Once a Week (magazine)/Series 1/Volume 2/The "poste restante"

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Once a Week, Series 1, Volume II (1859-1860)
The "poste restante."—A reverie
by Manley Hopkins



Heart-wearied with the jarring, ceaseless wheels
That move the Present, and the pinching chain
Of arduous nothings, linking day to day,
I throw myself on Aganippe’s brink,
And bury deep my brows in honey’d thyme,
And dally with the asphodels,
And cry aloud for some unsandall’d nymph
To flute me in the ear with slender pipe,
White-footed nymph, haunting the sacred spring;—
Or gaze an hour in those crystalline wells,
Till the blue heaven within them seems more real,
And larger, than the upper, spanning sky.
Then, as I list the runnels murmuring down
O’er shining pebbles, marged by lilac cups
Of crocus, and the slender, upturn’d flow’r
Whose virgin bosom, vein’d with tenderest green,
Opes to the zenith sky,—like Innocence,[1]
Visions attend me, and the gaudy day
Changes to pictured night. The earth is gone;
And Fancy reigns supreme upon her starry throne.


O, might I live my yesterdays again,
And feel the heart’s beat as in hours of yore!—
Twas in a famed, grey, mouldering town of Spain,
Which from the hills frowns on its southern shore,
That first I felt my sinewy arm grown weak,
And flush and pallor chase my unused cheek.

I stood before an ancient convent’s wall,
Whence, through a grated window, look’d—no nun,
Nor friar—but a grim official tall;
Who for an hour, about the set of sun,
Dispensed, for maravedis paid and given,
Letters—which made the breast a hell, or heaven.

Six weeks from home and what seem’d weary care,
My rough and mannish soul grown somewhat tender;
Whether ’twas Autumn, or the mountain-air,
Or coal-black eyes, or dirt, had been the mender
Of my rude nature, I know not; but know
That day I felt disturbed, and changed, and low.

For I, in mad resolve, had sent a letter,
Some ten days erst—being alone in Spain—
To one at home, in all respects my better.
And being sent, I curst my rashness vain.
Ah! wretch,” said I, “you’ve shut the door of hope,
Which never more, even in dreams, may ope!”

And yet I came, tending due maravedis
At the barred window in the convent old;
Where was a knot of merchants, monks, and ladies,
Who all seem’d warm, whilst I was shivering cold.
And when my turn was, I could hardly speak
My errand, with hoarse voice, and blanching cheek.

There came a pause. Th’ official left the grate,
Interpreting my name in accents Spanish;
I, the meanwhile, first fainting, next irate
T’ have let the wretch who held my fate evanish,
When back he came—my “end-all and my be-all”—
Holding a letter: “More to pay—one rial!”

A gasp—a grasp—’twas mine! There stood my name,
The shaggy, whiskered me!—in sweet, small hand.
E’er to have writ was more to me than fame.
O, happy winds, that wafted from my land
The ship that bore my letter! Blessed town!
And blest official—scowling, gaunt, and brown!

Yes! There the letter small, with feminine writing,
Lay in my dewy hand—’twas no mistake:
Christian and surname, in correct inditing,
If ’twere no dream from which I might awake.
Spite of bystanders, I remember this,—
Giving her missive kiss, and kiss, and kiss.

Whether I read my letter in the street,
Or to the hostel flew, I cannot tell:
But when th’ enclosed words my eyes did meet,
The weight which lifted off my heart, full well
I do remember; and the sense of rest,
And warmth, and light, that fill’d my joyful breast.

Words calm and hopeful, womanly and wise,
Words that an angel might have penn’d or read;
They spoke a mood of pleasure, tears, surprise,
As if new heavens had open’d overhead,
And re-allumed the world on which she stood,
Like evening sunlight on a summer wood.

And I remember, too, at that same hour
A change came o’er me. There a man I breath’d,—
No more a youthful trifler; but with power
All armed, to wage life’s war with sword unsheathed.
I’ve fought! And shrinèd Love has, midst the din,
An inner-temple found—in Lincoln’s-Inn.

  1. The grass of Parnassus.