It’s sometimes easy to forget that Christ’s Resurrection occurred as an event in time and that much of human history took place before the Resurrection. Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest and poet of the late 19th century, reflects on this reality in his poem, “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.” He considers the impact that the event of the Resurrection has had on the world and on mankind by first starkly presenting the natural world and man’s place in it before Christ’s salvific act and then relating the earth-shattering effects of this act. The poem reads:

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-

Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches.

Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,

Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.

Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare

Of yestertempest’s creases; | in pool and rut peel parches

Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches

Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there

Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.

But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark

Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!

Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark

Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone

Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark

Is any of him at all so stark

But vastness blurs and time | beats level. Enough! the Resurrection,

A heart’s-clarion! Away grief’s gasping, | joyless days, dejection.

Across my foundering deck shone

A beacon, an eternal beam. | Flesh fade, and mortal trash

Fall to the residuary worm; | world’s wildfire, leave but ash:

In a flash, at a trumpet crash,

I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and

This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,

Is immortal diamond.

The speaker of the poem begins by viewing man from the perspective of belonging to a violent, ever-changing, destructive nature. From this perspective, man is a powerless victim of mortality, until suddenly the Resurrection of Christ breaks into his thoughts as it did into human history like “a trumpet crash,” and the mystery of the Resurrection solves the paradox of man’s existence.

In this first part of the poem directed towards nature, the diction is composed of active verbs and one-syllable words packed together in quick succession. Light’s lashes “lace, lance, pair” and the wind “ropes, wrestles, beats” (lines 4-5). Nature is abrupt, alive, and aflame. The active language, the overabundance of stressed syllables, and the unrelenting reappearance of the same cacophonous sounds through alliteration reveal nature as the speaker sees it, as a constant movement towards violent destruction.

Man interjects himself into the speaker’s thoughts in line 10, not so abruptly as the next reality will present itself, but still with a force capable of altering the speaker’s perspective. Man, nature’s “bonniest, dearest…clearest-selved spark,” is subjected to the same paradox of never-ending impermanence as are the things of nature (line 10). The thoughts of man are destroyed just as his footprints upon the earth are destroyed, and the speaker of the poem cannot help but yell out in desperation at his impermanence. He shouts, “O pity and indignation!” after realizing that man is in the same “unfathomable… enormous dark / Drowned” as the rest of pitiful existence (lines 12-13). Man is set apart from the rest of nature, for he was created as the “disseveral… star,” but he is somehow still utterly powerless in the face of mortality (line 14). The speaker is left in chaos and confusion when he views man only as the victim of nature and mortality.

The poem does not end in chaos, however. Once again, a new reality interjects itself into the poem, this time more abruptly and dramatically, for it comes at the brink of the speaker’s desolation. At the end of line 16 he shouts, “Enough! the Resurrection.” One word, “Resurrection,” brings relief to the chaos and a much-needed pause for breath. The speaker commands: “A heart’s clarion! Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection” (line 17). The speaker’s mood has already changed drastically within two lines, from confused dejection to a confidence worthy of making commands.

The next line expounds on the mystery of the Resurrection by intimately relating it to man, and the speaker personalizes the poem for the first time by saying, “Across my foundering deck shone / A beacon, an eternal beam” (lines 18-19). This “beacon” is the cross, hidden within a pun in the word “across.” Finally, the paradox of man as a being both “stark” and yet the “spark” of nature is solved through the paradox of the Incarnation: “I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am” (line 22). Although man’s “flesh [fades]” and his “mortal trash [falls] to the residuary worm,” still man “is,” because his “spark,” or soul, is held in existence as “immortal diamond” (lines 10, 24). Man’s identity lies in simply being, because when his flesh fades, his soul will be united to Being itself, locked in eternity as immortal diamond (line 24). The image of man as a diamond justifies his immortality by emphasizing his preciousness, a preciousness earned only by Christ’s salvific act. The event of the Resurrection is certainly the greatest comfort in all of human history.