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SOURCE: "Gerard Manley Hopkins," in The Athenaeum, No. 4649, June 6, 1919, pp. 425-26.
[Murry is recognized as one of the most significant English critics of the twentieth century, noted for his studies of major authors and for his contributions to modern critical theory. Perceiving an integral relationship between literature and religion, Murry believed that the literary critic must be concerned with the moral as well as the aesthetic dimensions of a given work. In the following review of the first edition of Hopkin 's poems, he suggests that the most distinguishing feature of Hopkins' poetry is its musical quality, but claims that it is devoid of substantial content and is, for that reason, an overall failure.]
Modern poetry, like the modern consciousness of which it is the epitome, seems to stand irresolute at a crossways with no signpost. It is hardly conscious of its own indecision, which it manages to conceal from itself by insisting that it is lyrical, whereas it is merely impressionist. The value of impressions depends upon the quality of the mind which receives and renders them, and to be lyrical demands at least as firm a temper of the mind, as definite and unfaltering a general direction, as to be epic. Roughly speaking, the present poetical fashion may, with a few conspicuous exceptions, be described as poetry without tears. The poet may assume a hundred personalities in as many poems, or manifest a hundred influences, or he may work a single sham personality threadbare or render piecemeal an undigested influence. What he may not do, or do only at the risk of being unfashionable, is to attempt what we may call, for the lack of a better word, the logical progression of an œuvre. One has no sense of the rhythm of an achievement. There is an output of scraps, which are scraps, not because they are small, but because one scrap stands in no organic relation to another in the poet's work. Instead of lending each other strength, they betray each other's weakness.
Yet the organic progression for which we look, generally in vain, is not peculiar to poetic genius of the highest rank. If it were, we might be accused of mere querulousness. The rhythm of personality is hard, indeed, to achieve. The simple mind and the single outlook are now too rare to be considered as near possibilities, while the task of tempering a mind to a comprehensive adequacy to modern experience is not an easy one. The desire to escape and the desire to be lost in life were probably never so intimately associated as they are now; and it is a little preposterous to ask a moth fluttering round a candle-flame to see life steadily and see it whole. We happen to have been born into an age without perspective; hence our idolatry for the one living poet and prose writer who has it and comes, or appears to come, from another age. But another rhythm is possible. No doubt it would be mistaken to consider this rhythm as in fact wholly divorced from the rhythm of personality; it probably demands at least a minimum of personal coherence in its possessor. For critical purposes, however, they are distinct. This second and subsidiary rhythm is that of technical progression. The single pursuit of even the most subordinate artistic intention gives unity, significance, mass to a poet's work. When Verlaine declares "de la musique avant toute chose," we know where we are. And we know this not in the obvious sense of expecting his verse to be predominantly musical; but in the more important sense of desiring to take a man seriously who declares for anything "avant toute chose."
It is the "avant toute chose" that matters, not as a profession of faith—we do not greatly like professions of faith—but as the guarantee of the universal in the particular, of the dianoia in the episode. It is the "avant toute chose" that we chiefly miss in modern poetry and modern society and in their quaint concatenations. It is the "avant toute chose" that leads us to respect both Mr. Hardy and Mr. Bridges, though we give all our affection to one of them. It is the "avant toute chose" that compels us to admire the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins; it is the "avant toute chose" in his work which, as we believe, would have condemned him to obscurity to-day, if he had not (after many years) had Mr. Bridges, who was his friend, to stand sponsor and the Oxford University Press to stand the racket. Apparently Mr. Bridges himself is something of our opinion, for his introductory sonnet ends on a disdainful note:
Go forth: amidst our chaffinch flock display
Thy plumage of far wonder and heavenward flight!
It is from a sonnet written by Hopkins to Mr. Bridges that we take the most concise expression of his artistic intention, for the poet's explanatory preface is not merely technical, but is written in a technical language peculiar to himself. Moreover, its scope is small; the sonnet tells us more in two lines than the preface in four pages:
O then if in my lagging lines you miss
The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation….
There is his "avant toute chose." Perhaps it seems very like "de la musique." But it tells us more about Hopkins' music than Verlaine's line told us about his. This music is of a particular kind, not the "sanglots du violon," but pre-eminently the music of song, the music most proper to lyrical verse. If one were to seek in English the lyrical poem to which Hopkins' definition could be most fittingly applied, one would find Shelley's "Skylark." A technical progression onwards from the "Skylark" is accordingly the main line of Hopkins' poetical evolution. There are other, stranger threads interwoven; but this is the chief. Swinburne, rightly enough if the intention of true song is considered, appears hardly to have existed for Hopkins, though he was his contemporary. There is an element of Keats in his epithets, a half-echo in "whorlèd ear" and "lark-charmèd"; there is an aspiration after Milton's architect tonic in the construction of the later sonnets and the most lucid of the fragments, "Epithalamion." But the central point of departure is the "Skylark." The "May Magnificat" is evidence of his achievement in the direct line:
Ask of her, the mighty mother:
Her reply puts this other
Question: What is Spring?—
Growth in everything—
Flesh and fleece, fur and feather,
Grass and greenworld all together;
Throstle above her nested
Cluster of bugle-blue eggs thin
Forms and warms the life within….
… When drop-of-blood-and-foam-dapple
Bloom lights the orchard-apple,
And thicket and thorp are merry
With silver-surfèd cherry,
And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all….
That is the primary element manifested in one of its simplest most recognizable, and some may feel most beautiful forms. But a melody so simple, though it is perhaps the swiftest of which the English language is capable without the obscurity which comes of the drowning of sense in sound, did not satisfy Hopkins. He aimed at complex internal harmonies, at a counterpoint of rhythm; for this more complex element he coined an expressive word of his own:
But as air, melody, is what strikes me most of all in music and design in painting, so design, pattern, or what I am in the habit of calling inscape is what I above all aim at in poetry.
Here then, in so many words, is Hopkins' "avant toute chose" at a higher level of elaboration. "Inscape" is still, in spite of the apparent differentiation, musical; but a quality of formalism seems to have entered with the specific designation. With formalism comes rigidity; and in this case the rigidity is bound to overwhelm the sense. For the relative constant in the composition of poetry is the law of language which admits only a certain amount of adaptation. Musical design must be subordinate to it, and the poet should be aware that even in speaking of musical design he is indulging a metaphor. Hopkins admitted this, if we may judge by his practice, only towards the end of his life. There is no escape by sound from the meaning of the posthumous sonnets, though we may hesitate to pronounce whether this directness was due to a modification of his poetical principles or to the urgency of the content of the sonnets, which, concerned with a matter of life and death, would permit no obscuring of their sense for musical reasons.
There is compression, but not beyond immediate comprehension; music, but a music of overtones; rhythm, but a rhythm which explicates meaning and makes it more intense.
Between the "May Magnificat" and these sonnets is the bulk of Hopkins poetical work and his peculiar achievement. Perhaps it could be regarded as a phase in his evolution towards the "more balanced and Miltonic style" which he hoped for, and of which the posthumous sonnets are precursors; but the attempt to see him from this angle would be perverse. Hopkins was not the man to feel, save on exceptional occasions, that urgency of content of which we have spoken. The communication of thought was seldom the dominant impulse of his creative moment, and it is curious how simple his thought often proves to be when the obscurity of his language has been penetrated. Musical elaboration is the chief characteristic of his work, and for this reason what seem to be the strangest of his experiments are his most essential achievement. So, for instance, "The Golden Echo":
Than this, Hopkins truly wrote, "I never did anything more musical." By his own verdict and his own standards it is therefore the finest thing that Hopkins did. Yet even here, where the general beauty is undoubted, is not the music too obvious? Is it not always on the point of degenerating into a jingle—as much an exhibition of the limitations of a poetical theory as of its capabilities? The tyranny of the "avant toute chose" upon a mind in which the other things were not stubborn and self-assertive is apparent. Hopkins' mind was irresolute concerning the quality of his own poetical ideal. A coarse and clumsy assonance seldom spread its snare in vain. Exquisite openings are involved in disaster:
When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, 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….
And the more wonderful opening of "Windhover" likewise sinks, far less disastrously, but still perceptibly:
We have no doubt that "stirred for a bird" was an added excellence to the poet's ear; to our sense it is a serious blemish on lines which have "the roll, the rise, the carol, the creation."
There is no good reason why we should give characteristic specimens of the poet's obscurity, since our aim is to induce people to read him. The obscurities will slowly vanish and something of the intention appear; and they will find in him many of the strange beauties won by men who push on to the borderlands of their science; they will speculate whether the failure of his whole achievement was due to the starvation of experience which his vocation imposed upon him, or to a fundamental vice in his poetical endeavour. For ourselves we believe that the former was the true cause. His "avant toute chose" whirling dizzily in a spiritual vacuum, met with no salutary resistance to modify, inform and strengthen it. Hopkins told the truth of himself—the reason why he must remain a poets' poet:
I want the one rapture of an inspiration.
O then if in my lagging lines you miss
The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation,
My winter world, that scarcely yields that bliss
Now, yields you, with some sighs, our explanation.
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Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844–1889
Considered a major English poet, Hopkins's poems are distinguished by stylistic innovations, most notably his striking diction and his pioneering use of a meter he termed "sprung rhythm." Hopkins's radical departure from traditional poetics, coupled with his reluctance to publish his writings, caused his works to be almost completely unknown in the nineteenth-century. However, critics today agree that Hopkins is the author of some of the finest and most complex poems in the English language, and he is firmly established as a major figure in the development of modern poetry.
Born in Stratford, Essex, to Manley and Kate Hopkins, Hopkins was the eldest of nine children. Beginning in 1854, he attended to Cholmeley Grammar School in High-gate, where he excelled in his courses and won a school poetry competition. In 1863, he obtained a scholarship to the prestigious Baillol College at Oxford University. His experiences at Oxford were to have a profound effect on his life: it was there he came under the influence of the teachings of John Henry Newman, a leading figure in the Oxford Movement and an important Catholic apologist and educator. In 1866, after months of soul-searching and against his family's wishes, he converted to Catholicism. The following year he graduated from Oxford. In the spring of 1868, he decided to enter the Jesuit order. He burned his poems, vowing to give up writing and dedicate himself fully to his religious calling. After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served as a priest at parishes in London, Oxford, Liverpool, and Glasgow, and taught classics at the Jesuit Stonyhurst College. In 1884 he was appointed a fellow in classics at the Royal University of Ireland and professor of Greek at the University College in Dublin, positions he retained until his sudden death from typhoid fever in 1889. Hopkins was a dedicated priest and teacher, but was not, as most of his biographers agree, temperamentally suited to his work assignments, and, as time passed, he became progressively more isolated and depressed, plagued—particularly during his last years in Ireland—by spiritual doubts and ill-health.
In 1876, when the German ship the Deutschland was lost at sea, carrying five Franciscan nuns exiled from Germany with it, one of Hopkins's superiors suggested that someone
ought to write a poem about the incident. Hopkins took the hint and produced his first major work, The Wreck of the Deutschland. In the poem, Hopkins introduced the revolutionary sprung rhythm that he is credited with originating. Unlike conventional poetic meter in which the rhythm is based on the regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, the meter of sprung rhythm is determined by the number of stressed syllables alone. In addition to experimenting with meter in The Wreck of the Deutschland, Hopkins also employed several other poetic techniques for which he has become known. His diction is characterized by unusual compound words, coined phrases, and terms borrowed from dialect, further complicated by intentional ambiguities and multiple meanings. Moreover, he frequently utilizes elliptical phrasing (often omitting, for example, relative pronouns), compression, internal rhyme, half-rhyme, assonance, alliteration, and metaphor. The Wreck of the Deutschland also introduced what were to become the central philosophical concerns of Hopkins's mature poetry. The poem reflects both his belief in the doctrine that human beings were created to praise God and his commitment to the Jesuit practices of meditation and spiritual self-examination. The teachings of the thirteenth-century Franciscan philosopher John Duns Scotus also deeply influenced Hopkins's thinking. From Duns Scotus's teaching of "haecceitas" or the "thisness" of all things, Hopkins developed the concepts of "inscape," a term he coined to describe the inward, distinctive, essential quality of a thing, and "instress," which refers to the force that gives a natural object its inscape and allows that inscape to be seen and expressed by the observer.
After completing The Wreck of the Deutschland, Hopkins continued to experiment with style, language, and meter. He is perhaps most widely known for his shorter poems on nature, many of which were written during the early years of his priesthood. In such celebrations of natural beauty as "Spring," "Inversnaid," "Pied Beauty," "God's Grandeur," "The Starlight Night," and his most famous sonnet, "The Windhover," Hopkins strove to capture the inscape of creation as a means of knowing and praising God. His final poems, known as the "terrible sonnets," express his spiritual struggle. In "No Worst, There is None," "Carrion Comfort," "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day," and "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord," Hopkins chronicles the sense of sterility, isolation, and despair he appears to have frequently experienced toward the end of his life. In the sonnets "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves" and "That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire," he worked toward a resolution of his spiritual doubts. Although Hopkins feared that his poetic power was declining in his last years, the unguarded self-revelation and mastery of the sonnet form that critics perceive in these sonnets has led them to regard these poems highly.
None of Hopkins' major works were published in his lifetime. In 1918 Robert Bridges compiled and published the first collection of Hopkins's poetry, The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. His reservations about Hopkins's style, which he clearly voiced in his introduction to the volume, referring to "oddities," "obscurities," and "faults of taste" in the poems, set the tone for the early critical response to Hopkins. Critics tended to echo or to amplify Bridges's reservations. The idea that Hopkins's poetry was odd, obscure, and eccentric, in combination with both explicit and implicit rejoinders to that idea, was to constitute a running dialogue in Hopkins' criticism for at least two decades. A few reviewers of the collection praised his religious feeling, but the predominant response was one of bewildered incomprehension. The 1930s saw an enormous growth of interest in Hopkins's work, a growth that owed at least in part to a second, enlarged edition of the poems. Many critics of that period declared his modernity, and among young poets such as W. H. Auden, Robert Lowell, C. Day Lewis, and Dylan Thomas, he was revered as a model. By the early 1940s Hopkins's status as a major English poet was firmly established. With the centenary of his birth in 1944 numerous critical essays and appreciations appeared, and since that time his works have continued to attract extensive analysis from a myriad of literary critical schools of thought. Acclaimed for his powerful influence on modern poetry, Hopkins continues to be praised as an innovative and revolutionary stylist who wrote some of the most challenging poems in the English language on the subjects of the self, nature, and religion.
