Study Guide to “Patience, hard thing! the hard thing but to pray”
Patience was to become a focus during the last eight years of Hopkins’s life, strained slowly out of his experiences. As Ignatius counseled, it was to be patience in the midst of desolation, and Hopkins knew a fair bit of desolation in his short forty-four years. Hopkins practiced attentive patience, learning from spiritual writings, creation, other people, and from Him who is Patience, storing away little kindnesses. Patience, the “hard thing,” crystallized into “crisp cones,” and the “crisp cones” filled with “delicious” sweetness. One hundred and thirty years later, we can rob the hive and savor the honey of his words as a remedy for our own troubled souls.
Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:
- Hopkins went on a long retreat every year to practice the Spiritual Exercises of Ignatius of Loyola. Spiritual Exercise VIII states: “Let him who is in desolation strive to remain in patience, which is the virtue contrary to the troubles which harass him; and let him think that he will shortly be consoled, making diligent efforts against the desolation…” How might this reflection have influenced Hopkins’s writing of “Patience, hard thing!”?
- Think about how Hopkins, always attentive to nature, packs all these close observations into his lines and lessons: how hard surfaces like cliffs remind him of the hardness of life, how the ivy and the berries (“purple eyes”) illustrate the role of patience, and how the bees symbolize God’s redemption and the distillation of his and our patience into sweet honey and a resurrected hope.