No Worst, yet


No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.
  O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

The above poem is one of the so-called Terrible Sonnets by Gerard Manley Hopkins. They’re not terrible except in the sense of their emotional content; they catalogue Hopkins’ battle with serious issues of depression and in all probability with sexuality.

I discovered Hopkins when I was 17. While others were out discovering drink, sex, drugs and rock and roll, I was reading poetry that made me feel as if I wasn’t the first and I wouldn’t be the last to feel what I felt. My sixth form years were hard ones, not least because in the six months between Christmas and June, during which time I turned 17, three close friends of the same age died. It changed me forever.

This isn’t an easy poem to understand or explain. No worst? The idea that there is no worst and that things can always get worse than the worse we’ve ever experienced is horrific. The feeling of abandonment by God, by Our Lady and by Jesus our Comforter, is one that I cannot even begin to express. I’ve had times where those concepts are like fairytales told to scared children to comfort them.

The mind does have mountains. When I first read those words, I already understood the terror of clinging on with mental fingertips to rocks on an inner mountain range, poised over an abyss, ready to fall if I let go. The only comfort(in the poem’s context) is a poor one, like any port in a storm, that death ends all life, and each day dies with sleep.

This is the Good Friday of the soul, where the best you hope for is an end of pain. I’m not there today, and I hope I won’t be back in that place again but as I wander the world of my own inner landscape, I know that the higher I go, and the further I explore, the greater the chances of finding myself yet again on that dizzying precipice and my finger nails digging into rock and the chasm below me opening like the maw of a monstrous beast from distant and forgotten legends.

No worst, not yet.

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