Creating Technology for Social Change

Brooding on the meaning of a word

At the Center for Civic Media, we do a lot of quantitative media analysis, trying to answer questions of public value by finding patterns across millions of articles, tweets, and TV captions. As a former student of poetry, I’m often aware of how much we miss.

Today, a dear friend sent me a link to the gorgeous poem Peace by the 19th century Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. As I read this poem today for the first time, I was deeply moved by the word “brood,” a word which is also prominent in Hopkins’ more famous poem, God’s Grandeur. Here’s Peace:

When will you ever, Peace, wild wooddove, shy wings shut,
Your round me roaming end, and under be my boughs?
When, when, Peace, will you, Peace? I’ll not play hypocrite
To own my heart: I yield you do come sometimes; but
That piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace allows
Alarms of wars, the daunting wars, the death of it?
O surely, reaving Peace, my Lord should leave in lieu
Some good! And so he does leave Patience exquisite,
That plumes to Peace thereafter. And when Peace here does house
He comes with work to do, he does not come to coo,
He comes to brood and sit.
In Hopkins’ Peace, brooding is not a morose, inward act. It is a generative, warmly-creative, empathetically wise and tragic stance of ethical love by the wild, uncontrollable dove of peace–a figure with resonances of the Christian holy spirit, the idea of world peace, and a kind of personal peace that any of us might desire. The brooding individual is often presented as an introvert, but in this poem, to brood is to go beyond talk, to do work, and to give birth to peace and justice alike.
I value the work I do in automated media analysis. I also need to remember the ornate, rich ambiguities that my techniques can never aggregate. Hopkins’ poem was a gorgeous reminder of that today.