March 30, 2011

"Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty's self and beauty's giver" The Poem Elizabeth Taylor Chose to Be Read at Her Funeral

Previously published here last December as "Something Wonderful: Richard Burton reads Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem 'The Leaden Echo & The Golden Echo'," this poetic pairing was Taylor's chosen elegy. She asked Colin Farrell to recite it, and he remarked, "Elizabeth chose it. It was a tricky poem as well. Even in passing she had me under the thumb, sweating bricks."

Or perhaps she chose it to hear a fading echo of one of her great passions, Richard Burton, recite it one last time.

Brilliant is the only word for this smashing demonstration of the power of the English language.

Richard Burton races through this Hopkins poem with unbelievable speed.

A technical tour de force. See if you can keep up with him by reading silently along. Most will fade....

The Leaden Echo And The Golden Echo
(Maidens' song from St. Winefred's Well)


How to keep--is there any any, is there none such, nowhere known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, . . . from vanishing away?
O is there no frowning of these wrinkles, ranked wrinkles deep,
Down? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there's none, there's none, O no there's none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age's evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death's worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there's none; no no no there's none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.


There is one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun's tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth's air.
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
One. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever's prized and passes of us, everything that's fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matched face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets more, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an ever-lastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace--
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring sighs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty's self and beauty's giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then why should we tread? O why are we so haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,
When the thing we freely forfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept. Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.--
Yonder.--What high as that! We follow, now we follow.--
Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

Posted by Vanderleun at March 30, 2011 1:16 PM
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"It is impossible to speak in such a way that you cannot be misunderstood." -- Karl Popper N.B.: Comments are moderated and may not appear immediately. Comments that exceed the obscenity or stupidity limits will be either edited or expunged.

Having heard this, I believe I have now, at last, heard everything. Everything. Yes, everything beautiful and terrible and lovely and loathsome in a mere minute's breath. Beautiful.

Posted by: Joan of Argghh! at December 8, 2010 3:36 AM

Oh my - so wonderful, poem and reader.
"beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty's self and beauty's giver."
Thanks for posting this.

Posted by: Cyndy at December 8, 2010 5:02 AM

wow. I tripped over the words while reading it aloud in my head.

Posted by: pdwalker at December 8, 2010 8:27 AM

This is amazing. I never knew before how a Hopkins poem should sound.

Posted by: Barry from Victoria at December 8, 2010 9:16 AM


Wikipedia notes that "Hopkins was deeply impressed with the work of Christina Rossetti", and it is getting to be that time of the year, isn't it, Gerard?

Posted by: Cris at December 8, 2010 4:34 PM

I cant believe that you posted this today. I am just back from the cancer hospice where my father died at about noon. This poem really gave me something to think about. I thought about how strong my father was, and so full of vitality just a few months ago (in August) and how quickly he deteriorated. I thought about the terror he must have felt, and how terribly small he looked today when I looked down on him. He was always so careful about himself, his hygiene and his personal appearance, his personal space and his independence. By the end he had lost all of it, and the weathers of age had ripped all of his pretenses away, leaving him "naked on the naked earth" as Malcolm Muggeridge used to say. My dad was a great man, and there are no more like him in the world today, guided by a moral compass and a work ethic forged somewhere in the murky distant past. Maybe people hearing and reading this poem can know him.

Posted by: Henry Delaney at December 9, 2010 2:54 PM

May your father rest with God, Mr. Delaney.

Posted by: vanderleun at December 9, 2010 3:47 PM

How wonderful! I stumbled upon this site while looking up a Hopkins quote John Lawrence said in the Story "The Sword and the Doll" in Van Der Post's The Seed and the Sower. Thank you so much.

Posted by: Alfred Heath at March 16, 2011 3:18 PM

Ah, the beauty of the spoken word in one of the most amazing voices given by God to an actor, Sir Richard Burton. Beautiful.

Posted by: Carmen Hernandez-Ochoa at March 25, 2011 2:09 PM

To hear Richard Burton's glorious reading of this poem, knowing that it was just read at Elizabeth Taylor's funeral and knowing too that she was his greatest love, gave me shivers. Now their love has come full circle with her death.

Posted by: Robin Brasso at March 29, 2011 3:04 PM

Ah...I see why Elizabeth Taylor chose this...rather challenging poem for her funeral. How gorgeously he reads it.

Posted by: yekdeli at March 30, 2011 2:01 PM

Thanks for pointing this out. I'll bump it back for the fact and for the sheer beauty of it.

Posted by: vanderleun at March 30, 2011 3:07 PM