come you indoors

Posted by on November 21, 2012

candle indoors

Lit house from the park at dusk © 2012 Julia Mason Wickes.


The Candle Indoors

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
I muse at how its being puts blissful back
With yellowy moisture mild night’s blear-all black,
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye.
By what window what task what fingers ply,
I plod wondering, a-wanting, just for lack
Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack
There / God to aggrandise, God to glorify. –

Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire
Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault:
You there are master, do your own desire;
What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbor deft-handed? are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt?

* * *

The image of this house struck me as our family was walking back to our car at the park near our house, where we had been running around on the ball field and the sun had gone down before we finally left to go home. Tomorrow is Thanksgiving and it seemed appropriate to find a Gerard Manley Hopkins poem–the sensitive monk, the slightly self-tortured, the innovator word-smith, the pre-dating anyone else who ever did anything like this with words, the ever inward-looking, self-chastising, softener of moral harshness with words’ beauty only. This is a poem of his that I have not given much attention to in the past, maybe because it never before touched on any experience I could relate to, but now it seems to stand out from my little, old and yellowed paperback copy of his poetry. Reading it I realize that I do not have the tools to really understand his intention, sitting here in this century. A few things are clear. He comes upon a lit window in the dark outdoors and the light hitting his eye prompts his curiosity, an outward-turned, other-focused wondering. And it seems clear, by the end, that he is alluding to the gospel parable of removing the beam in one’s own eye. Maybe the salt in the final line is also an allusion to the gospel salt that has lost its savor, but this would depend entirely on the definition of “spendsavour.” I do not own a copy of the OED. If I did, I would also look up “trambeams.”

And who is the “you” in the first line of the second stanza? I find myself assuming that he is talking to himself: “Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire / Mend first and vital candle in close heart’s vault: / You are the master, do your own desire.” Correct or not, I read it this way: In the first stanza, his curiosity goes outward toward the industrious fingers of another– a stranger? Is he feeling envy, or just a yearning for a life that is different from his own, a work that is other than his own? But this is no good, so in the second stanza, he commands his attention back from outward to inward, back into the vault of his own heart, where he is at home, where is, at least, if nowhere else, master.

I am honestly not sure if this is what Hopkins was expressing, but today, this is how I read it, probably because I am projecting my own experience onto the poem.

Going back to work– even though part time– has been a big adjustment. I still love this little job and I think it has been the right thing presenting itself at the right time. But I find myself more tired, more taken up, with less room inwardly and outwardly for other things, many number of things. This is what happens when you work; I had forgotten. And I had forgotten what it feels like to have to perform for others– to know that what you do needs to measure up to a standard set by another. And I forgot about what it’s like to have to wonder about things like what are the boundaries between being personal and professional, and the dynamics of power in a work situation, and the like. And the thing is– my job is very mom-and-pop; it is low stress, low key. And yet, here are all of these issues, all the same. They come, part and parcel, with the work place, no matter how big or small that place is. Those concerns burn up their fair share of life’s energy–those and the inevitable moments of standing over a gigantic copying machine, trying to figure out why it keeps jamming, and opening and closing, opening and closing, its labyrinthine little compartments to pluck out the hot, trapped paper. There is nothing like this to make me wonder, “How did I get here again, crawling around on my knees at the foot of a copying machine? How much time do I have to put in before I am important enough to have someone doing this for me?” Then comes the answer: Quite likely never. All roads currently pointing to never.

I do not know where my life is headed, but I think it is good right now, despite the pervasive problem of feeling tired most of the time. The only thing I would change radically if given one wish by a genie would be this: to have a break from responsibilities two days out of every seven and sleep, completely uninterrupted, the way single people do on weekends. No need to tamper with the other five days. I am not lazy. Bring on the toddler or the alarm clock at 6:30 am. But this seven days a week of early rising, followed by another lump set of seven days of early rising– this zero-tolerance policy toward laziness–is really one of the less believable features of adulthood.

But my eldest got up Tuesday morning and, for whatever reason, decided she was going to make everyone breakfast. She was determined and excited and indubitably cheerful and eager to impress. Jeff thankfully guided her into the safety of raisin toast–several batches of it. We all ate it with various spreads and enjoyed our child-made, adult-supervised breakfast. But it occurred to me that this may be a pre-curser to a time when both of my children will, at the very least, be able to get up and make their own breakfasts.

I am feeling elated and a little turned inside out after finishing Flight Behavior, a truly fantastic new novel by Barbara Kingsolver. I remember feeling sure of her genius after reading The Poisonwood Bible, and now I am doubly sure. Any novel written in 2012 that can deal with red America, climate change, politics, feminism, faith, and east Tennessee, and still come out as Real Literature is the work of a genius by any standards. She successfully avoided at least five kinds of major literary peril, and made me cry several times in addition. I want to write something up about this beautiful novel– exploring all of its themes and characters–an essay if you will. And I might. But for now I am just lost in the admiration of the author, and such admiration does tend to pull me outward, like the candle indoors, requiring a little prompting and self-coaching to come back to myself and remember to tend to my own life, my own little vault, and what my own fingers might ply, given more favorable circumstances, or not.

So, for now: Thanksgiving. Come you indoors. I am truly excited–an eager beaver– to see family and friends and eat all of the wonderful things that we are going to eat on Thursday, and maybe take advantage of a little bit of sleeping in, courtesy of grandparents.

  1. Evelina
    November 21, 2012

    Thank you for writing the things I would like to but I can't!
    Our days, and weeks, and months, are just the same – feeling tired after feeling tired, and last Saturday Matteo had a breakfast on his own. I don't even remember what it was but I remember myself telling him, while evidently sleeping at the same time: "Well done, little one, you are such a big boy!", when he came to my bed to tell me everything.
    I was really hoping, and really wondering, if a less stressful job than the academical one could be more appropriate to me and the needs of the family. I'm afraid you're right, no matter how important the job is, all the tensions are there.
    And I'll definitely come back to that book… some day, when I'm able to.
    I so much like your way of writing!

  2. Kate T.
    November 21, 2012

    I DO own a copy of the complete OED (probably our most extravagant impulse purchase ever, secondhand, from Amazon), and I can tell you that Hopkins is credited as the only source of "trambeams." They are the tracks on which first coal-mining carts, and later streetcars and trains, run. "Spendsavour" is another invention of his, but the OED thinks he's using it to mean "that which has lost its flavour."

    Thanks for vouching for Kingsolver's latest; I was on the fence about requesting it from the library, but will now definitely do so. Happy Thanksgiving, and enjoy sleeping in!

  3. Julia
    November 21, 2012

    Thanks for the kind comments, and for the complimentary OED definitions. I also got an email from another friend who looked up the definitions for me. Who needs a copy of the OED when you have friends like these?

  4. Manuela
    November 22, 2012

    Julia, I miss you. I did not expect to see a post from you this week, but was delighted that you were able to do it.
    Loved the poem!
    I hope you get to rest and sleep in and have some wonderful time with friends and family.

    Thanks for the book recommendation, I will definitely search for it in our library. I always love it when you mention and write about the books your read.