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SOURCE: "Gerard Hopkins," in The Dial, Vol. LXXXI, No. 81, September, 1986, pp. 195-203.
[Richards was an English poet and critic who has been called the founder of modern literary criticism. Primarily a theorist, he encouraged growth of textual analysis and during the 1920s formulated many of the principles that would later become the basis of New Criticism, one of the most important schools of modern critical thought. In the following essay first published in 1926, he analyzes the obscure and innovative nature of Hopkins's verse, maintaining that "it is an important fact that he is so often most himself when he is most experimental."]
Modern verse is perhaps more often too lucid than too obscure. It passes through the mind (or the mind passes over it) with too little friction and too swiftly for the development of the response. Poets who can compel slow reading have thus an initial advantage. The effort, the heightened attention, may brace the reader, and that peculiar intellectual thrill which celebrates the step-by-step conquest of understanding may irradiate and awaken other mental activities more essential to poetry. It is a good thing to make the light-footed reader work for what he gets. It may make him both more wary and more appreciative of his reward if the "critical point" of value is passed.
These are arguments for some slight obscurity in its own right. No one would pretend that the obscurity may not be excessive. It may be distracting, for example. But what is a distraction in a first reading may be non-existent in a second. We should be clear (both as readers and writers) whether a given poem is to be judged at its first reading or at its nth. The state of intellectual enquiry, the construing, interpretative, frame of mind, so much condemned by some critics (through failure perhaps to construe the phrase "simple, sensuous, and passionate") passes away once its task is completed, and the reader is likely to be left with a far securer grasp of the whole poem, including its passional structure, than if no resistance had been encountered.
Few poets illustrate this thesis better than Gerard Hopkins, who may be described, without opposition, as the most obscure of English verse writers. Born in 1844, he became a Jesuit priest in 1868, a more probable fate for him then—he was at Oxford—than now. Before joining the Order he burnt what verses he had already written and "resolved to write no more, as not belonging to my profession, unless it were by the wish of my superiors." For seven years he wrote nothing. Then by good fortune this wish was expressed and Hopkins set to work. "I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm which now I realized on paper…. However I had to mark the stresses… and a great many more oddnesses could not but dismay an editor's eye, so that when I offered it to our magazine… they dared not print it." Thenceforward he wrote a good deal, sending his poems in manuscript to Robert Bridges and to Canon Dixon. He died in 1889 leaving a bundle of papers among which were several of his best sonnets. In 1918 the Poet Laureate edited a volume of poems with an introduction and notes of great interest. From this volume comes all our knowledge of his work.
Possibly their obscurity may explain the fact that these poems are not yet widely known. But their originality and the audacity of their experimentation have much to do with the delay. Even their editor found himself compelled to apologize at length for what he termed "blemishes in the poet's style." "It is well to be clear that there is no pretence to reverse the condemnation of these faults, for which the poet has duly suffered. The extravagances are and will remain what they were…. it may be assumed that they were not a part of his intention." But too many other experiments have been made recently, especially in the last eight years, for this lofty tone and confident assumption to be maintained. The more the poems are studied, the clearer it becomes that their oddities are always deliberate. They may be aberrations, they are not blemishes. It is easier to see this to-day since some of his most daring innovations have been, in part, attempted independently by later poets.
I propose to examine a few of his best poems from this angle, choosing those which are both most suggestive technically and most indicative of his temper and mould as a poet. It is an important fact that he is so often most himself when he is most experimental. I will begin with a poem in which the shocks to convention are local and concern only word order.
Hopkins was always ready to disturb the usual word order of prose to gain an improvement in rhythm or an increased emotional poignancy. To own my heart = to my own heart; reaving = taking away. He uses words always as tools, an attitude towards them which the purist and grammarian can never understand. He was clear, too, that his poetry was for the ear, not for the eye, a point that should be noted before we proceed to "The Windhover," which, unless we begin by listening to it, may only bewilder us. To quote from a letter: "Indeed, when, on somebody's returning me the Eurydice, I opened and read some lines, as one commonly reads, whether prose or verse, with the eyes, so to say, only, it struck me aghast with a kind of raw nakedness and unmitigated violence I was unprepared for: but take breath and read it with the ears, as I always wish to be read, and my verse becomes all right." I have to confess that "The Windhover" only became all right for me, in the sense of perfectly clear and explicit, intellectually satisfying as well as emotionally moving, after many readings and several days of reflection.
The dedication at first sight is puzzling. Hopkins said of this poem that it was the best thing he ever wrote, which is to me in part the explanation. It sounds like an echo of the offering made eleven years ago when his early poems were burnt. For a while I thought that the apostrophe, "O my chevalier!" (it is perhaps superfluous to mention that this word rhymes strictly with "here" and has only three syllables) had reference to Christ. I take it now to refer only to the poet, though the moral ideal, embodied of course for Hopkins in Christ, is before the mind.
Some further suggestions towards elucidation may save the reader trouble. If he does not need them I crave his forgiveness. Kingdom of daylight's dauphin—I see (unnecessarily) the falcon as a miniature sun, flashing so high up. Rung upon the rein—a term from the manège, ringing a horse = causing it to circle round one on a long rein. My heart in hiding—as with other good poets I have come to expect that when Hopkins leaves something which looks at first glance as though it were a concession to rhyme or a mere pleasing jingle of words, some really important point is involved. Why in hiding? Hiding from what? Does this link up with "a billion times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!"? What is the greater danger and what the less? I should say the poet's heart is in hiding from Life, has chosen a safer way, and that the greater danger is the greater exposure to temptation and error than a more adventurous, less sheltered course (sheltered by Faith?) brings with it. Another, equally plausible reading would be this: Renouncing the glamour of the outer life of adventure the poet transfers its qualities of audacity to the inner life. (Here is the bosom, the inner consciousness.) The greater danger is that to which the moral hero is exposed. Both readings may be combined, but pages of prose would be required for a paraphrase of the result. The last three lines carry the thought of the achievement possible through renunciation further, and explain, with the image of the ash-covered fire, why the dangers of the inner life are greater. So much for the sense; but the close has a strange, weary, almost exhausted, rhythm, and the word "gall" has an extraordinary force, bringing out painfully the shock with which the sight of the soaring bird has jarred the poet into an unappeased discontent.
If we compare those poems and passages of poems which were conceived definitely within the circle of Hopkins' theology with those which transcend it, we shall find difficulty in resisting the conclusion that the poet in him was often oppressed and stifled by the priest. In this case the conflict which seems to lie behind and prompt all Hopkins' better poems is temporarily resolved through a stoic acceptance of sacrifice. An asceticism which fails to reach ecstasy and accepts the failure. All Hopkins' poems are in this sense poems of defeat. This will perhaps become clearer if we turn to
Elucidations are perhaps less needed. The heart speaks after "Heart you round me right" to the end, applying in the moral sphere the parable of the passing away of all the delights, accidents, nuances, the "dapple" of existence, to give place to the awful dichotomy of right and wrong. It is characteristic of this poet that there is no repose for him in the night of traditional morality. As the terrible last line shows, the renunciation of all the myriad temptations of life brought no gain. It was all loss. The present order of "black, white; right, wrong" was an afterthought and an intentional rearrangement; the original order was more orthodox. Let life, waned—the imperative mood carries through to the end; let life part, pen, pack, let life be aware of. All throughter = each through the other.
I cannot refrain from pointing to the marvellous third and fourth lines. They seem to me to anticipate the descriptions we hope our younger contemporary poets will soon write. Such synaesthesis has tempted several of them, but this is, I believe, the supreme example. Hopkins' technical innovations reach out, however, into many fields. As a means of rendering self-consciousness, for example, consider this:
Soul, self; come poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.
My last quotations must be the sonnets which most I think, represent the poet's inner conflict.
Few writers have dealt more directly with their experience or been more candid. Perhaps to do this must invite the charge of oddity, of playfulness, of whimsical eccentricity and wantonness. To some of his slighter pieces these charges do apply. Like other writers he had to practise and perfect his craft. The little that has been written about him has already said too much about this aspect. His work as a pioneer has not been equally insisted upon. It is true that Gerard Hopkins did not fully realize what he was doing to the technique of poetry. For example, while retaining rhyme, he gave himself complete rhythmical freedom, but disguised this freedom as a system of what he called Sprung Rhythm, employing four sorts of feet (-,- ⋃,- ⋃⋃,- ⋃⋃⋃). Since what he called hangers or outrides (one, two, or three slack syllables added to a foot and not counting in the nominal scanning) were also permitted, it will be plain that he had nothing to fear from the absurdities of prosodists. A curious way, however, of eluding a mischievous tradition and a spurious question, to give them a mock observance and an equally unreal answer! When will prosodists seriously ask themselves what it is that they are investigating? But to raise this question is to lose all interest in prosody.
Meanwhile the lamentable fact must be admitted that many people just ripe to read Hopkins have been and will be too busy asking "does he scan?" to notice that he has anything to say to them. And of those that escape this trap that our teachers so assiduously set, many will be still too troubled by beliefs and disbeliefs to understand him. His is a poetry of divided and equal passions—which very nearly makes a new thing out of a new fusion of them both. But Hopkins' intelligence, though its subtlety with details was extraordinary, failed to remould its materials sufficiently in attacking his central problem. He solved it emotionally, at a cost which amounted to martyrdom; intellectually he was too stiff, too "cogged and cumbered" with beliefs, those bundles of invested emotional capital, to escape except through appalling tension. The analysis of his poetry is hardly possible, however, without the use of technical language; the terms "intellectual" and "emotional" are too loose. His stature as a poet will not be recognized until the importance of the Belief problem from which his poetry sprang has been noticed. He did not need other beliefs than those he held. Like the rest of us, whatever our beliefs, he needed a change in belief, the mental attitude, itself.
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The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins 1918; also published as Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins [enlarged editions] 1930, 1948, 1967
Gerard Manley Hopkins (poetry and prose) 1986
The Early Poetic Manuscripts and Note-Books of Gerard Manley Hopkins in Facsimile (poetry and prose) 1989
Poetical Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins 1990
Other Major Works
The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and R. W. Dixon (letters) 1935
The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges (letters) 1935
The Note-Books and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins (prose) 1937
Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins (letters) 1938
The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins (diary, journal, and notes) 1959
The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins (sermons, journals, and notes) 1959
Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selected Prose (prose) 1989
Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selected Letters (letters) 1990
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SOURCE: "Gerard Manley Hopkins" in New Bearings in English Poetry: A Study of the Contemporary Situation, Chatto & Windus, 1938, pp. 159-93.
[Leavis is an influential contemporary critic. In the following excerpt from an essay originally published in 1932, he claims that Hopkins' strength lies in his attempt to bring poetry closer to living speech.]
Hopkins's originality was radical and uncompromising: there was, as he owns, some excuse for the dismay of his first readers. He could not himself, as the Author's Preface shows, be reconciled to his originality without subterfuge. His prosodic account in terms of Logaoedic Rhythm, Counterpoint Rhythm, Sprung Rhythm, Rocking Feet and Outriders will help no one to read his verse—unless by giving the sense of being helped: it merely shows how subtle and hard to escape is the power of habits and preconceptions. The prescription he gives when warm from reading his verse—'take breath and read it with the ears, as I always wish to be read, and my verse becomes all right'—is a great deal more to the point, and if we add 'and with the brains and the body' it suffices.
This is a measure of the genuineness of his originality. For the peculiarities of his technique appeal for sanction to the spirit of the language: his innovations accentuate and develop bents it exhibits in living use and, above all, in the writings of the greatest master who ever used it. Hopkins might have said about each one of his technical idiosyncrasies what he says about the rhythm of The Wreck of the Deutschland: the idea was not altogether new, but no one had professedly used it and made it a principle throughout as he had. Paradoxical as it may sound to say so, his strength was that he brought poetry much closer to living speech. How badly some such regeneration was needed may be judged from the inability of critics avowedly interested in him, as Bridges and Dixon were, to appreciate his significance: the habits and conventions he defeated were so strong. They are strong still: Mr. Charles Williams, the editor of the second edition of the Poems, concludes in his Critical Introduction that the poet to whom we should most relate Gerard Hopkins' is Milton. Now if one were seeking to define the significance of Hopkins by contraries, Milton is the poet to whom one would have recourse: the relation is an antithesis. But, alas! Mr. Williams leaves no room to suppose that he means that.
The way in which Hopkins uses the English language (that is the primary order of consideration; 'consciousness of the universe' is an unprofitable abstraction apart from it) contrasts him with Milton and associates him with Shakespeare. There is no essential characteristic of his technique of which it might not be said that it is a matter of 'using professedly' and 'making a principle' of something that may be found in Shakespeare:
… the world-without-end hour
… cabin'd, cribb'd, confined
[Macbeth, III, iv.]
If it were done when 'tis done, then 'twere well
It were done quickly: if the assassination
Could trammel up the consequence, and catch
With his surcease success; that but this blow
Might be the be-all and the end-all here,
But here, upon this bank and shoal of time,
We'd jump the life to come.
[Macbeth, I. vii.]
—This last passage takes us beyond technical devices, found in embryo in Shakespeare. Indeed, it would be a mistake to insist too much on these (they could be exemplified indefinitely); it might distract attention from the more essential likeness illustrated by the passage as a whole. Hopkins's imagery, and his way of using the body and movement of the language, are like Shakespeare's.
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, shéer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep.
—That is Shakespearian, but quite un-Miltonic. And this ('what's not meet' being made to suggest at the same time 'not what's meet') handles grammar and syntax in the spirit of Hopkins:
If we look for a parallel to a characteristic Shakespearian rendering of the very movement of consciousness—
My thought, whose murder yet is but fantastical,
Shakes so my single state of man, that function
Is smother'd in surmise, and nothing is,
But what is not
[Macbeth, I. iii.]
—we shall find it easily in Hopkins:
It is not that he derives from Shakespeare (Shakespeare, we have often been told, is a dangerous model). We cannot doubt that he knew his Shakespeare well, but if he profited he was able to do so because of his own direct interest in the English language as a living thing. The bent of his genius was so strong that we are forced to believe that his experimenting would have taken much the same lines even if there had been no Shakespeare. The similarities arise out of a similar exploitation of the resources and potentialities of the language. Hopkins belongs with Shakespeare, Donne, Eliot and the later Yeats as opposed to Spenser, Milton and Tennyson. He departs very widely from current idiom (as Shakespeare did), but nevertheless current idiom is, as it were, the presiding spirit in his dialect, and he uses his medium not as a literary but as a spoken one. That is the significance of his repeated demand to be tested by reading aloud: 'read it with the ears, as I always wish to be read, and my verse becomes all right.' It is not merely the rhythm that he has in mind:
I laughed outright and often, but very sardonically, to think you and the Canon could not construe my last sonnet; that he had to write to you for a crib. It is plain I must go no further on this road: if you and he cannot understand me who will? Yet, declaimed, the strange constructions would be dramatic and effective.
