Virginia Barton

14 February 2018: Lent


14 February 2018


Gerard Manley Hopkins gave up writing poetry for Lent when he entered the Jesuit Seminary. I am going to follow his example and give up writing my Commonplaces for Lent. Not, I fear, with the high and noble motives offered by the poet, but rather because I feel it’s time for a sabbatical.

I have always wanted one of these mysterious and enviable spaces in the lives of my academical chums. A sabbatical can be anything from a term to a year. Mine will be, God willing, just 40 days. Hopkins, that pale, ascetic master of the English language, changed our ideas irrevocably where verse was concerned. I shall change nothing, but perhaps come to terms with What Next.


It’s Ash Wednesday today and during Lent we should fast, give alms, and perform good deeds. I think it’s all about giving? Giving up a habit, giving  a portion of income with gladness not grudge, and  giving one’s time to others, perhaps the most difficult gift of all to give?

Let there be no surprise or breast-beating at failure on some or all counts. Even giving up chocolate isn’t easy when confronted with a box of Lindt truffles or Hershey’s specials.


The snowdrops will be over by the time I pick up the Commonplaces at Easter.

“Have an appropriate Lent!” as someone said to me today – what can they have meant?






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