June 2016

Custody of the Eyes

Gerard Manley Hopkins

by Jeffrey Harrison


To look at the world
with devotion,
giving all of himself
to what was given,
sometimes gave him
so much pleasure
he thought it must be
a sin, distracting him
from his devotion
to God. Therefore
the eyes had to be

taken into custody
like a pair of criminals,
kept in the flesh-and-
bone cell of the head,
their gaze cast down
in penitence,
the eyes themselves
watched over
to prevent them from
looking at anything
more than was needed
to get through the day.
For weeks or months
at a time, and once
for half a year,
he denied himself
the beauty he knew
more acutely than others,
as if reducing each thing—
flower, stone, bird—
to a single word,
stripping it of the
he loved to describe
in rushing phrases
that spilled down
his journal’s pages.
But when the penance
ended, his sight
flew out
into the open sky
and over the fields,
innocently coming
to rest on each self-
expressing element
of creation
with such delight
and gratitude
he couldn’t keep
the words from
pouring out of him.

from Into Daylight, by Jeffrey Harrison, Tupelo Press, 2014


Jeffrey Harrison is the author of five books of poetry, including Incomplete Knowledge, runner-up for the Poets’ Prize in 2008, and Into Daylight, published by Tupelo Press in 2014 as the winner of the Dorset Prize and selected by the Massachusetts Center for the Book as a Must-Read Book for 2015. A recipient of Guggenheim and NEA Fellowships, his poems have appeared widely in magazines and anthologies.