It is not only the constructions that gain, and the term 'dramatic' has a further sense here than perhaps Hopkins intended. His words and phrases are actions as well as sounds, ideas and images, and must,… be read with the body as well as with the eye: that is the force of his concern to be read aloud. He indicates now and then in notes the kind of thing he is doing. 'Here comes a violent but effective hyperbaton or suspension, in which the action of the mind mimics that of the labourer—surveys his lot, low but free from care; then by a sudden strong act throws it over the shoulder or tosses it away as a light matter.'—Effects of this order may be found on any page of his work. Even more significant is a note on a word in "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo." It is the more interesting in that Mr Sturge Moore paid this poem some attention in a recent number of The Criterion [July 1930], The poem opens:
Hopkins notes: 'Back is not pretty, but it gives that feeling of physical constraint which I want.' This suggests fairly the spirit of his dealings with the English language. How alien to English poetry that spirit had become is illustrated by Mr Sturge Moore, a critic and verse-writer formed in the last century, who, writing on Style and Beauty in Literature, offers to improve Hopkins in this way:
How to keep beauty? is there any way?
Is there nowhere any means to have it stay?
Will no bow or brooch or braid,
Brace or lace
Latch or catch
Or key to lock the door lend aid
Before beauty vanishes away?
There is no need to quote further. No reader of The Criterion, apparently, protested. Mr Sturge Moore remarks at the end that he has retained most of Hopkins's felicities, while discarding 'his most ludicrous redundancies.' He has discarded also 'back' and everything it represents; words as he uses them have no body. He has discarded, not merely a certain amount of music, but with the emotional crescendo and diminuendo, the plangent rise and fall, all the action and substance of the verse.
Not that "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" is one of the poems in which the poet's greatness manifests itself. Remarkable as it is, if it were fully representative of Hopkins he would not demand much space in this study. In this kind of work he is elaborating and mastering his technical devices for more important purposes. It is not as mere musical effects (if such were possible in poetry)—melody, harmony, counterpoint—that these devices are important; they are capable of use for expressing complexities of feeling, the movement of consciousness, difficult and urgent states of mind. Take for instance the kind of word-play, the pattern and progression of verbal echo, alliteration, rime and assonance represented in the opening verse:
—That need not be (indeed, is not) a mere musical trick, any more than conventional end-rime need be. Such devices may be used, as good poets use end-rime, to increase the expectancy involved in rhythm and change its direction, to control movement, to give words new associations and bring diverse ideas and emotions together, to intensify the sense of inevitability—in short, to get new, precise and complex responses out of words.
Of course, to be something convincingly more than wordplay, to escape the limiting description, 'music,' these devices must have adequate work to do. The theme of "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" does not offer very much resistance, and if this poem represented the height of Hopkins's achievement Mr Middleton Murry's judgment [in The Athenaem, June 6, 1919] would not be immediately absurd: 'If one were to seek in English the lyrical poem to which Hopkins's definition ['The roll, the rise, the carol, the creation'] could be most fittingly applied, one would find Shelley's "Skylark." A technical progression onwards from the "Skylark" is accordingly the main line of Hopkins's poetical evolution.' But if one looks at The Wreck of the Deutschland, which, says Bridges, 'stands logically as well as chronologically in the front of his book, like a great dragon to forbid all entrance,' it becomes plain that Hopkins has no relation to Shelley or to any nineteenth-century poet. This poem was his first ambitious experiment, and it is the more interesting in that his technical resources are deployed in it at great length: the association of inner, spiritual, emotional stress with physical reverberations, nervous and muscular tensions that characterizes his best verse is here explicitly elaborated in an account of the storm which is at the same time an account of an inner drama. The wreck he describes is both occasion and symbol. He realizes it so vividly that he is in it; and it is at the same time in him:
He takes the actual wreck as the type of the worldly disaster that brings conviction, supernatural assurance, to the soul:
Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,
That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by, and melt
—and identifies such experience mystically with Christ's Passion. In an audacious image he identifies the sudden overwhelming conviction, the insight, the illumination to the effect of a sloe bursting in the mouth:
The conceit is Metaphysical, but the technique is pure Hopkins. It would be difficult to produce a more elaborate pattern of alliteration, echo, assonance and internal rime, but we do not feel of any element (except, perhaps, 'lush-kept plush-capped') that it is there for the sake of pattern. Even of 'lush-kept plush-capped' it might be said that by a kind of verbal suggestion (two different expressions sounding so like) it contributes to the sense of mystical identification that the passage is concerned to evoke—identification of 'the stress felt' with the Passion; helps also the metaphorical identification of the experience with the bursting of the sloe. Of the pattern generally it may be said that it issues out of and expresses emotional intensities in the same kind of way as 'cabin'd, cribb'd, confined' and
Particularly it may be pointed out how the words stressed by the pattern justify their salience.
—'lash' (the highly-stressed 'out' carries on from the previous line) both suggests the inevitability (a lashing out on the stimulus of pain) of the response at this supreme testing moment ('last'), and gives the response a physical urgency. The moment is ripe ('lush'): and 'lush' applied to 'sloe' also suggests the paradoxical poignancy ('sour or sweet'?) of the revelation. In 'flesh-burst' we have both the physical disaster 'that storms deliver' and Calvary. The progression—'gush,' 'flush,' 'flash,' 'full'—is as much a matter of sense as sound: 'gush' describes the overwhelming onset of the experience, 'flush' the immediate bewildering immersion; 'flash'—it becomes illumination; 'full' suggests 'cup.'
Such an analysis is clumsy and inadequate: it is merely a means of indicating the kind of function that the more obvious technical devices serve. What Hopkins does here in this sustained and elaborated way he does in concentration in "The Windhover" and "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves".
Imagery that reminds us still more readily of the Metaphysical conceit (the characteristic Hopkins pattern is less insistent here) occurs in the fourth stanza:
—The superb metaphor in the first part of the stanza offers no difficulty. It conveys perfectly the inner sinking and dissolution, and then (with a subtle shift from sand to water) the steadying and recovery. The imagery in the last three lines is more complex, but, when (from the notes) we know that 'voel' is Welsh for 'bare hill,' not too difficult. The note adds: 'the meaning, obscured by roped, is that the well is fed by trickles of water within the flanks of the mountains.' This brief elucidation is a useful foil to the strength of Hopkins's imagery. The 'obscured' should imply no adverse criticism: the metaphorical 'roped' may make the original passage less immediately intelligible than Bridges' summary, but it also makes the mountain-rill something far more suggestive of power than a trickle, something capable of exerting pressure; it also suggests, illogically but not incompatibly (it is often the business of metaphor to reconcile opposed impulses, bents or emotions), that the 'pressure,' the 'principle,' can draw upwards. Nothing approaching this imagery in subtlety and strength can be found in any other poet of the nineteenth century.
Hopkins's technique justifies itself equally in the description of the storm in the second part of the poem—justifies itself obviously. Indeed, Bridges' 'dragon' exaggerates the general difficulty: a great deal of the poem is as inviting to the anthologist as the first stanza, which he printed in The Spirit of Man. The first stanza of the second part, for instance, is even less refractory to 'the grand style of our poetry':
(The last line has six stresses.)
But remarkable as The Wreck of the Deutschalnd is it does not put his technical skill to the utmost stretch. This skill is most unmistakably that of a great poet when it is at the service of a more immediately personal urgency, when it expresses not religious exaltation, but inner debate. "The Windhover" is a poem of this kind. Since not only Mr Richards, in the essay already mentioned, but Mr Empson also, in Seven Types of Ambiguity, have dealt admirably with this poem, there is no need to analyse it here. Mr Empson's book is one that nobody interested in English poetry can afford not to have read. It is an implicit commentary on Bridges' complaint [in the Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins] that 'ambiguity or momentary uncertainty destroys the force of the sentence' and imposes on the reader a 'conscious effort of interpretation.' The kind of ambiguity that Mr Empson finds to be the essence of "The Windhover" is suggested here: Thus in the first three lines of the sestet we seem to have a clear case of the Freudian use of opposites, where two things thought of as incompatible, but desired intensely by different systems of judgments, are spoken of simultaneously by words applying to both; both desires are thus given a transient and exhausting satisfaction, and the two systems of judgment are forced into open conflict before the reader.' It is in place at this point to observe that Hopkins's genius was as much a matter of rare character, intelligence and sincerity as of technical skill: indeed, in his great poetry the distinction disappears; the technical triumph is a triumph of spirit.
The inner friction expressed in the equivocal burden of "The Windhover" comes out more explicitly in "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves," which, if it represents a less difficult undertaking, is more indubitably a complete success. It is one of the finest things that he ever did, and since it exhibits and magnificently justifies most of the peculiarities of his technique, I will (though Mr Richards has analysed it) venture a brief commentary:
The poem opens with evening deepening into night. We are not merely told that evening 'strains,' we feel evening straining, to become night, enveloping everything, in the movement, the progression of alliteration, assonance and rime. This progression is associated with, and hardly distinguishable from, the development of meaning in the sequence of adjectives: evening is first sweetly solemn, serene, etherealizing and harmonizing, then becomes less tranquillizing and more awful, and finally ends in the blackness of night.
Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west, her wild hollow hoarlight hung to the height
—The 'yellow hornlight' is, of course, the setting moon; 'fond'—tender, soft, sympathetic, clinging as if reluctant to go, the slow gentle sinking being felt in the movement and modulation of the verse. The 'hoarlight' is the cold, hard starlight, 'wild' and 'hollow'—remote, inhuman, a kind of emptiness in the hollow vault—in contrast to the 'fond yellow' moonlight. The verse-movement itself, with the inevitable rest upon 'height,' seems to hang. The 'dapple' of earth, the rich coloured variety that Hopkins loved so much (cf. 'Pied Beauty'—'Glory be to God for dappled things') has gone, merged ('throughter'—each through other) into neutrality. That he is not concerned with 'pure description' the introduction of 'self intimates, together with the unexpected strength of 'steepèd and páshed' and 'dismembering.'
He suddenly realizes the whole thing as a parable, not meditatively worked out, but immediate: he sees the outward symbol and the significance as one, in kind of metaphor. It is Blake's Sun-flower ["A Sun-Flower"] rather than Matthew Arnold's Yes: in the sea of life enisled ["To Marguerite—continued"].
—the heavy stress that his rhythm enables him to put upon 'our' brings home the poignant realization. His heart 'rounds' him, i.e. whispers (as in the ballads), and 'rounds upon him' with, the thought that he has sacrificed the 'dapple' of existence for the stark dichotomy of right and wrong.
—The trees are no longer the beautiful, refreshing things of daylight; they have turned fantastically strange, hard and cruel, 'beak-leaved' suggesting the cold, hard light, steely like the gleam of polished tools, against which they appear as a kind of damascene-work ('damask') on a blade. Then follows the anguished surrender to the realization:
—The run of alliterations, rimes and assonances suggests the irresistible poignancy of the realization. The poem ends with a terrible effect as of unsheathed nerves grinding upon one another. The grinding might at first be taken to be merely that of 'right' against 'wrong,' the inner conflict of spirit and flesh, and the pain that which the believer knows he must face, the simple pain of renunciation. Yet we are aware of a more subtle anguish and a more desperate plight. And if we look closely we find that Hopkins is explicit about it:
black, white; right, wrong…
—The first draft had 'wrong, right,' but he deliberately, and significantly, reversed the order. If he were merely 'ware of a world where but these two tell' his torment would be less cruel. But his consciousness is more complex; his absolutes waver and change places, and he is left in terrible doubt.
In comparison with such a poem of Hopkins's as this, any other poetry of the nineteenth century is seen to be using only a very small part of the resources of the English language. His words seem to have substance, and to be made of a great variety of stuffs. Their potencies are correspondingly greater for subtle and delicate communication. The intellectual and spiritual anaemía of Victorian poetry is indistinguishable from its lack of body. Hopkins is a very different poet from Dante, but a remark that Mr Eliot throws out in the discussion of Dante has a bearing here: 'that Hell, though a state, is a state which can only be thought of, and perhaps only experienced, by the projection of sensory images; and that the resurrection of the body has perhaps a deeper meaning than we understand.' The critical implications of this (they can be generalized and discussed apart from any theological context) deserve pondering. They relate to another remark of Mr Eliot's that has been quoted already and applies also to Hopkins: in his verse 'the intellect is at the tip of the senses.' And along with the qualities indicated by this phrase goes a remarkable control of tempo and modulation.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 1196
Dunne, Tom. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Comprehensive Bibliography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1976, 394 p.
Lists Hopkins scholarship through 1970.
Bump, Jerome. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Boston: Twayne Publishers, 1982, 225 p.
Biography with some critical commentary.
Lahey, G. F., S.J. Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Oxford University Press, 1930, 172 p.
The first full-length biographical study of Hopkins.
Allsopp, Michael E. and Downes, David Anthony, ed. Saving Beauty: Further Studies in Hopkins. New York: Garland Publishing, 1994, 351 p.
Collection of critical essays on Hopkins's work.
Andreach, Robert J. "Gerard Manley Hopkins." In his Studies in Structure: The Stages of the Spiritual Life in Four Modern Authors, pp. 12-39. New York: Fordham University Press, 1964.
Traces Hopkins's spiritual development as evidenced in his poems.
Assad, Thomas J. "A Closer Look at Hopkins' `(Carrier Comfort).'" Tulane Studies 9 (1959): 91-102.
Explores the "overthought"—the literal meaning—of "Carrion Comforter," noting that while intensive critical attention has been given to the "underthought" of the poem, its "overthought" has not been adequately addressed.
Bender, Todd K. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Classical Background and Critical Reception of His Work. Baltimore: Johns Hopkins Press, 1966, 172 p.
Posits that Hopkins's poetic innovations were at least partly derived from his classical and religious training.
Bottrall, Margaret, ed. Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poems: A Casebook. Casebook Series, edited by A. E. Dyson. London: Macmillan Press, 1975, 256 p.
Collection of critical essays on Hopkins's work.
Boyle, Robert, S.J. Metaphor in Hopkins. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960, 231 p.
