Summary (Masterplots, Fourth Edition)
In a letter written to R. W. Dixon, Gerard Manley Hopkins explains the background of the poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” In 1875, during cold weather, the German ship Deutschland set sail for New York but was shipwrecked on the sands of the Kentish Knock at the mouth of the Thames River in England. Although Hopkins resolved not to compose any more poetry after his ordination as a Jesuit priest, his superior expressed the wish that someone write a poem in the wake of this tragedy. “I was affected by the account,” Hopkins wrote in his letter.
Hopkins was moved by the loss of 168 passengers and crew, including five nuns from a convent in Westphalia who were exiled from Germany. Although 138 people were rescued by a Liverpool tugboat, many boats passed by and ignored the distress signals because sailors feared risking their lives in the freezing weather. Stranded off the English coast near Harwich for nearly thirty hours, the Deutschland eventually sank. With great descriptive power and depth of emotion, Hopkins depicts the scene of tragedy and the anguish of the drowning victims. The blasts of wind (“For the infinite air is unkind”), the blinding snowstorm (“whirlwind-swivelled snow”), the shock of the ship hitting, not a rock or a reef, but “a smother of sand” all bring the passengers and crew into the jaws of death. After twelve hours of desperate waiting, with no help in sight, “Hope had grown gray...
(The entire section is 1583 words.)
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