Heaven Haven, by Gerard Manley Hopkins:
I HAVE desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.
And I have asked to be
Where no storms come,
Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
And out of the swing of the sea.
If I had to guess, I’d guess that Tolkien read this poem and it influenced his conception of his elves, especially the gray haven to which they can always go to avoid the “very storm of Mordor” and retreat to the green island across the sea “where the leaves fall not.” (Compare this also with Hopkins’ “golden grove unleaving”).
The poem also has interesting echoes from Stevenson’s epitaph–”home is the sailor, home from the sea” and to all the many hymns that compare salvation to reaching the harbor from out of the open ocean.
Unlike many of Hopkins’ poems, the language in this poem isn’t difficult. The only real problem is the line “springs not fail,” which has two different poetic twists in it. Hopkins has taken the conventional “springs do not fail” and put it in the poetic form “springs fail not.” He then changed the word order to “springs not fail.”
This poem is supposed to be about a nun taking the veil. Not a situation that really moves me, I admit. In Mormonism, as much as we may admire the dedication of monks and nuns and sympathize with their desire to live in a more Christian environment, we see their retreat from the world as a kind of failure. God wants us learning courage on the front lines, not deserting to the rear.
But its the universal aspects of the poem that attract. We all feel the need for a haven. We all look forward to heavenly peace.
Which brings out a bit of a contradiction in the gospel’s view of the afterlife. The scriptures tell us that heaven is a haven where we rest. The righteous shall “sit down in his kingdom, to go no more out.”
At the same time, the restored gospel promises us that through the grace of Christ we acquire ever more capability and an ever broader sphere of activity. We join God, who works. We become angels and Gods and members of the council of heaven.
Perhaps the discrepancy is merely a difference between the kingdoms and mansions of heaven. Some worthily rest, some even more worthily labor. But I wonder if it may be that nothing is so restful as doing God’s work in a sure knowledge that success and His praise are assured.