Analyzes Hopkins's use of metaphor in his poetry.
Bump, Jerome. "Hopkins and Keats." Victorian Poetry 12, No. 1 (Spring 1974): 33-43.
Determines the influence of Keats on Hopkins's development as a poet.
Cotter, James Finn. "Inscaping The Wreck of the Deutschland." Renascence 21, No. 3 (Spring 1969): 124-33, 166.
Offers a thematic and stylistic analysis of The Wreck of the Deutschland.
Deutsch, Babette. "The Forged Feature." In her Poetry in Our Time, pp. 286-311. New York: Columbia University Press, 1952.
Provides an overview of Hopkins' poetry.
Downes, David Anthony. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Study of His Ignatian Spirit. New York: Bookman Associates, 1959, 195 p.
Studies Hopkins's poetry as an expression of Jesuit spirituality.
Ellsberg, Margaret. Created to Praise: The Language of Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: Oxford University Press, 1987, 160 p.
Explores Hopkins's use of language as a reflection of the tension between his vocations of poet and priest.
Fausset, Hugh I'Anson. "Gerard Hopkins: A Centenary Tribute." In his Poets and Pundits: Essays and Addresses, pp. 96-113. London: Jonathan Cape, 1947.
Discusses the fundamental principles of Hopkins' poetry.
Foltz, William D. "Hopkins' Greek Fire." Victorian Poetry 18, No. 1 (Spring 1980): 23-34.
Provides a close reading of "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection."
Gardner, W.H. "The Wreck of the Deutschland." Essays and Studies XXI (1935): 125-52.
Offers a general reading of The Wreck of the Deutschland, arguing that the poem has "a completeness, an intellectual and emotional unity, a subtlety and variety of verbal orchestration which are unique not only in English but in the literature of the world."
Hallgarth, Susan A. "A Study of Hopkins' Use of Nature." Victorian Poetry 5, No. 1 (Spring 1967): 79-92.
Contends that Hopkins use of nature in his work differs from that of his contemporaries.
Hartmann, Geoffrey H. "Hopkins." In his The Unmediated Vision: An Interpretation of Wordsworth, Hopkins, Rilke, and Valery, pp. 49-67. New Haven: Yale University Press, 1954.
Offers a close reading of "The Windhover."
——, ed. Hopkins: A Collection of Critical Essays. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: A Spectrum Book, 1966, 182 p.
Includes critical studies on Hopkins by several major scholars.
Heaney, Seamus. "The Fire i' the Flint: Reflections on the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins." In his Preoccupations: Selected Prose, 1968-1978, pp. 79-97. New York: Fararr, Straus, Giroux, 1980.
Analyzes the composition of Hopkins's poetry, contending that "as opposed to the symbolist poetic, it is concerned with statement instead of states of feeling."
The Kenyon Critics. Gerard Manley Hopkins. The Makers of Modern Literature Series. Norfolk, Conn.: New Directions Books, 1945, 144 p.
Influential essays by Austin Warren, Herbert Marshall McLuhan, Harold Whitehall, Josephine Miles, Robert Lowell, Arthur Mizener, and F. R. Leavis. Most of these essays first appeared in the Kenyon Review in 1944.
Mackenzie, Norman. "Genius and Jobations." Thought 65, No. 259 (December 1990): 500-09.
Examines the factors that might have contributed to Hopkins' poetic eccentricities.
Milward, Peter, S.J., ed. Readings of "The Wreck": Essays in the Commemoration of the Centenary of G. M. Hopkins ' "The Wreck of the Deutschland." Chicago: Loyola University Press, 1976, 172 p.
A selection of essays on "The Wreck of the Deutschland."
Motto, Marylou. "Mined with a Motion": The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers University Press, 1984, 203 p.
Studies "the motions of voice" in the poetry of Hopkins.
Murphy, Michael W. "Violent Imagery in the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins." Victorian Poetry 7, No. 1 (Spring 1969): 1-16.
Examines the violent imagery found in Hopkins verse, maintaining that these images "are the source of the tense, masculine, energetic quality which characterizes much of Hopkins's poetry."
O'Neill, George, S.J. "Gerard Hopkins." In his Essays on Poetry, pp. 117-38. Dublin: Talbot, 1919.
Discusses the odd and obscure aspects of Hopkins's poetry.
Phare, Elsie Elizabeth. The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Survey and Commentary. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1933, 150 p.
Deals with the form and meaning of several of Hopkins's poems, with emphasis on his use of imagery.
Plotkin, Cary H. The Tenth Muse: Victorian Philology and the Genesis of the Poetic Language of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Carbondale: Southern Illinois University Press, 203 p.
Explores the relationship between Hopkins' poetic and philological activities, situating his work in the context of mid-nineteenth century debates about language.
Read, Herbert. "Inscape and Gestalt: Hopkins." In his The True Voice of Feeling: Studies in English Romantic Poetry, pp. 76-86. New York: Pantheon, 1953.
Argues that Hopkins' theories about poetry surpass most of the theories of poetry advanced in the nineteenth century.
Smith, Francis J., S.J. "Hopkins' Best Poem." Victorian Newsletter 83 (Spring 1993): 22-4.
Provides a stylistic analysis of "The Windhover."
Stonier, G. W. "Gerard Manley Hopkins." In his Gog Magog and Other Critical Essays, pp. 43-63. Reprint. Freeport, N.Y.: Books for Libraries Press, 1966.
Asserts that Hopkins's finest poetry was a result of his conflict between art and religion.
Sutherland, Donald. "Hopkins Again." Prairie Schooner 35, No. 3 (Fall 1961): 197-242.
Classifies Hopkins's poetry as baroque.
Wagner, Jennifer A. "The Allegory of Form in Hopkins' Religious Sonnets." Nineteenth-Century Literature 47, No. 1 (June 1992): 32-48.
Analyzes Hopkins's radical experimentation in meter and poetic form.
Walker, Ralph S. "An Introduction to the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins." The Aberdeen University Review XXV, No. 15, (July 1938): 232-43.
Stresses the personal nature of Hopkins's poetry.
Weyand, Norman, S.J., ed. Immortal Diamond: Studies in Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York: Sheed & Ward, 1949, 451 p.
A collection of essays by Jesuit scholars on various aspects of Hopkins's work.
Wheeler, Michael. "Hopkins: The Wreck of the Deutschland." In his Death and the Future Life in Victorian Literature and Theology, pp. 340-66. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press, 1990.
Explores the themes of death and future life in The Wreck of the Deutschland in terms of its specifically Roman Catholic content.
Additional coverage of Hopkins' life and career is contained in the following sources published by Gale Research: Concise Dictionary of British Literary Biography, 1890-1914; DISCovering Authors; Dictionary of Literary Biography, Vols. 35, 57; and World Literature Criticism.
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SOURCE: "Instress of Inscape," in Hopkins: A Collection of Critical Essays, edited by Geoffrey H. Hartman, Prentice-Hall, Inc., 1966, pp. 168-77.
[Warren was an American educator and literary critic with a special interest in theology and church history. In the following essay which was originally published in 1948, he explores the defining characteristics of Hopkins's middle poems, emphasizing his penchant for "the sensuous, the concrete, and the particular."]
The early Hopkins follows Keats and the "medieval school" (as he called the Pre-Raphaelites). The latest Hopkins, who wrote the sonnets of desolation, was a poet of tense, economic austerity. Their nearest parallel I can summon would be Donne's "holy sonnets": "Batter my heart" and "If poisonous minerals." For the mode of "Andromeda" and the later sonnets (1885-89), Hopkins himself projected "a more Miltonic plainness and severity": He was thinking of Milton's sonnets and the choruses of Samson. In 1887 he invoked another name: "My style tends always more towards Dryden."
The middle period, which opens with the Wreck of the Deutschland (1875) and closes with "Tom's Garland" and "Harry Ploughman," both written in 1885, is the period of experiment. But it is also the most Hopkinsian—the most specially his own.
Middle Hopkins startles us by its dense rich world, its crowded Ark, its plenitude and its tangibility, its particularity of thing and word. There is detailed precision of image ("rose moles all in stipple upon trout that swim"). The poet is enamored of the unique, the "abrupt self."
The exploration of Middle Hopkins—its style, the view of life and art implicit in its style—may well start from the institutions and movements from which the poet learned, in which he participated. The motifs are the Ritualist Movement, Pre-Raphaelitism, Aestheticism, linguistic renovation, England, the Catholic church. In Hopkins' celebration of the sensuous, the concrete, the particular—his "instress of the inscapes"—all of these converge.
As a Catholic, Hopkins was an incarnationist and a sacramentalist: the sacraments are the extensions of the Incarnation. As a Catholic he believed that man is a compound of matter and form and that his body, resurrected, will express and implement his soul through all eternity. "Man's spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best. But unencumbered…." Like all Catholic philosophers, he believed in an outer world independent of man's knowing mind—he was, in the present sense of the word, a "realist."
Hopkins was an Englishman, of a proud and patriotic sort. This is not always remembered, partly because he became the priest of a church viewed by other Englishmen as Continental, or Italian, or international. But there is an English way of being Catholic. Hopkins was not an "old Catholic" of the sturdy, unemotional variety nourished on Challoner's Garden of the Soul; no convert could be that. But, like his admired Newman, and unlike Manning and Faber (also converts), he was "Gallican," not ultramontane; British, not Italian, in his devotional life and rhetoric. He remembers when England was Catholic, when the pilgrims frequented the shrine of Our Lady of Walsingham.
The four real shapers of Hopkins' mind were all Britons; we might go farther and say that all were British empiricists—all concerned with defending the ordinary man's belief in the reality and knowability of things and persons.
Two of them were encountered at Oxford. Pater, who remained his friend, was one of his tutors. Against the abstractions of the academic world, Pater boldly defended the concrete—in the visual arts and music, in perception. "Every moment some form grows perfect in hand or face, some tone on the hills or the sea is choicer than the rest…" Though Hopkins could not conceivably have written so representatively, abstractly ("hills… sea… choicer") the famous Conclusion to The Renaissance pleads for a stressing of the inscapes. Hopkins followed some lectures by Pater on Greek philosophy; perhaps he heard, in an earlier version, Pater's lectures on Plato and Platonism, in which, with monstrous effrontery, the Doctrine of Ideas was praised as giving contextual interest to the concrete.
With Ruskin, whose Modern Painters he read early and admiringly, Hopkins revolted against the neoclassical grandeur of generality praised by Johnson and expounded by Reynolds. The influence of Ruskin—art medievalist, devout student of clouds, mountains, trees—is pervasive in Hopkins' sketches (five of which are reproduced in the Note-Books) and in his journalizing, his meticulously technical descriptions of church architecture (often neo-Gothic) and scenery.
Hopkins follows the general line of Ruskin in more than art. He does not find the humanly satisfactory and well-furnished world such an effect of its Creator as the watch of the watchmaker. Nor does he, after the fashion of some mystics and Alexandrians, dissolve Nature into a system of symbols translating the real world of the Spirit. Like Ruskin, he was able to recover the medieval and Franciscan joy in God's creation. And, like Ruskin, he protested against an England which is "seared with trade… and wears man's smudge." His political economy, as well as it can be construed, was Ruskinian—what may be called tory socialist or distributist.
It was to Newman, his great predecessor, that Hopkins wrote upon deciding to become a Roman Catholic. And Newman's closest approach to a philosophical work, his Grammar of Assent (1870), interested Hopkins enough so that in 1883 he planned to publish (had Newman agreed) a commentary on it. There were marked temperamental and intellectual differences between the men. Newman, much the more complex and psychologically subtle, could feel his way into other men's minds as Hopkins could not. Hopkins was the closer dialectician and scholar. He did not share Newman's distrust of metaphysics (including the scholastic), his tendency to fideism; but he was, like New man—in words the latter used of Hurrell Froude—"an Englishman to the backbone in his severe adherence to the real and the concrete."
The great medieval thinker who most swayed Hopkins' spirit to peace, Duns Scotus, was also a Briton, had been an Oxford professor. He was "of reality the rarest-veinéd unraveler": he was able to analyze, disengage from the complex in which they appear, the thinnest, most delicate strands ("vein" may be either anatomical or geological). Perhaps "rarest-veinéd unraveler" is a kind of kenning for the philosopher's epithet, the Subtle Doctor. Scotus, the Franciscan critic of the Dominican Aquinas, was centrally dear to Hopkins as undertaking the philosophical validation of the individual. In the individual's relation to his species, Aquinas taught that the "matter" individuates, while the "form" is generic: that is, that the individuals of a species reproductively multiply their common originative pattern. Scotus insisted that each individual has a distinctive "form" as well: a haecceitas, or thisness, as well as a generic quidditas, or whatness.
After having discovered this medieval Franciscan, Hopkins, upon "any inscape of sky or sea," thought of Scotus. The word, of Hopkins' coinage, occurs already in his Oxford notebooks. Modeled presumably on "landscape," "inscape" stands for any kind of formed or focused view, any pattern discerned in the natural world. A central word in his vocabulary and central motif in his mental life, it traverses some range of meaning: from sense-perceived pattern to inner form. The prefix seems to imply a contrary, an outerscape: that is, an "inscape" is not mechanically or inertly present but requires personal action, attention, a seeing and a seeing into.
The earliest "Notes for Poetry" cite: "Feathery rows of young corn. Ruddy, furred and branchy tops of the elms backed by rolling clouds." "A beautiful instance of inscape sided on the slide, that is successive sidings on one inscape, is seen in the behavior of the flag flower." In 1873, two years before the "Deutschland," he "saw a shoal of salmon in the river and many hares on the open hills. Under a stone hedge was a dying ram: there ran slowly from his nostrils a thick flesh-coloured ooze, scarlet in places, coiling and roping its way down so thick that it looked like fat."
He made notes on ancient musical instruments and on gems and their colors: "beryl—watery green; carnelian—strong flesh red, Indian red…." His love of precise visual observation never lapsed, nor did his taste for reserach. Like Gray, he had a meticulous antiquarianism, suited to botany or archeology, to notes and queries, details, studies in place names, amateur etymologies.
Perhaps his most brilliant prose celebrates the Self and its wonders: "That taste of myself, of I and me above and in all things, which is more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum." Other selves were mysterious. As a shy man, he found it easier to reach natural "inscapes." He wrote no psychological portraits matching for sharpness and delicacy his notations of ash trees. The men in his poems are seen as from a distance—sympathetically but generically.
