Found haiku: Gerard Manley Hopkins

I’m still feeling under the weather from semi-collapsing at the end of a half-marathon I ran on Sunday in 88-degree weather (it’s Wisconsin, and it’s been a cold spring, so no snickering from you Southwesterners). Pretty much confined to the couch, since standing up for more than a few minutes makes me dizzy. There are worse things, I guess. I’m surrounded by all the books and magazines I put off reading all semester, not to mention the omnipresent, time-sucking Interweb.

I’m having a hard time following a train of thought even long enough to write a sub-seventeen-syllable poem, though. So at the moment I’m taking it easy on my fried brain by resorting to found haiku, mostly from prose by Gerard Manley Hopkins, better known as a poet — one of my all-time favorites. The first couple haiku are from poems. The rest are from his journals, which every aspiring poet should read. The man minutely observed and described everything he saw; whole paragraphs read like poems. I can’t help thinking that if he had known about haiku, he would have tried his hand at it.

I may repeat this experiment at intervals, mining the works of other poets and prose writers for haiku-like material (full credit to the original authors, of course). I agonized briefly over whether this exercise was a) cheating, or b) meaningful, but then decided I didn’t care. I enjoy it and it’s my blog. And I do think I’m learning something from this about what writing is haiku-like and what isn’t.

I’ve taken the liberty of haiku-izing Hopkins’s words by arranging them in three lines and removing some punctuation, but otherwise these are direct quotations, with no words removed or added.

So…here’s Gerard:

the moon, dwindled and thinned

to the fringe of a fingernail

held to the candle


this air I gather

and I release

he lived on


mealy clouds

with a not

brilliant moon


blunt buds

of the ash, pencil buds

of the beech


almost think you can hear

the lisp

of the swallows’ wings


over the green water

of the river passing

the slums of the town



the organization

of this tree is difficult


putting my hand up

against the sky

whilst we lay on the grass


silver mottled clouding

and clearer;

else like yesterday


Basel at night!

with a full moon

waking the river


the river runs so strong

that it keeps the bridge



some great star

whether Capella or not

I am not sure


two boys came down

the mountain yodelling

we saw the snow


the mountain summits

are not the place

for mountain views


the winter was called severe

there were three spells

of frost with skating


the next morning

a heavy fall

of snow


at the beginning of March

they were felling

some of the ashes in our grove


ground sheeted

with taut tattered streaks

of crisp gritty snow


thunderstorm in the evening

first booming in gong-sounds

as at Aosta


I noticed the smell

of the big cedar

not just in passing


the comet —

I have seen it at bedtime

in the west


as we came home

the stars came out thick

I leaned back to look at them


— Gerard Manley Hopkins, from Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by W.H. Gardner


4 thoughts on “Found haiku: Gerard Manley Hopkins

  1. Hey, you’ll get no snickering from me. Sure, 88 degrees is pleasantly cool compared to the heat of an Arizona summer but you’d never catch me running a half marathon in those temps. Come to think of it, you’d never catch me running a half marathon . . . in *any* temps! Kudos to you.

    Anyhow, I think it’s pretty interesting what you’re doing. I’ve never read any Gerard Manley Hopkins but I think I should. I particularly like the river through the bridge and also the yodeling boys. Oh, and crisp, gritty snow! That phrase fills me with writer envy!

    I also like your idea of writing haiku based on old memories. That’s an intriguing idea. It seems to me the passage of time time may distill remembered events to their most emotionally persistent and universal qualities. That’s my theory and I’m sticking to it.

    • Hey Steve, thanks for propping up my ego, I was kind of feeling like a dumbass for getting myself so messed up from running in the heat. I bet you could run 13 miles if you tried, it’s mostly just putting one foot after the other — about 26,000 times, according to my pedometer.

      I also bet you have actually read Hopkins at some point, they love to assign him in school. Or at least they did in the schools I went to. He’s got a poem called “Pied Beauty” which should pretty much just blow you away. Also “The Windhover.” Also “God’s Grandeur,” which is impressive even to a heathen like me. (Hopkins was a Catholic priest and a lot of his poems are about telling God how great the world he made is.)

      I’m glad we share the same theory about writing haiku based on memories. But you phrased it a lot more elegantly than I did. 🙂

    • Yes, I have been reading and LOVING the odd inkwell for a long time now (and in fact you are in my blogroll 🙂 ). You do amazing things with your found poetry. Thanks so much for stopping by and for the kind words!

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