A Retreat with Hopkins: Holy Thursday

S. Thomae Aquinatis
Rhythmus ad SS. Sacramentum
‘Adoro te supplex, latens deitas’

Godhead, I adore thee fast in hiding; thou
God in these bare shapes, poor shadows, darkling now:
See, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
Lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting, are in thee deceived;
How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed:
What God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.

On the cross thy godhead made no sign to men;
Here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
Both are my confession, both are my belief,
And I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
But can plainly call thee Lord and God as he:
This faith each day deeper be my holding of,
Daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O thou our reminder of Christ Crucified,
Living Bread the life of us for whom he died,
Lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
There be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Like what tender tales tell of the Pelican;
Bathe me, Jesu Lord, in what thy bosom ran–
Blood that but one drop of has the worth to win
All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.

Jesu whom I looked at veilѐd here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
Some day to gaze on thee face to face in light
And be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.


In his English paraphrase of Aquinas’s Adoro Te Devote, Gerard Manley Hopkins, contains worlds within the liminal space created by the poem. A rising to heaven is counterbalanced by a descent to earth, creating a space in between that the poet inhabits. The Godhead is hiding, the low heart is lost in God, and “Truth himself speaks truly or there’s nothing true.” At the heart of the matter: “Blood whereof a single drop has power to win / All the world forgiveness of its world of sin.” All of the pain of the world can be washed in one drop. The divine/human blood encloses the world, just as “Spring and Fall” encloses “worlds of wanwood leafmeal.” From duality to centrality, there is an aesthetic of unity from paradox. The dichotomous inward/outward movement of the soul and body resonates with the upward/downward movement of heaven condescending to earth and the Incarnation lifting humanity to heaven.

Here’s Hopkins’s poem set to music. You’ll notice that it’s a little different from Hopkins’s exact wording. I believe this is Owen Alstott’s rendering.

[youtube https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0vkukCN82LY]

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