But he gloried in the range and repertory of mankind. Chesterton was concerned that, lying down with the lamb, the lion should "still retain his royal ferocity"; and Hopkins, also, wanted monks to be mild and soldiers to be pugnacious. He imagined Christ incarnate again as a soldier. He didn't want other men to be like himself; he was drawn to his antitypes—to soldiers; miners; Felix Randall, the blacksmith, and Harry, the ploughman; to manual laborers. Moreover, each of these men he wished to be functioning not only characteristically but intensely, violently, dangerously—on their mettle, like the Windhover, like Harry Ploughman, like the sailor of the "Eurydice" who, "strung by duty, is strained to beauty."
In poetry he desired both to record inscapes and to use words as objects. His was a double particularity.
Poetry, he wrote shortly before composing the Deutschland, is "speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above its interest of meaning. Some [subject] matter and meaning is essential to it but only as an element necessary to support and employ the shape which is contemplated for its own sake. Poetry is in fact speech for the inscape's sake—and therefore the inscape must be dwelt on."
In 1862 he was already collecting words. The earliest entries in the Note-Books are gritty, harshly tangy words, "running the letter,": "grind, gride, grid, grit, groat, grate" and "crock, crank, kranke, crick, cranky." He collected dialectical equivalents: "whisket" for "basket," "grindle-stone" for "grindstone." He notes linguistic habits: that an observed laborer, when he began to speak "quickly and descriptively,—dropped or slurred the article." He attends to, and tries to define, the sundry modes of Latin pronunciation. He inquires concerning the character of the Maltese language; wants to learn Welsh—not primarily in order to convert the local Wesleyans back to their ancestral faith.
In his early poetry Hopkins followed Keats and the "medieval school." Even in his middle style there remain vestiges of the earlier decorative diction, frequent use of "beauty," "lovely," "dear," "sweet" ("that sweet's sweeter ending"). But as early as 1866, "The Habit of Perfection," though dominantly "medieval," anticipates the later mode:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.
The Wreck of the Deutschland (1875) inaugurates Hopkins' middle period (his first proper mastery). The diction is quite as extraordinary as the rhythm. Characteristic are homely dialectal words, sounding like survivors from Old English, and compound epithets suggestive of the same archetype. From the concluding stanzas of the Deutschland come these lines:
Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!
Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came….
From "The Bugler's First Communion":
That Hopkins was influenced by Old English poetry is an easy assumption. In his excellent New Poets from Old: A Study in Literary Genetics, Henry Wells observes that all the technical features representative of that poetry appear conspicuously in Hopkins; judges him far nearer to Cynewulf than to Chaucer; and finds a plausible parallel to a passage in Beowulf. But, by his own statement, Hopkins did not learn Anglo-Saxon until 1882 and seems never to have read either Beowulf or Cynewulf. In any case, he was already a student of Welsh poetry and an attentive reader of linguistic monographs. Like Pound and Eliot, he belongs among the poets who can be incited to poetry by scholars' prose.
In 1873-74, while teaching a course in rhetoric at Manresa House, Hopkins wrote the observations collected in the Note-Books. In his notes he used the 1859 Lectures on the English Language by the American scholar, George P. Marsh, a book calculated to incite a poet. Marsh has a real interest in the future (as well as the past) of the language and a real interest in the literary (as well as the pragmatic) use of words. The whole direction of his book suggests that literary experiment can find much to its purpose in literary history and that new poetry can be engendered by old. Ending his lecture on "Accentuation and Double Rhymes," he urges: "We must enlarge our stock [of rhyming words] by the revival of obsolete words and inflections from native sources," or introduce substitutes for rhyme; in the following chapter he excitingly discusses alliteration (with illustrations from Piers Plowman), consonance, e.g., "bad, led"; "find, band" (with illustrations from Icelandic poetry and invented English examples), and assonance (with illustrations from the Spanish). Hopkins' quotations from Piers are Marsh's; only in 1882 did he study Piers, and then without admiration, regarding its verse as a "degraded and doggerel" form of Anglo-Saxon sprung rhythm.
To both Bridges and Dixon, curious concerning the new poetic method of the Deutschland, Hopkins says nothing of Old English or of Piers Plowman but speaks of nursery rhymes, the choruses of Milton's Samson, and his readings in Welsh poetry (which he began studying in 1875). "The chiming of the consonants I get in part from the Welsh, which is very rich in sound and imagery." Traits common to Old English and Middle Hopkins (scant use of articles, prepositions, and pronouns; constant use of compound words) are shared by both with Welsh poetry.
There is a third lineage for the diction of Hopkins. Through Barnes and Furnivall, at least, he derives from an imprecisely defined group of Victorian historians and philologists, who challenged the dominance of the Latin and Romance—the "civilized," learned, abstract—elements in our language. One of these linguistic protestants was the Oxford historian, E. A. Freeman, who chronicled the Norman Conquest and himself resisted it. As early as 1846 he was praising the Teutonic part of our language as affording "expressions mostly of greater strength than their Romance synonyms for all purposes of general literature"; and he used the phrase "pure English" for a diction purged of these synonyms. Another Anglicizer was F. J. Furnivall, a founder, in 1864, of the Early English Text Society, and a constant editor of texts, who began his intellectual career under the influence of Ruskin and Maurice and declared that his interest in early literature was not linguistic but social. Another founder of the E.E.T.S., R. C. Trench, gave a chapter of his English, Past and Present (1855) to a consideration of "English as it might have been" without a Norman Conquest. Though our present cerebral and technical words derive from the classical languages, he argues that the Anglo-Saxon might have developed—chiefly by compounding, as German has done—such a vocabulary. Even "impenetrability" could have been matched, accurately, by "unthoroughfaresomeness." And theological language would be understood by farm hand as well as by scholar if we said "again-buying" for "redemption."
In the tradition of Trench, but much more violent, William Barnes lamented the linguistic conquest of English and declared the old stock still capable of extension by compounding. Instead of "photograph," we should say "sunprint" or "flameprint." Indeed, all our current Latinisms we should replace out of the "wordstores of the landfolk." Barnes's nominations are all flavorsome; samples are "overyearn" (commiserate), "gleecraft" (music), "outclear" (elucidate), "faithheat" (enthusiasm). He regretted the loss of "inwit" in place of "conscience"; and to serve instead of "subjective" and "objective" (those psychological-philosophical terms which Coleridge introduced from Germany) he suggested "inwoning" and "outwoning."
Barnes had something of a following among literary people; was publicly praised by Patmore, Gosse, Bridges, Hardy. His poetry, early read, Hopkins preferred to that of Burns, liking its "West Country instress." But he learned most from the prose. Barnes's Speechcraft [i.e., Grammar], says Hopkins, is "written in an unknown tongue, a soul of modern Anglo-Saxon, beyond all that Furnival in his wildest Forewords ever dreamed…. It makes one weep to think what English might have been, for in spite of all that Shakespeare and Milton have done with the compound ["impure" English] I cannot doubt that no beauty in a language can make up for want of purity. In fact, I am learning Anglo-Saxon and it is a vastly superior thing to what we have." He cites Barnes's wondrous "pitches of suchness" (for "degrees of comparison"): "We ought to call them so, but alas!"
Hopkins' characteristic critical and philosophical terminology follows closely the counsel of Trench and Barnes: that it, it is a compounding of Old English roots and suffixes to suit new needs and to replace Latinic terms. "Inwit" (for "conscience") and Barnes's "inwoning" (subjective) may have suggested "instress" and "inscape." Hopkins explains his special use of "sake" (the being a thing has outside itself) by analytic parallel of the compounds "forsake," "namesake," "keepsake." The terminology of the Comments on the Spiritual Exercises (1880) is particularly Hopkinsian (e.g., "pitch," "stress," "burl"). To Bridges, Hopkins wrote of his manuscript book on rhythm, "It is full of new words, without which there can be no new science."
His doctrine of the language for poetry, nowhere exposited, we can infer to have been quite different. Archaism—the use of obsolete words for literary effect—he repudiated. His oddities (like "pashed," "fashed," "tucked," "degged") are generally dialectal; and it is safe to assume that his words of Old English lineage were collected and used by him as dialectal, still-spoken English: not "inkhorn" terms but folk speech. Even when he thought he was improvising, he was—at least in one instance—remembering: his alleged coinage, "louched" (slouched, slouching) was, as Bridges observed, to be found in Wright's Dialect Dictionary.
Whenever Hopkins explained his words (as he always stood ready to do), their particularity, their compactness and detail, were manifest. "Stickles—Devonshire for the foamy tongues of water below falls." "Bole" is not only used by poets but seems technical and proper and in the mouth of timber merchants and so forth. Of "flit," questioned by a correspondent, he writes: "I myself always use it and commonly hear it used among our people. I think it is at least a North Country word, used in Lancashire, for instance."
His compoundings are another matter. Though analogues can be offered from Browning, Hopkins came to them, it is probable, by way of medieval poetry, English and Welsh, and by way of Marsh, Trench, and Barnes. His defense would doubtless be that to compound freely was to restore to the English language a power it once had possessed. But the words thus compounded, or the root and suffix or prefix, were separately familiar and oral. He writes "spendsavour salt" (the salt which is spending its savor and on its way to being the biblical salt which has lost its savor); "bloomfall"; "trambeam"; "backwheels"; "though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie" ("leafmeal" is on the model of "piecemeal"; suffix means "by bits," "by portions").
Judged by its effect and its internal intent, Hopkins' poetry finds partial parallels in Hoist, Delius, and Vaughan Williams. Avoiding the archaism of Warlock and Dolmetsch, they sought to resume the line of English music where its genuine succession was interrupted—at the Restoration, and to go creatively back to the English glory of folksong and madrigal and the modal scales, to Dowland, Bull, and Byrd. Similarly, Hopkins seems to be reaching back, while he is reaching forward, to an "English" poetry. Probably, we may add, to an "English Catholic" poetry; and suppose that his pushing back of the Elizabethans had some incentive in his desire to get back of the Reformation to an England at once Catholic and English.
Like the poetry of the bards and the scops, Hopkins' poetry is oral, yet not conversational but formal and rhetorical. It uses dialectal words without intending, like Barnes's Poems of Rural Life, to be local and homely; it uses folk words in "serious" poetry. Hopkins' poems were written for an ideal audience, never existent in his day or ours, composed of literarily perceptive countrymen and of linguistically adept and folk-minded scholars. What his poetry assumed as convention, he had, by artifice, to create. The Wreck and "Tom's Garland" suggest or predict a greater poetry than they achieve. Hopkins' experiments are yet more important than his achievement; his comparative failures more interesting than his good "whole poems."
The ideal of poetry must be to instress the inscapes without splintering the architecture of the universe and, expressionally, to make every word rich in a way compatible with a more than additively rich total poetic structure. But in Hopkins' poems, the word, the phrase, the "local excitement," often pulls us away from the poem. And in the more ambitious pieces, the odes as we may call them (The Wreck, "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves," "Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire"), there is felt a discrepancy between texture and structure: the copious, violent detail is matched by no corresponding intellectual or mythic vigor. Indeed, The Wreck of the Deutschland is an "occasional," commissioned piece at which Hopkins works devotedly and craftfully, like Dryden at his Annas mirabilis, but which, like Dryden's poem, falls apart. Hopkins was not a story-teller, and he was not able to turn his wrecks into myths of wreck; they remain historical events accompanied by commentary. "The Bugler-Boy" and other poems suffer from the gap between the psychological naïveté and the purely literary richness. To try prose paraphrases of the middle poems is invariably to show how thin the "thinking" is. Hopkins' mind was first aesthetic and then technical: he reasoned closely upon metaphysical and prosodic matters. But his reflections upon beauty, man, and nature—his humanistic thoughts—are not distinguished.
The meaning of Hopkins' poems hovers closely over the text, the linguistic surface. The rewarding experience of concern with them is to be let more and more into words and their ways, to contemplate the protopoetry of derivation and metaphorical expansion, to stress the inscapes of the English tongue.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 7266
SOURCE: "The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins," in The Hudson Review, Vol. 1, No. 4, Winter, 1949, pp. 455-76.
[Winters was an American poet and critic known for his negative opinion of Hopkins's work. In the following essay, he compares of Hopkins's sonnet "No Worst" to a poem by John Donne and Robert Bridges's "Low Barometer," concluding that Hopkins's poem suffers from its overemphasis of emotion and its failure to suggest a rational motivation for the feeling expressed in the piece. In the second part of the essay, he discusses the difficulties in determining the correct scansion of Hopkins's poetry in general.]
It is my intention to begin by comparing three poems, a sonnet by John Donne, a short poem by Robert Bridges, and a sonnet by Gerard Hopkins, and to compare them with reference to a particular theory of poetry. The poems by Donne and Bridges conform to this theory and illustrate it perfectly; the poem by Hopkins deviates sharply and I believe suffers as a result. Hopkins provides an excellent example of deviation, however, for two reasons: in the first place, though his deviation is serious, it is not crude or ridiculous and thus differs from the deviations of many romantic poets before and after, even poets of ge nius; and in the second place, his gift for language, as far as his procedure will allow it to emerge, appears almost as great as that of Donne or Bridges, so that we may examine with a minimum of distraction the consequences of the deviation itself. The poems of Donne and Bridges deal with closely related themes, under different figures derived from different views of human history; the theme of Hopkins may be similar but is inadequately defined and one cannot be sure.
The theory of poetry may be summarized briefly as follows. A poem is a statement in words, and about a human experience, and it will be successful in so far as it realizes the possibilities of that kind of statement. This sentence may seem childishly obvious, but it states facts of which we must never lose sight if we are to understand poetry, and facts of which sight is very commonly lost. When we are discussing poetry, we should not bequile ourselves with analogies drawn from music, sculpture, architecture, or engineering; a poem is not a symphony, neither is it a structure made of bricks. Words are primarily conceptual; the words grief, tree, poetry, God, represent concepts; they may communicate some feeling and remembered sensory impression as well, and they may be made to communicate a great deal of these, but they will do it by virtue of their conceptual identity, and in so far as this identity is impaired they will communicate less of these and communicate them with less force and precision. It is the business of the poet, then, to make a statement in words about an experience; the statement must be in some sense and in a fair measure acceptable rationally; and the feeling communcicated should be proper to the rational understanding of the experience.
Poetry has something, however, though relatively little, in common with music; namely, rhythm. Rhythm, with the other elements of sound which may be combined with it—in poetry these other elements are relatively few and simple—is to some extent expressive of emotion, and it may be used to modify the emotional content of language. The value of rhythm is not primarily in its power to intensify emotion, though it has this power; it is rather to modulate and define emotion, so that a finer adjustment of emotion to thought may be possible.
