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Poetic Warnings in FX’s Justified and Hopkins

On Justified, Boyd Crowder is the eloquent outlaw of Harlan, Kentucky. He loves stealing money and blowing things up — and can persuade almost anyone to trust him. He’s sweet, too; as Noel Murray of the AV Club explains, “Like a lot of criminals in pulp stories, Crowder dreams of piling up enough money to allow him to buy a big house and live the straight life with his true love, Ava.”

In the show’s series finale, Boyd is chasing down a big payday. Boyd stole ten million from Avery Markham, only to have it stolen from him by his fiancee (and double-crosser), Ava. He tracks her to a recluse’s cabin in the Kentucky hills. She fled hours before but, before she left, she and her uncle Zachariah buried two things: the ten million, and the half-decayed corpse of the cabin’s owner, which they had stumbled across.

After shooting Zachariah, Boyd searches for the money. On the verge of giving up, he finds a shovel. When the episode next returns to Boyd’s storyline, we see him digging in a rectangular plot of fresh dirt. He’s kneeling above the hole in the moonlight. He reaches a hand down and swipes through the soil, only to recoil at exposing a waxy face with thinly-stretched skin. Boyd leaps shrieking from the shallow grave, then laughs in shock.

In chasing money, Boyd found death. The outlaw is warned of greed in a poetic and entirely visual way. The writers of Justified know, as Murray points out, the power and beauty of concision.

A different flaw from greed is explored in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame.” Hopkins highlights the danger of prioritizing individuality over a shared humanity. He focuses on the uniqueness of things in the sonnet’s octave:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each touched string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells
Crying: What I do is me; for that I came.

Hopkins was fascinated by the concept of individual identity (he called it “inscape”). He pushed himself to see the distinctiveness in everything around him through detailed journaling, like this entry:

…. but such a lovely damasking in the sky as today I never felt before. The blue was charged with simple instress, the higher, zenith sky earnest and frowning, lower more light and sweet.

Of his own journaling, Hopkins said “Unless you refresh the mind from time to time you cannot always remember or believe how deep the inscape in things is.”

In sonnet’s sestet, uniqueness gives way to a sameness that’s behavioral and physical. By being just and keeping grace, the good man behaves like a good son of God’s. And by playing that role, he comes to look like Christ in the sense that he exudes Christ’s loveliness; it radiates from his entire body, particularly through his eyes and his facial expressions:

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace; that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is–
Christ–for Christ plays in ten thousand faces,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

“I say more” — this is a revealing transition between stanzas. The speaker says that God requires more of us than simply being ourselves. There’s a positive cycle that begins when someone tries to emulate Christ (“Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is–/ Christ”); positive actions and qualities begin to reinforce each other (“the just man justices/ Keeps grace; that keeps all his goings graces”).

I love the last three lines. The optimism of the sentiment; the rhythm; the rhyme — these combine to inspire us all to be our highest selves, which happen to look similarly “lovely” on everyone.