Richard Burton: Absolution
Updated: Oct 24
Images from this 1978 film by Richard Burton kept popping up on my computer. Finally I tuned in, first to the movie, then Richard. And, yes, he did indeed have something to say to us in these hard times. (The link to the scene referenced in this post is below.)
We do not come to be tortured and finally escape.
We come to deepen our understanding of a creative love
that flourishes even in the midst of horror.
Ann: Good morning, Richard. Your film, “Absolution,”* keeps coming up on my radar. God, you were beautiful - and powerful. And the Hopkins** poem. Beyond anything. And here I sit grubby and sick.
Richard Burton: But always beautiful in my eyes. For god’s sake, Madame, don’t you now better yet than to drive yourself down into a rut? Why do you think I forced this conversation upon you? You like many on the planet are going through a seminal change and need all the help you can muster, and yours truly is ready for battle. Always was, actually.
Ann: Yes, you love a good fight. Never did understand why you picked someone like me who does not.
Richard: And there you go again.
Ann: Yeah, I seem to be in a hole.
Richard: Yes, love, in some ways we all are. It’s the dark before the dawn syndrome. Not just a metaphor but a time in which we cannot see and feel negative forces closing in, getting the upper hand, overpowering those who stand for anything other than personal power.
You came here, love, and yes, somewhat at my instigation through the message, not of that movie specifically, but the energy that carried it. The Father I portrayed was supremely self-absorbed, built up by his community to believe in his own infallibility and that of his church. And yet he still yearns for understanding which is still out of reach, as demonstrated by his efforts to teach the Manley Hopkins’ poem, The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo*** to his students as he struggles to try to take in its message for himself – all to no avail.
And here we are, back to the beginning. Everything mortal fades away. No one in human form wants to hear it because otherwise we would all leave and go back home which is your inclination now.
Ann: Yes. And yet I have fear of death, of the unknown though in many ways I anticipate relief.
Richard: Love, this is why you - and many of you reading these words -have come to this pass, come to change your elemental understanding of your mission on this planet. For the record, I finally got it. We do not come to be tortured and finally escape. We come to deepen our understanding of a creative love that flourishes even in the midst of horror.
Ann: Did you? I understand you were an atheist.
Richard: Ha! There are no atheists in foxholes as the saying goes, and we are all in fox holes. A declaration of atheism belies the great fear that the chickens are about to come home to roost. And indeed they did as you see in my presence here with you and others. I should be burning in hellfire, but here I am offering the benefit of my “wisdom” to you, wisdom that is born like the Phoenix from the fire of misconception. But there is an answer as Hopkins tells us:
“Spare! There is one, yes I have one (Hush there!); Only not within seeing of the sun,…’
But “yonder, yonder.” I see it now, though I felt it, sensed it, saw it through a glass darkly even then. But now face to face.
I come to you today from the other side, from yonder, from the halls and mighty caverns of the created universe where Manley Hopkins also found his glimmering faith validated, celebrated, and himself welcomed home. He came to see, he suffered, and he saw. That is what is asked of all of us, for with that sight comes the buy-in, the relief of “That’s what I thought, what I hoped!” uttered on the exhale.
Every time you feel the glimmer of that truth, allow your buy-in to take you by the hand, your issues of the moment will then fade, not into thin air, but into resolve – and, in fact, into “Absolution” for sins that were never yours to claim.
Yours is the journey, keep reading, keep learning, never stop. These perilous times offer us the master lesson:
That which God has created shall never be put asunder.
Keep our eyes on this prize, and follow it yonder.
Ann: OK, that sounds great and no doubt it is from your perspective, but sitting here surrounded by death in one form or another, illness, and cruelty, it doesn’t really resonate.
Richard: (Smiling.) You a stubborn old thing, love, are you not? But that why we love you. Integrity, never take a claim at face valuate, analyze it to death and go off into your lonely cave to stew on the impossibilities of human existence.
Love, I know, none better, where you are coming from. And yet, you’re not so strident anymore, are you? I sense that that little rebellion was mostly for form. For you can see it, hear it, sense it, can you not? Many of us can now that the echoes, both leaden and golden, are getting louder.
Why do you think I chose that poem out of all literature for that scene which was largely improvised? Because it brings the elemental human conundrum out in, if not plain language, then language that paints an indelible picture of each echo, leaden and golden, language that is completely foreign to the young boy who is the object of the lesson for his youth precludes his knowledge.
You are not to be taken to task because you are only now coming upon this great truth, for timing is impeccable no matter where you are on this compendium. We gather now because now is the time.
Ann: Thank you, Richard, god bless.
Richard: As ever was, Madame, and same to you.
October 14, 2023
*Absolution. 1978 film starring Richard Burton. See https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=f3c3_2GO8fQ , scene re Hopkins poem at 6:33, Father Godden (Richard Burton) reading a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, trying to teach it to a student and himself as well. The poem is The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo. Burton admired Hopkins' work and is said to have improvised this scene in this movie.
**Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889. Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ was an English poet and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame places him among leading English poets. He started religious life as an Anglican, joined Cardinal Newman’s Oxford Movement, converted to Catholicism, and eventually joined the Jesuits, serving at his death in poverty stricken Ireland.
*** The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo (Maidens' song from St. Winefred's Well)