The poem thus differs from the statement of the philosopher or scientist in that it is a fairly complete judgment of an experience: it is not merely a rational statement, but it communicates as well the feeling which the particular rational understanding ought to motivate. It differs from the statement of the writer of imaginative prose, in that the poet's language is more precise and more flexible and hence can accomplish more in little space and accomplish it better. But with the development of romantic theory in the eighteenth, nineteenth, and twentieth centuries, there has been an increasing tendency to suppress the rational in poetry and as far as may be to isolate the emotional. This tendency makes at best for an incomplete poetry and makes at worst for a very confused poetry.
My first poem is by John Donne:
Thou best made me, and shall thy work decay?
Repair me now, for now mine end doth haste,
I run to death, and death meets me as fast,
And all my pleasures are like yesterday;
I dare not move my dim eyes any way,
Despair behind and death before doth cast
Such terror, and my feeble flesh doth waste
By sin in it, which it toward hell doth weigh;
Only thou art above, and when toward thee
By thy leave I can look, I rise again;
But our old subtle foe so tempteth me,
That not one hour myself I can sustain;
Thy Grace may wing me to prevent his art,
And thou like Adamant draw mine iron heart.
This poem is simple in conception: the poet looks forward a little way to death and backward on the sins of his life; he is oppressed with his helplessness and prays for God's grace that he may love God, repent, and be saved. The situation is a general one: we have an orthodox theological definition of a predicament in which every man is supposed to share; yet the poet knows it to be his own predicament, and the theological proposition becomes a personal experience. The language is plain, but is exact and powerful; it culminates in a pun which makes one of the greatest lines in English poetry.
My second poem, "Low Barometer," is by Robert Bridges:
The southwind strengthens to a gale,
Across the moon the clouds fly fast,
The house is smitten as with a flail,
The chimney shudders to the blast.
On such a night, when Air has loosed
Its guardian grasp on blood and brain,
Old terrors then of god or ghost
Creep from their caves to life again;
And Reason kens he herits in
A haunted house. Tenants unknown
Assert their squalid lease of sin
With earlier title than his own.
Unbodied presences, the pack'd
Pollution and Remorse of Time,
Slipped from oblivion reënact
The horrors of unhouseled crime.
Some men would quell the thing with prayer
Whose sightless footsteps pad the floor,
Whose fearful trespass mounts the stair
Or bursts the lock'd forbidden door.
Some have seen corpses long interr'd
Escape from hallowing control,
Pale charnel forms—nay ev'n have heard
The shrilling of a troubled soul,
That wanders till the dawn hath cross'd
The dolorous dark, or Earth hath wound
Closer her storm-spredd cloke, and thrust
The baleful phantoms underground.
The theme of this poem, as I have said, is similar to the theme of the sonnet by Donne. Donne sees man as fallen from Grace and evicted from paradise, and as capable of salvation only through a return of Grace as an aid to his own imperfect ability; though he does not say so in this poem, his system depends in part on the right use of Reason, though Reason without Grace is insufficient, and the poem is a prayer for Grace. Bridges sees man as risen from brutality and as governed precariously by Reason. Both poets deal with man's unequal struggle with his lower nature, and with what we may call either literally or figuratively the effect of Original Sin. Bridges, like Donne, feels the need for supernatural aid in addition to Reason; unlike Donne, he cannot state this need directly and in theological language, for he is not a Christian, but he implies it in his figurative use of Air; "… when Air has loosed / Its guardian grasp on blood and brain." Through the figure of the storm, he indicates supernatural violence; as a result of the storm, the steady force of the air, like the pressure of water on submarine life, is relaxed, and man's nature is unbalanced, and man sees corpses "Escape from hallowing control"; Reason is overwhelmed by the ancient and powerful demonic forces in its fleshly habitation. This poem, like Donne's, deals with a common predicament; unlike Donne's, the poem does not profess to deal with a personal experience. Both poems deal with the experience in the most general of terms: Donne's despair, death, and sin could hardly be more general, but they are definite, for they have a body of theology behind them, and we know what they include and why Donne feels as he does; Bridges, without such a corpus of theology for direct reference, must limit his statement further:
Unbodied presences, the pack'd
Pollution and Remorse of Time,
Slipped from oblivion reënact
The horrors of unhouseled crime.
These lines are the culmination of his account of sin as the subhuman, the archaic, and the chaotic; he is forced to greater particularity here than Donne, and he achieves greater power, but the statement is nevertheless general and very inclusive. What I wish to call to the attention at present is this: that though both poems are generalized, they are precise; that there is a great difference between generalization and uncertainty.
Let us now consider the sonnet by Hopkins:
No worst there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.'
O the mind, mind has mountains: cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
This poem differs from the two preceding in that it deals primarily with a particular and personal experience; the difficulty consists in the fact that there is so little generalization that we can feel no certainty regarding the nature of the experience beyond the fact that it has generated a desperate emotion. This is not a poem about the effects of violent emotion in general; it is a poem about a particular violent emotion experienced by the poet. The nearest thing to a statement of motive occurs in the first line and a half of the sestet; but what are these mountains of the mind? One does not enquire because one holds them cheap, but because one has hung on so many oneself, so various in their respective terrors, that one is perplexed to assign a particular motive. One is inclined to ask: "What do you know of these matters? Why are you so secretive? And above all, why are you so self-righteous in your secretiveness?" Hopkins' modern admirers have often assumed that the poem deals with a struggle to maintain what they consider an irrational and unwholesome faith, that it deals with the self-inflicted torture of the religious. There is nothing in the poem either to prove or to disprove the idea of such a struggle. The emotion might result from such a struggle, might result as in Donne's sonnet from a sense of sin either general or particular or both and for the need of Grace, from the contemplation of any of several metaphysical propositions, from the death of a friend, from betrayal by a friend, from the desperation of personal loneliness, from a mixture of some of these, or from something else. We have passed beyond the limits of generalization; we are in the realm of uncertainty; and the mind cannot organize itself to share Hopkins' experience with any real feeling of security.
It is interesting to observe the manner in which he achieves a part of the precision he needs, a small part which is managed with such skill that it gives a brief illusion of a great part, in the use of metaphor. Take, for example, his most brilliant phrase: "on an age-old anvil wince and sing—." The anvil is presumably God's discipline, and on it lies the poet as a piece of metal. The two verbs, the first with its sense of human suffering combined with metallic vibration, the second with its sense of metallic vibration combined perhaps with human triumph, make the metal suffer as metal under the hammer, and the suffering metal is terribly vivid. We suffer with the metal under the blow, and we forget that the literal metal does not suffer, that metal and blow are figurative, and that the human half of the figure is incomplete. Thus the poet conveys emotion for a moment, and conveys it with an illusion of motivation but with no real motivation. If the mountains of the mind were adequately identified, Hopkins' figure would have a power comparable to that of Donne's last line; but Donne's line has meaning, and Hopkins' figure the illusion of meaning.
The meter of the poem contributes to the difficulty, or at least emphasizes it. Hopkins' published explanation of his meter is incomplete and contradictory, and will help us only a little to understand his work. I will consider it in some detail presently, but for the moment I would like to give my own definition of sprung rhythm, which agrees only in part with that of Hopkins, and then proceed to an examination of the meter of the present sonnet. Sprung rhythm occurs when two stresses come together by means other than the normal inversion of a foot; it occurs freely in accentual meter and in syllabic meter; it may occur as a variant in standard English meter as a result of the dropping of an unaccented syllable with the resultant creation of a monosyllabic foot, or as a result of the equally heavy accentuation of both syllables of a foot. For example, when Barnaby Googe writes in an iambic pentameter poem: "Fair
face show friends when riches do abound," the first two feet are sprung. It is most profitable, I think, to approach the sonnet under consideration as a variant on iambic pentameter, using Hopkins' remarks as occasional guides. I shall offer a scansion of the poem, with alternative read ings of certain lines, and shall then comment on the scan sion:
- No worst/ there is/ none. Pitched/ past pitch/ of grief/, No worst/
- More pangs/ will, schooled/ at fore/pangs wild/ er wring/.
- Comfort/er where is/ your com/ fortlng/?
- Mary/, mother/ of us/ where is/ your relief/?
- My cries/ heave, herds/ -long; hud/dle in main/, a chief/
(My) cries heave/ herds-long/; huddle/ in a main/, a chief/
- Woe, world sor/ (row); on an age/- old an/vil wince/ and sing/—
Woe, world sor/row; on an age/
- Then lull/, then leave/ off. Fu/ry had shrieked/ 'No ling/-
- ering/! Let me/ be fell/: force I/ must be brief/.'
- O the mind/, mind/ has mount/ains: cliffs/ of fall/
- Frightful/, sheer/, no-man-fath/omed. Hold/ them cheap/
- May who ne' erhnng/ there. Nor/ does long/ our small/
May who ne'er/ hung there/. Nor does/ long/ our small/
- Durance/ deal with/ that steep/ or deep/. Here! Creep/,
- Wretch, un/der a com/ fort serves/ in a whirl/ wind: all/
- Life death/ does end/ and each/ day dies/ with sleep/.
The first line is normal, unless we read the first foot as reversed; in either version it defines the pattern. In the second line, the first two feet are reversed, and the last three are normal; the reversal of the second foot is unusual, as Hopkins says in his preface, and is the first indication of the violence to follow. In the third line the first and third feet are reversed and the rest normal, this being a more ordinary arrangement. The fourth line is composed of four reversed feet and a normal trisyllabic foot, the first four feet giving us what Hopkins calls counterpoint, or a heard rhythm running counter to the remembered norm. The fifth line may be scanned in either of two ways: as composed of four iambic feet (the first three and the fifth), with the fourth foot reduced to three syllables by the elision of huddle and in; or with My regarded as extra-metrical, a violent procedure from the standpoint of the ordinary metrist, but defensible in Hopkin's system of lines which are "rove over," and thereafter three reversed feet, a normal trisyllabic foot, and a normal dissyllabic. The two readings may be regarded as a case of counterpoint, perhaps, the first giving the theoretic norm and the second the heard rhythm. In regard to this and other elisions, real or possible, in Hopkins, one may suggest that Hopkins may have had a notion comparable to that of Bridges, whereby elision takes place for the eye and so pays its respects to regularity but does not take place for the ear: his elisions, or possible elisions, in any event, are usually preferable if seen but not heard. The sixth line contains seven inescapable accents, and so eliminates any possibility that the poem be scanned as regular accentual meter. I should be inclined to call the first three syllables, all of which are accented, a single sprung foot, of the same sort employed by Googe in dissyllabic units when he wrote, "Fair face show friends." I am acquainted with no poet save Hopkins who has used a sprung foot of three syllables, but the sprung foot of two syllables, employed as a variation on standard English meter, is fairly common in the sixteenth century. The second syllable of sorrow may then be regarded as extra-metrical, the position of the extra-metrical syllable before the caesura instead of at the line-end being natural enough in a system in which the line-end need not involve a pause and in which the caesural break may be heavy, that is in a system of lines which are "rove over," as I have said; or sorrow may be elided with on; thereafter we have a normal trisyllabic foot followed by two normal dissyllables. The seventh line is simple except for the termination in mid-word, a procedure justified by Hopkins' theory and successful use of "roveover" rhythm, and for which classical—and even, in a measure, Miltonic—precedent can be found if it is wanted; the fourth foot of this line is a normal trisyllabic, the others are normal dissyllables. The eighth line contains an inverted foot in the difficult second position and another in the fourth, and for the rest contains two normal dissyllables and a final normal trisyllabic, and thus brings the octet back more or less obviously to the iambic pentameter pattern.
In the ninth line, we have a trisyllabic, a monosyllabic, and three dissyllables, the accents falling normally. The monosyllabic foot, as a method of achieving sprung rhythm, has, like the sprung dissyllabic, its precedents in the sixteenth century. It occurs in some of the poems of Wyatt which are based on a ten-syllable norm, and it occurs in some of the seven-syllable couplets of Greene: the reader may examine specimens of both, if he is curious, in The Oxford Book of Sixteenth Century Verse. In line ten we have an inverted dissyllabic, a monosyllabic, an inverted trisyllabic, and two normal dissyllables. In the eleventh line we may read five dissyllables, the first only being inverted; or we may read an inverted trisyllabic followed by two inverted dissyllables, a monosyllabic, and a normal dissyllabic; the first reading giving the theoretic norm and the second the heard rhythm, with another example of Hopkins' counterpoint as the result. The twelfth line consists of two inverted dissyllables, a sprung dissyllabic, a normal dissyllabic, and a sprung dissyllabic, to give us another line of seven accents. The thirteenth line consists of an inverted dissyllabic, a normal trisyllabic, a normal dissyllabic, a normal trisyllabic, and a normal dissyllabic. The last line consists of five normal dissyllables, although the long syllables in the first and fourth feet almost give the illusion of sprung feet: this line returns to the original pattern, yet echoes some of the more violent variations.
The poem, then, is not written in syllabic meter, for the number of syllables varies from line to line; if it is an attempt at accentual meter, it is irregular, for two lines contain extra accents. But it can be described, and without undue trouble, as a variant on standard English meter, a variant both learned and perverse but in which the rhythm is successfully maintained, in which the perversity is equalled by the skill.
Skill to what purpose, however? The rhythm is fascinating in itself, but it does not exist in itself, it exists in the poem. It is a rhythm based on the principle of violent struggle with its governing measure, and it contributes to the violence of feeling in the total poem. But it is this very violence which makes us question the motive, and I think one may add that the violence is in some degree the result of the inadequacy of the motive. When Bridges writes:
Unbodied presences, the packed
Pollution and Remorse of Time,
Slipped from oblivion reënact
The horrors of unhouseled crime,
he is making a statement about human nature which is true and important; the concept and all its implications are clear; and he can make his statement quietly, for he knows that we should recognize its importance and be moved appropriately. I do not mean that the importance of the concept absolves him from the necessity of deliberately communicating the appropriate emotion, and in this passage the emotional weight of the language is great; I mean that his statement has the dignity of conviction. Hopkins has no such generating concept, or at least offers none; since he cannot move us by telling us why he himself is moved, he must try to move us by belaboring his emotion. He says, in effect: "Share my fearful emotion, for the human mind is subject to fearful emotions." But why should we wish to share an emotion so ill sponsored? Nothing could be more rash. We cannot avoid sharing a part of it, for Hopkins has both skill and genius; but we cannot avoid being confused by the experience and suspecting in it a fine shade of the ludicrous. Who is this man to lead us so far and blindfold into violence? This kind of thing is a violation of our integrity; it is somewhat beneath the dignity of man.
