“Christ plays,” wrote the great Victorian poet and classical scholar Girard Manley Hopkins in 1877, in “As Kingfishers Catch Fire.” Years ago I took notice of the poem’s title since the kingfisher, a creek-diving bird with bright colors, was a prized sighting on my childhood wilderness forays. We don’t find a single abstract noun anywhere in Hopkins’ sonnet. He writes of beauty and delight, but nowhere names them. For the poet, abstraction distracts; the concrete carries all. Everything we know of beauty and delight unfolds for us by way of this-worldly things we encounter. Kingfisher birds, clanging bells. A rock tossed in a well, rippling its sound. Each thing, being true to itself, selves its way to our awareness through sensuous impressions.
Slow way, way down here. Hopkins is worth more than a skim. “Christ plays in ten thousand places” is more than a mystic’s bumper sticker.