“Where springs not fail” ~ on not losing hope

Where springs not fail” ~ on not losing hope

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail,
And a few lilies blow.

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.

Heaven-Haven Gerard Manley Hopkins


If you’ve been reading this blog for a while, then you’ll know that the poems of Hopkins have always spoken to me. I think this was the first poem of his I read as a teenager and I’ve always loved it.

Perhaps the concept of the wellspring began here for me. I do not know. I have written extensively about springs, wellsprings and the metaphysical meanings and implications of both. I’ve used the idea of groundwater seeping deep and then eventually springing back up, purified and revivified, as a metaphor for the creative process. I’ve written an entire novel (Strangers and Pilgrims) about a healing spring, the waters of which will heal broken hearts and spirits.

But I have begun to lose heart and hope. In the wake of the general election, in the face of the continued wall of horror that is the news, and in the constant onslaught of things I can do nothing to mend, I have begun to buckle. I cannot carry the world’s woes; I cannot even manage to carry my own personal woes very well now, and they’re trivial by comparison to what many bear each day.

A few weeks ago, though, I found a wellspring. I didn’t happen upon it; rather my husband had been taken to it as a part of something else entirely and he was so struck by it that a few days later we went back. You would not find it readily; deep in woodland, with no visible paths, you had to know it was there to find it. At one time, this spring and others in the same lands, supplied all the freshwater needs of Ipswich.

Around six feet across, roughly circular, and entirely unexpected, it was filled with water so incredibly clear it was invisible. At the bottom of the pool, perhaps three or four feet deep, the spring itself bubbled up in a constant and quite mesmerising pattern of churning up the sand. Viewed from above, it looked a little like a volcano erupting with ash. Shining specks of mica and quartz gleamed as the spring poured into the pool; pure white shells of ancient molluscs turned over and over before being lost. The pool spilled over into a stream that chuckled and sang and ran on under moss covered branches. It was like another world, and one I’d forgotten existed. The water was icy cold, and sweet to taste and if the day had been warmer I might have bathed in it.

I cannot rationally explain why this place lifted my spirits and the memory of it continues to do so. Nothing in my world is changed materially by it. Logically I know that such springs exist but it is the experience of being close to one that reminds me that there are things that do not fail and fall away when we do. I do not know whether my own creative springs will ever be restored, but I still desire in my heart of hearts to go “where springs not fail.” And that, with faith, has to be enough.

Film of the spring on my Facebook author page:


12 thoughts on ““Where springs not fail” ~ on not losing hope

  1. Lovely GMH has always intrigued and inspired me too – his language is so ‘other’ yet so real and descriptive of feelings for which you think there are no words. I want to find a wellspring like yours, but have no idea where to look….


    • Have you looked at the group of FB for holy wells? There’s dozens and dozens around the country; I keep wanting to visit new ones!


  2. Hi Viv,
    I, too, love Hopkins’ poetry – he truly manages to convey both the brightest, soaring beauty of the world and the terrible depths. I don’t know anyone else who spans both extremes with such grace and authenticity. I also loved your wellspring and I hope it continues to provide a steady flicker of hope for you in a difficult, dark time…


  3. My wellspring was in a place we called the rock garden not far from where I grew up as a child and the spring water flowed freely for all of us. My uncle necklace from New York refused to drink Philadelphia water but he would fill up jog after jug of the water from the spring in the rock garden


  4. My mother had GMH by her bedside.When she died I snatched it up. I know I have it on my shelves and now I’m going to tear through to find him again. I love your wellspring story and recognise it well. Those moments when the simplest thing is suddenly invested with beauty and truth and consolation. It was quite clearly a gift.


    • It is said that before enlightenment, we chop wood and draw water; after enlightenment, we chop wood and draw water. Yet all has changed.
      My GMH is very battered; has survived university and countless house moves and yet, I still cannot recite the ones I love but have to look at the words on the page.


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