I have already indicated the most important general problem raised by Hopkins' meter, the problem of emotional overemphasis. My actual scansion of the poem in question, however, is one of which Hopkins might or might not have approved, although I suspect that he would have accepted it as reasonable. Before we can deal with Hopkins' meter in general, or at least with reference to his more curious and experimental structures, we must look at his own remarks, for the more difficult poems certainly cannot be scanned as variants on the iambic structure. There are two important documents: Rhythm and Other Structural Parts of Rhetoric—Verse, in The Notebooks and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, a discussion which is merely a general survey of his speculations on the topic but which gives a fair idea of where his mind had roamed and paused, and the Author's Preface to the Poems, which was written as an explanation of his actual practice. The former document is only of incidental, though sometimes of real, interest: for example, in my own scansion of the sonnet which I have already discussed, I have indicated a foot of three accented syllables at the beginning of line six, and have noted that this resembles similar feet of two accented syllables which one can find in such Renaissance models as Googe and Nashe, but outdoes them; but Hopkins in the document mentioned lists the Greek molossus, or foot of three long syllables, among the various Greek constructions, and since he was aware that English feet resembled certain Greek feet if accent were substituted for length, and since he was all but obsessed with metrical theories of every kind, it is not unreasonable to suppose that he would attempt an English molossus if he were employing a metrical scheme which would at once sustain it and make it recognizable.
The Author's Preface, however, was written as an explanation of what Hopkins had actually done. It is unsatisfactory, but we must examine it briefly and point by point. Hopkins begins by naming two kinds of meter, Running and Sprung. The former he identifies with standard English meter; the latter he describes farther on. He states that Running rhythm may be more easily scanned if any unaccented syllable at the beginning of the line be regarded either as carried over from the preceding line or as extra-metrical, so that the accent will always fall in the first place in the foot. It seems obvious to me that such a system of scansion would introduce more difficulties than it would eliminate and further that it would disregard the natural genius of English rhythm. In the following paragraph, however, he proceeds to speak of standard English verse as if he had not made this suggestion: his discussion of reversed feet and of counterpoint rhythm rests on a recognition of the reality of iambic and anapestic feet, and he does not account in any way for this sudden change of theory. One does not know, therefore, how he prefers his own poems to be scanned, and one can only use what judgment one has with the individual poem.
He next takes up Sprung Rhythm, and he offers two distinct definitions for it. First, he says: "Sprung Rhythm, as used in this book, is measured by feet of from one to four syllables, regularly, and for particular effects any number of weak or slack syllables may be used. It [he refers here to the individual foot] has one stress, which falls on the only syllable, if there is only one, or, if there are more, then scanning as above, on the first, and so gives rise to four sorts of feet, a monosyllable and the so-called accentual Trochee, Dactyl, and the First Paeon. And there will be four corresponding natural rhythms; but nominally the feet are mixed, and any one may follow any other." He adds that it will be natural in this rhythm for the lines to be rove over, "that is for the scanning of each line immediately to take up that of the one before, so that if the first has one or more syllables at its end the other must have so many the less at its beginning." This is partly a description of the way in which his own poems tend to move with little or no pause at the ends of lines, and it is partly a formal necessity, for if each foot is to start with an accented syllable, there must be some way to account for unaccented syllables when they occur at the beginning of a line, and the obvious method is to assign them to the last foot of the line preceding. What we have here, briefly, is a description of ordinary accentual verse, which commonly shall have a maximum of three unaccented syllables between accents, but which may sometimes have more. Near the end of the Preface, however, Hopkins remarks of certain old popular rimes and their modification by time, "however these may have been once made in running rhythm, the terminations having dropped off by the change of language, the stresses come together and so the rhythm is sprung." Here it appears that Sprung Rhythm is identified by the juxtaposition of stresses, and that we may have juxtaposition of stresses in meter other than accentual. For clarity of discussion, I shall use the term Sprung Rhythm, as I have used it in the past, to refer to rhythm in which two or more stresses come together, except where this occurs in standard English meter through the mere inversion of a foot.
Of Sprung Rhythm (apparently in either sense), Hopkins says: "Two licenses are natural to Sprung Rhythm. The one is rests, as in music; but of this an example is scarcely to be found in this book, unless in the "Echoes," second line. The other is hangers or outrides, that is one, two, or three slack syllables added to foot and not counting in the nominal scanning. They are so called because they seem to hang below the line or ride forward or backward from it in another dimension than the line itself, according to a principle needless to explain here." This comment is characteristic. As to "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo," it is metrically one of the most difficult of Hopkins poems, and I believe that there is no way of being certain what the pattern is, if there is indeed a fixed one; there is one insurmountable obstacle to certainty in this matter with regard to all the more difficult specimens, an obstacle which I shall presently discuss. And Hopkins himself appears uncertain as to whether there is a "rest" in the second line. As to hangers or outrides, he finds it needless to explain their principle; and it is hard to see how so many as six unaccented syllables could be attached to an accented syllable without confusion.
Hopkins cites Greene as having practiced Sprung Rhythm. The Sprung Rhythm which Greene practiced, however, can be classified properly as such according to my definition and to Hopkins' second, but not according to Hopkins' first. Greene's Sprung Rhythm occurs as a variant on standard English meter, when he drops an unaccented syllable, thus bringing two accented syllables together. The following passage, for example, comes from a poem written in ordinary couplets of seven-syllable lines:
Up I start, forth went I,
With her face to feed mine eye….
Many similar lines can be found in Greene whenever he uses this form. I should judge that Hopkins must have had such lines by Greene in mind when he was writing his "Lines for a Picture of St. Dorothea" (Number 82, an early version of Number 1, "For a Picture of St. Dorothea"). I quote the first stanza, with the accents [in italics] as given in the published text:
I bear a basket lined with grass.
I am so light and fair
Men are amazed to watch me pass
With the basket I bear,
Which in newly drawn green litter
Carries treats of sweet for bitter.
The meter of Hopkins' second line corresponds exactly to the meter of the first line quoted from Greene, and so does the meter of Hopkins' fourth if one reads the stress that is almost forced on the second syllable of basket in spite of its not having been indicated. But there is this difference: Greene's meter is based on the natural stress of the language and is plainly evident without artificial help, whereas no one would suspect the intentions of Hopkins if he had not marked the lines. A structure which is based on so willful a deformation of the language is indefensible, and it will often be grotesque, as it is here; yet Hopkins' more elaborate experiments often depend upon deformation equally fantastic, and the more elaborate structures make his intentions all but indecipherable.
The poem called "Spring and Fall" (Number 31) shows similar deformations in a comparably simple meter; and interestingly enough, most of the deformed lines are pleasanter, though less regular, if read in the normal rhythm of the language. The real difficulty inherent in such deformation, however, is apparent when we consider some of the more difficult poems. G. F. Lahey, for example, [in Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1930] gives a scansion of "The Windhover," of which I shall offer only the first four lines. I do not know whether Lahey's scansion is merely a personal hypothesis or whether it is based on markings in a Hopkins ms. It does not correspond with the markings copied for me by a friend from one ms. version of the poem. I shall leave the unaccented syllables in italics and indicate the feet with cross-bars:
Some of the difficulty in this reading can be eliminated if we pay more attention to Hopkins' theory of "rove-over" lines. That is, unless Hopkins is the ultimate authority for this reading, it would be better to put the first accents of lines three and four on daylight's and rolling respectively, and to consider the unaccented syllables preceding as parts of the last feet of lines one and two. However, the difficulties do not stop there. As nearly as I am able to pronounce the English language, the normal accentuation of these lines would proceed as follows:
Furthermore, I submit that this reading gives a better rhythm, in spite of the irregularity of meter (five accents in line one, six in two, seven in three, and six in four). On the other hand, if Lahey's version is defensible with regard to such feet as these—dom of daylight's, Of the rolling, neath him steady—then how are we to know that we should not read likewise: caught this morning, morning's minion? The presence of the unaccented syllable at the beginning of the line provides no obstacle, for Hopkins could easily have regarded it as extra-metrical; and these deformations are of exactly the same kind as those offered by Lahey and in fact are more conservative than some of Lahey's. If Lahey's reading is authoritative, then Hopkins expects us to change from normal accentuation to deformed accentuation merely at his own whim, and with no kind of warning, and his own markings of certain poems support this theory. Merely as a technical procedure, this is all but impossible; and if one manages to work it out one gets a mispronunciation of the language which renders the poem ludicrous. In the sonnet which I have already scanned according to my own lights, we found a meter which was very unusual, but which was at the same time comprehensible and pronounceable; its deviations from normal English meter, though made in the interests of an obscurely violent emotion, were structurally both learned and controlled. In "The Windhover," however, the attempt to express violent emotion through violent meter has got out of hand and become merely preposterous. Lahey adds to this confusion when he tells us that dappledawn-drawn Falcon in his represent "outrides" or "hangers," though according to his own scansion they do not.
"The Windhover" is characteristic of Hopkins' more difficult metrical experiments, although it is not one of the most difficult. Other poems which exhibit a similarly confused meter are the following: The Wreck of the Deutschland, "The Starlight Night," "Duns Scotus's Oxford," "Henry Purcell," "The Bugler's First Communion," "Spelt from the Sibyl's Leaves," "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo," "To What Serves Mortal Beauty," "The Soldier," "Carrion Comfort," and "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire." There is a good deal of difference in the degree of difficulty among these poems, and there are other poems which exhibit the difficulty. Some of the difficult poems, however, may be read with a fairly satisfactory rhythm, though with irregular meter, if Hopkins' theories are forgotten, although this is a melancholy compromise if one assumes that the poet really meant something by his rhythm.
Mr. Harold Whitehall, in one of the most interesting studies of Hopkins' meter which I have read ["Sprung Rhythm," in Gerard Manley Hopkins, by the Kenyon Critics, 1945], constructs a theory of his own on the fragmentary basis left by Hopkins. His theory, briefly and incompletely, is that Hopkins, without realizing it, was composing dipodic meter, or meter in double feet, of the sort described by Patmore, but was using this medium so freely and variously that Patmore did not recognize the results when he saw them. Put thus baldly, the theory may seem a trifle innocent, but actually Mr. Whitehall makes a fairly good case. I am not interested, however, either in attacking or in defending his theory, for in explaining his theory he makes the one admission which, in my opinion, renders his theory worthless as a defense of Hopkins' procedure, in spite of the fact that his theory may conceivably offer a true description of the procedure. He says:
His sprung rhythm must be read as we read the words of a song when we happen to know the tune. If we do not know the tune—and Hopkins never furnishes it—the words may become, and in print frequently do become, a meaningless jumble of syllables.
But the "tune" of a poem is supposed to be constructed from the living material of the language, not imposed upon it arbitrarily, and Mr. Whitehall is here admitting the defect which I have already described, though he scarcely seems to recognize it as a defect. The double foot is composed of a major stress and a minor stress, and may have one or two unaccented syllables; it may be combined with the monosyllabic foot, especially when this falls in the last position. What one might call the classical form of the double foot is Hopkins' First Paeon, with the major stress on the first syllable and the minor on the third. A word employed by Mr. Whitehall will illustrate it: Honeysuckle. I will mark the scansion, on this basis, of two lines employed by Mr. Whitehall, the first from Alfred Noyes, the second from John Masefield, but will employ a simpler marking than his, one which merely indicates the major and minor accents and the feet. The [italics] will indicate the major stress, the single accent the minor:
Music óf the/ starlíght/ shimmering ón the/ sea…
Sandalwóod,/ cedarwóod, and/ sweet white/ wine…
The double feet in these lines are real: that is, the poets have chosen their words in such a fashion that clearly recognizable light accents follow clearly recognizable heavy, in a rhythmic pattern which is unmistakable. That this is not, however, the basic pattern of English verse, as Patmore (and I should add Mr. Whitehall with him) would seem to think, one may see readily enough from a brief examination of the following lines:
Of Man's/ first di /obe/dience ánd/ the fruit/
Of thát/ forbid/den tree/ whose mor/tal taste/
Brought death/ ínto/ the world/ and all/ our woe/…
If we regard the first syllable of the first line as extrametrical, we may arrange the feet of this line so that they resemble the feet of Masefield and of Noyes, but we shall be forcing the rhythm and ruining the line; the next two lines cannot be so arranged except by the most arbitrary of accentuation, which will render them ludicrous. The principle which is operating in these lines is different, therefore, from that which we found in the lines preceding. For purposes of the measure, only two kinds of syllable are recognized, the accented and the unaccented; the accented is recognized as such only with reference to the other syllable or syllables within its own foot; and different degrees of accent, since they do not affect the measure, can be infinitely variable and thus contribute to a flexible and perceptive rhythm; the poet is not bound to a simple drum-beat, he can write poetry instead of jingles. When Mr. Whitehall states that standard English meter is largely theoretical and does not lend itself to vocal reading, I can only think that he himself knows very little about the reading of verse.
Hopkins, however, is less simple than Noyes and Masefield. I will offer a few lines from Hopkins with Whitehall's accentuation:
Earnest, eárthless,/ equal, attúneable,/ vaulty, volúminous,/ stupéndous/
In this line nothing save forewarning of some kind can indicate that the heavy accents are heavier than the light; so long as one regards the language as it really exists, all of the stresses are equal, and their equality is emphasized by the grammatical parallels: the meter as indicated is a pure fiction. Whitehall runs into even greater difficulty with another line from the same poem:
Her/ fond yellow hórnlight/ wound to the wést, her/ wild hollow hóarlight/ hung to the héight./
The heavy and light accentuation is equally arbitrary here, and there is the additional confusion that the first syllables of yellow and hollow, which have a legitimate right to light accent marks, cannot be given them. The reader coming to this line with no previous theory except the realization that there were two kinds of accent involved, would inescapably mark these two syllables as light and every one of Mr. Whitehall's accented syllables as heavy.
We may observe the same kind of accentuation in the conclusion of "The Lantern out of Doors," which I offer as accented by Hopkins himself according to the published text:
In the light of such scansion, it is curious to read this passage in one of Hopkins' letters to Bridges:
Why do I employ sprung rhythm at all? Because it is the nearest to the rhythm of prose, that is the native and natural rhythm of speech, the least forced, the most rhetorical and emphatic of all possible rhythms.
