The Alchemist In The City Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Alchemist In The City

Rating: 3.2

My window shews the travelling clouds,
Leaves spent, new seasons, alter'd sky,
The making and the melting crowds:
The whole world passes; I stand by.

They do not waste their meted hours,
But men and masters plan and build:
I see the crowning of their towers,
And happy promises fulfill'd.

And I - perhaps if my intent
Could count on prediluvian age,
The labours I should then have spent
Might so attain their heritage,

But now before the pot can glow
With not to be discover'd gold,
At length the bellows shall not blow,
The furnace shall at last be cold.

Yet it is now too late to heal
The incapable and cumbrous shame
Which makes me when with men I deal
More powerless than the blind or lame.

No, I should love the city less
Even than this my thankless lore;
But I desire the wilderness
Or weeded landslips of the shore.

I walk my breezy belvedere
To watch the low or levant sun,
I see the city pigeons veer,
I mark the tower swallows run

Between the tower-top and the ground
Below me in the bearing air;
Then find in the horizon-round
One spot and hunger to be there.

And then I hate the most that lore
That holds no promise of success;
Then sweetest seems the houseless shore,
Then free and kind the wilderness,

Or ancient mounds that cover bones,
Or rocks where rockdoves do repair
And trees of terebinth and stones
And silence and a gulf of air.

There on a long and squared height
After the sunset I would lie,
And pierce the yellow waxen light
With free long looking, ere I die.

Michael Pruchnicki 05 March 2010

In the opening stanza, the speaker sees the city through the window. He is a passive observer of the passing scene. Crowds do NOT achieve much of anything. Indeed it is the men and masters who plan and build the towering buildings that he sees. The speaker reflects on his own endeavors which require much longer periods of time to reach fulfillment. Is he contemplating his priestly duties as a Jesuit? Or is he striving to express himself and his ideas about God in the weekly sonnets he writes? Recall that none of his poetry was acclaimed in his brief lifetime - perhaps a man of God must deal with longer spans of time because of the infinite nature of his calling? The speaker mentions his 'cumbrous shame' which burdens him when he deals with other men. The 'thankless lore' he refers to may be the efforts to write his particular kind of poetry and thereby express the glory of God. I think that Hopkins realized that merely invoking the God he adored was not enough to bring into being the magic and beauty of his vision! When he meets those periods of doubt and near-despair that afflict him spiritually, then he longs for the wilderness and the houseless shore as he pierces the yellow waxen light of creation. Note how the passive man in stanza one becomes one who desires weedy soil, who sees city pigeons veering as they sail through the bearing air (that which holds everything up) , who marks the tower swallows who inhabit all between the tower-top and the ground - he has become activated in his vision!

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M Asim Nehal 29 July 2016

Wonderful analysis of the poem, I liked it.

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Terence George Craddock 05 March 2010

Hopkins observes in the opening stanza, that everything is changing altering and achievements are made by crowds who waste no time, while he stands still and is passed by. He can only watch ‘travelling clouds’, he is ‘Leaves spent’ but aware of ‘new seasons, alter'd sky, ’ and the happiness others feel in fulfilling their dreams. The making and the melting crowds: The whole world passes; I stand by. They do not waste their meted hours, But men and masters plan and build: I see the crowning of their towers, And happy promises fulfill'd. Hopkins gives a reason for his failure in stanza three, admits he cannot transmute gold in stanza four, describes the shame of failure he feels in stanza five, expanding upon it with the separated fourth line of this stanza; exclaiming ‘More powerless than the blind or lame’, to describe an absolute inability to refire ‘The furnace’ of his former creativity and dreams. To escape the city and his ‘thankless lore; ’ Hopkins, a relic, an obsolete failed metaphorical alchemist in the city; will flee to the pastoral countryside to contemplate ‘With free long looking’ before he dies.

7 1 Reply
Kevin Straw 06 March 2010

Why are we having this poem so soon after it was commented on 5th March? Do the guardians of this site have no better system than this?

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Himaya Marinas 05 March 2009

City is crowded, people in a hurry and they were too busy.Too occupied to notice what the city's beauty has to offer.But this poem open ups the hidden essence of wonderful possesion on it.That an ordinary person would seem to admire.

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Thomas Vaughan Jones 05 March 2014

Gerald Manley Hopkins. One of the great sonnet writers before WWI overshadowed the form. Enjoy the skill, the rhyming rhythm he employs in this poem, where he relaxes in the sheer joy of being lazy. He's quite happy to watch everybody else at work, but he would rather enjoy nature and watch the world go by. After all, when a man's work is finished, we will all recognise our mortality. If he was married to my Missus though, sooner or later he would have to do something about those weeds.

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Karen Sinclair 05 March 2014

This is such a wonderful read! As one appreciates the beauty of nature as the sun shines he wonders the trivialities of buildings put into place by the final building plot a grave. I believe this is stating to look around at all of the sites of life not just getting stuck in the rut of the money makers Who end up in the ground as nothing more than the rest of us. My interpretation anyway

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Pranab K Chakraborty 05 March 2012

......holds no promise of success; / Then sweetest seems the houseless shore, / Then free and kind the wilderness, ..............

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Manonton Dalan 05 March 2012

i believe it's time to cycle this poems this appeared mar 05 2007 and for every year on this date. it would be more interesting if they replace these 365 poems that has been scheduled to appear automatically at same date ever since when 2007 to be exact.

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Carlos Echeverria 05 March 2012

The existential angst of a spiritual person in a material world.

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