help but reveal Christ.
This was why I wrote this poem. You see, we are all thirsting for Love, for that glimpse of the Divine. Sometimes, we grasp for this Love in a perversion of it and are led away from that very Love we crave. Yet, the beautiful thing about our God is that He does not cease to shine in and through His creation, through mankind. Thus, every single person who crosses our path has the ability to point to Christ, tobe an image of Christ to us, to remind us of who he truly is, and this is how Christ draws us to Himself, to His Love that thirsts for us, thirsts to transform us. Walking along with these persons, these images of Christ in our lives, we are led home by the very Love that He constantly reveals in us.
I was incredibly blessed to be an intern with Dumb Ox Ministries this summer, and towards the end of my time there, as I was reflecting on all of the gifts and graces that the Lord poured out to me through the staff and all those whom I met through the internship, I stumbled across this poem again and knew I had to share it with Dumb Ox. Christ revealed Himself to me in so many ways through the people He placed on my path this summer. For this reason, alluding to Hopkins, I have now chosen a title for my poem – “Ten Thousand Faces” – because each person I met through Dumb Ox was one of these ten thousand faces through which Christ “[played]… / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father.” Thank you all for being you and for being Him to me. May the Lord continue to bring people across your path that will be as you were to me – Christ.
(If you would like to learn more about Hopkins and his poetry, I highly suggest Paul Mariani’s biography of him: Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life. It is incredibly good and really helped Hopkins’ poetry come to life for me.)