"The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe"

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

I say that we are wound 
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same 
Is Mary, more by name. 
She, wild web, wondrous robe, 
Mantles the guilty globe, 
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence: 
Nay, more than almoner, 
The sweet alms’ self is her 
And men are meant to share 
Her life as life does air.
If I have understood, 
She holds high motherhood 
Towards all our ghostly good 
And plays in grace her part 
About man’s beating heart,
Laying, like air’s fine flood, 
The deathdance in his blood; 
Yet no part but what will 
Be Christ our Saviour still. 
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh, 
Though much the mystery how, 
Not flesh but spirit now 
And makes, O marvellous! 
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive 
Him, morning, noon, and eve; 
New Bethlems, and he born 
There, evening, noon, and morn— 
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath 
More Christ and baffle death; 
Who, born so, comes to be 
New self and nobler me 
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done, 
Both God’s and Mary’s Son. 
Again, look overhead 
How air is azurèd; 
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand 
Skywards: rich, rich it laps 
Round the four fingergaps. 
Yet such a sapphire-shot, 
Charged, steepèd sky will not 
Stain light. Yea, mark you this: 
It does no prejudice. 
The glass-blue days are those 
When every colour glows, 
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven 
The seven or seven times seven 
Hued sunbeam will transmit 
Perfect, not alter it. 
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft, 
Bloom breathe, that one breath more 
Earth is the fairer for. 
Whereas did air not make 
This bath of blue and slake 
His fire, the sun would shake, 
A blear and blinding ball 
With blackness bound, and all 
The thick stars round him roll 
Flashing like flecks of coal, 
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt, 
In grimy vasty vault. 
So God was god of old: 
A mother came to mould 
Those limbs like ours which are 
What must make our daystar 
Much dearer to mankind; 
Whose glory bare would blind 
Or less would win man’s mind. 
Through her we may see him 
Made sweeter, not made dim, 
And her hand leaves his light 
Sifted to suit our sight. 
Be thou then, O thou dear 
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein 
To wend and meet no sin; 
Above me, round me lie 
Fronting my froward eye 
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there 
Of God’s love, O live air, 
Of patience, penance, prayer: 
World-mothering air, air wild, 
Wound with thee, in thee isled,                                                                                   Fold home, fast fold thy child. 

Adam Thompson