It is even more curious to read the following comment upon this passage by so able a critic as Arthur Mizener:
However much Hopkins crowded a sentence with repetitions, it never lost the cadence of actual speech; the sound of the voice speaking it is always there in the reader's ear to give the poems their incomparable immediacy.
It is this kind of thing which often makes poetry and the criticism of poetry in our day so baffling a study.
What we have in Hopkins' more difficult constructions, then, is a very complex accentual meter, in which the accents are for the most part the irresponsible inventions of the author rather than native elements of the language, and in which in addition we have "hangers" or "outrides," that is, groups of syllables which may or may not seem to the unassisted reader to have the characteristics of feet, and which are not to be counted in the scansion. Unless we have the author's marking to guide us or are willing to accept on faith the marking of some other authority, we commonly have no way of determining the scansion; and when we have such marking (and this is quite as true of Hopkins' own as of any other), we frequently find ourselves forced into deformations of language which are nearly unpronounceable and are often ridiculous. This metrical method, moreover, is devised in the interest of intensifying an emotion which is frequently unmotivated or inadequately motivated within the terms of the poem. It seems to me obvious that the poems so constructed should be regarded as ruins rather than masterpieces, whatever impressive fragments there may be lying loose among them; and furthermore that defensive explanation is quite foolish. Bridges has been repeatedly rebuked for failing to understand what Hopkins was doing. I am inclined to believe that Bridges understood as much as was necessary, and that the real failure was on the part of Hopkins.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5385
SOURCE: "The Thought Structure of the The Wreck of the Deutschland," in Immortal Diamond: Studies in Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Norman Weyand, S.J., Sheed & Ward, 1949, pp. 333-50.
[In the following essay, Boyle examines the major themes of The Wreck of the Deutschland, asserting that it is not a poem about the problem of suffering but a poem about the answer to the problem of suffering.]
In 1877 Sidney Lanier was distressed by a problem that has troubled the minds of most men at one time or another (To Beethoven):
Hopkins had given his answer to that problem just a year or so before in The Wreck of the Deutschland. Perhaps Lanier would not have understood the answer even if he had had access to Hopkins' expression of it. But it is Christ's answer. It is St. Paul's answer. It is the answer of the Catholic Church. The mystery lies not in nature but in man. The mystery of God's grace in us, of Christ in us, of the mastery, the power of God in us—that is Hopkins' answer, and the subject of his masterpiece.
Hopkins is not dealing directly with the problem of suffering, but with the answer to that problem. His concern is with the power and the mastery of God. He takes the viewpoint of Christ:
This is not a poem of the Passion, but of the Triumph which followed upon the Passion. It is not the lament of those who die, but the paean of those who seize the Life which follows death. It is not a wail expressive of suffering, but a song thrilling with triumphant joy.
The spirit of St. Paul shines through the poem from beginning to end. The power of God which St. Paul celebrated in everything he wrote is celebrated here:
Thou mastering me
Melt him but master him still.
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.
There then! the Master…
I admire thee, master of the tides…
The mastery of God, in which all things work together for good, is Hopkins' theme. According to Edith Sitwell [in Aspects of Modern Poetry, 1935], "The whole poem is inhabited by a gigantic and overwhelming power, like that of the element that inspired it." The power of the sea is a symbol, for Hopkins, of the power of God—"Stanching, quenching ocean of a motionable mind." The whole spirit of the poem is positive, not in any sense negative. It is the spirit of the Fourth Week of St. Ignatius' Spiritual Exercises where, in the concluding "Contemplation for Obtaining Divine Love," we behold God behind everything, God acting in and with everything, God working out His own transcendent glory in the universe.
The first part of the poem—which I will consider here rather briefly in relation to the poem as a whole, leaving consideration of its peculiar difficulties for the last part of my essay—gives the poet's qualifications for writing on this theme. He himself has experienced God's grace, the power of God working in him, and therefore he can know the experience of the nun. God's finger touched him, and almost unmade him. His heart was flushed by that stroke of God's finger, that "stress" of God felt in the innermost depths of his being, and his heart melted. The storm which brought this stress of God's power was not, in Hopkins' case, a physical storm, but a spiritual one, concerned not with "wild waters," but with "walls, altar and hour and night." He experienced it during a period of tremendous spiritual stress—"And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress." I consider it probable that he refers here to his conversion to Catholicism, which must have cost him his greatest sacrifice up to the time when this poem was written. At any rate, he feared the power of God, he feared the "hurtle of hell," so he "whirled out wings that spell." I take this last phrase to mean that the image spells something, is significant, probably because the bird with extended wings forms a cross. The poet fled to Christ, to the "heart of the Host," and there found his strength and power. Christ gave him the grace to rise to ever new levels of the super-natural realms, sustained and lifted by that gift:
His experience of grace is embodied in two striking figures: he seemed to be drained of himself like sand in an hourglass, and to be sustained from beneath like water in a well.
The following rather difficult stanzas are clarified somewhat by a quatrain written many years later (No. 73):
What I know of thee I bless,
As acknowledging thy stress
On my being and as seeing
Something of thy holiness.
What he can know of God begins with what he sees in nature, in stars and in storms, symbols of Christ's sweetness and power. He blesses and greets Christ, therefore, when he recognizes Him under nature's splendor and wonder. God's instressing of him, His finger's stroke upon his being, is delivered through nature; the stress, the activity of God which he feels within him is mediated by nature. God's grace, which is His power working in us, flows from the Cross of Christ, Who, by redeeming our fallen nature, made it possible for us to know more fully the Power Who lies under the power of nature. Nature speaks to us of God, and we are forced to hearken to her message when she drives us "hard at bay," holding us helpless in a superior power. Then we lash out with the best word, "yes," which is our acceptance of the mastery of that Power behind nature, or with our worst word, "no," which is our rejection of it. By that word the man makes known what side he takes, for or against God, and thus shows what he is (No. 67):
What makes the man and what
The man within that makes:
Ask whom he serves or not
Serves and what side he takes.
This revelation of his nature which each man experiences in his "yes" or "no" Hopkins compares to the experience of breaking the skin of a sloe which one has put whole into one's mouth. There is no escaping the rush of flavor, the "nature" of the fruit—sour or sweet. The metaphor represents a man's "conversion" or "non-conversion," his acceptance or rejection of God's mastery, in which act the true nature of the man, sour or sweet, appears. Response to Christ's power, His "stress," means life. Christ seeks to evoke that response even from the maliciously rebellious by the exercise of His power and mastery, thus forcing a decision:
Whether the man accepts or rejects that mastery, he must ultimately submit to it:
The first part of the poem concludes with a prayer to God that He should fulfill His glory in men. The apparent paradoxes ("lightning and love," "a winter and warm," "Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung,") are identified in God, Who when He has His "dark descending" is then most merciful. The poet prays that He should make His mercy and mastery shine out through us by whatever means He will, whether by violence (storms) as in the conversion of Paul or by "a lingering-out sweet skill" (stars) as in that of Augustine. God appears to adapt His means to those with whom He deals. But the purpose of all things—of forces of nature, of the responses of men—is that God be glorified.
The second part of the poem, which illustrates God's use of the violence of nature to achieve His ends, begins dramatically with the cry of Death, and a variant of the dread "Memento homo quia pulvis es…" The description of the boat's launching into the storm, of the wreck, and of the long terrible hours, is broken by the poet's cry to the "mother of being in me, heart." As in stanza seven, where the "heart" is said to utter truth not conceived before, the heart here finds the truth beneath the appearances. In the face of this seeming tragedy, the heart of the poet gives a gleeful, a "madrigal start." He inquires after the meaning of this glee. Does his heart have some interest there?
Yes, a sister calling their common Master. That is the interest. The flight of the nuns into exile and their seeming desperate loneliness recall Hopkins' sonnet on the Church ("Andromeda"):
Her Perseus linger and leave her to her extremes?—
Pillowy air he treads a time and hangs
His thoughts on her, forsaken that she seems,
All while her patience, morselled into pangs,
But Christ was watching always; He was "weighing the worth"; the snowflakes in His sight were not cold signs of cruel fate but "scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them."
"Martyr-master"—that name sounds the note of the next section. Christ is the Martyr Whose five wounds were scored on Him by men. He scores that cipher "himself on his own bespoken," that cipher of his wounds which is the "stigma, signal, cinquefoil token" for the lettering of the fleece of the Sacrificial Lamb, for the ruddying of the divine Rose. Hopkins celebrates the wounds of Christ in similar terms in "Rosa Mystica." The Blossom referred to here is Christ:
The nuns were daughters of St. Francis, who himself bore the wounds of Christ, and here they share that privilege. The result of this triumph of Christ in them is their coming "to bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances."
The poet notes the striking contrast between his own situation and theirs at the time of the wreck. He was at rest in the quiet countryside of Wales, where it was easy to know that Christ the shepherd was watching over him; the nun, helpless amid the wild waters, unfalteringly knew that the Good Shepherd was with her there.
Hopkins calls upon the Holy Spirit, "arch and original Breath," for light to understand the nun's cry. Did it signify that she desired to share the Passion of Christ, her lover? Or did she long for her suffering to cease that she might come to its reward, "the treasure never eyesight got, nor was ever guessed what for the hearing"? Not these. It is not sudden danger but a long period of suffering which "fathers" the plea for relief from the "sodden-with-its-sor-rowing heart." Nor in such sudden danger does the Passion make its appeal. The nun has another motive. But it cannot be expressed. It is not a concept, but a vision, and that vision is Christ. She knew His power under the storm. She cries her "yes" and experiences His mastery within her. She is experiencing what Hopkins described of himself in the first part of the poem. She echoes the prayer which concluded the first part, calling upon Christ to ride in His triumph in her as in all the living and dead, to make His glory out of her.
This is the climax. The poet takes satisfaction in dwelling upon the perfect response of this creature to her God. She knew Him under the storm; the storm could not drive her from Him any more than a beacon of light can be blown from its course. She conceived Him, she bore Him within her ("I live now, not I, but Christ liveth in me"), she shared His sacrifice. She saw Christ in the storm and "worded it" by Him, as Simon Peter had seen the Godhead in the man Jesus before him, and had worded his vision for the ages. She was like Peter, too, in being a rock amid the storm, like the Tarpeian rock at Rome.
As a result of her sacrifice the nun shares Christ's glory, as does the "one woman without stain" who gave Christ birth. For the nun too has given Him new birth:
Christ had said: "If anyone love me, he will keep my word, and my Father will love him, and we will come to him and make our abode with him" (John, 14:23).
The poet turns for a moment to consider the other passengers who perished, "the comfortless unconfessed of them." His heart "bleeds at a bitterer vein" for them, who have also suffered the wreck and the storm and yet have not gained Christ. However, God was working also in these others; He was also their Father. And they heard the cry of the nun too. Perhaps that cry had moved them as it had moved the poet, and had "startled the poor sheep back."
Hopkins ends with passionate and almost incoherent praise of the majesty and mercy of God. He applies to Him various titles rising from the image of the storm: the master of the tides; the recurb and recovery of the gulf's sides, the girth of it and the wharf of it and the wall (an echo of St. Paul's "so that, being rooted and grounded in love, you may be able to comprehend with all the saints what is the breadth and length and height and depth…"); the "stanching, quenching ocean of a motionable mind," that is, God is the ocean which quenches the ever-changing desires of the human mind; the "ground of being, and granite of it," He of Whom alone it can be said, "I am Who am."
God is beyond all grasp, throned behind nature and behind death, which seems to us so conclusive. Yet in some measure the poet had grasped Him:
The nun had grasped Him:
God is behind death with a "sovereignty which heeds but hides," that is, sees what is going on but does not clearly force His will upon men; Who "bodes but abides," that is, knows what will happen but does not therefore forestall the free acts of men. He is there with a mercy that will top the flood and be a saving ark to all who will listen to Him; with a love that goes even "lower than death and the dark"; with a vein (that is, a channel) for reaching the hopeless, the sinful, "the-last-breath penitent spirits," those rescued at the "uttermost mark" by Christ, striding across the stormy waters of the world.
The poet now quietly calls upon Christ to blaze in splendor before the world:
The storm is passed. Christ has reclaimed His own. This "storm of his strides" was not a punishment for the nuns, but a glorious fulfillment, "a released shower, let flash to the shire." He was not "a lightning of fire hard-hurled," as the disciples had wished to call down upon the unfriendly Samaritans: "'Lord, wilt thou that we bid fire come down from heaven and consume them?' But he turned and rebuked them, saying, 'You do not know of what manner of spirit you are; for the Son of Man did not come to destroy men's lives, but to save them'" (Luke, 9:54-56).
Hopkins calls upon the nun to pray for the English, upon whose shoals she found her glory; to pray that Christ might again be the Sun of Britain, her high-priest, her warming fire.
The essential unity of the whole poem is achieved by a perfect structural parallelism in which part is proportioned to part. The two main divisions of the poem are labeled Part the First and Part the Second. In the former the power of God masters the poet, in the latter the same power masters the nun. Since the peculiar difficulties of Part the First will explain similar difficulties in Part the Second, I will consider here in detail only the problems which rise in relation to the first part.
Hopkins first discusses God's finger touching him, which is "the stress felt, the stroke dealt," of stanza six; in the second and third stanzas he describes his response and its results. In stanza four he expresses metaphorically the destruction of the old man and the support of the new, which is Christ's own life feeding and supporting him like the water from the mountain feeding and supporting the water in the well. The source of that life is the proffer of the gospel; the dynamic pressure of it lifts him; it is the principle of his new being; it is Christ's free gift to him—grace.
In the next stanza the poet points out that Christ speaks to him in all of nature—as in Hurrahing in Harvest:
As a result of the touch of God's finger, he has been moved to acknowledge Christ behind nature, and this is the grace which Hopkins shares with the nun. This is Christ's gift (I Cor., 2:10-12):
But to us God has revealed them through his Spirit. For the Spirit searches all things, even the deep things of God. For who among men knows the things of a man save the spirit of the man which is in him? Even so, the things of God no one knows but the Spirit of God. Now we have received not the spirit of the world, but the spirit that is from God, that we may know the things that have been given us by God.
The action of grace which Hopkins treats in the poem is that which causes the recipients to be "raised to the state when their deeds should be the doing of God in them" a statement which clarifies the difficult line of the twenty-eighth stanza, "Let him ride, her pride, in his triumph, despatch and have done with his doom there." So intimate is the union between Christ and the nun that her triumph is His doing, His triumph; her pride is Christ acting in her; the despatch of His doom, His plan, the sacrifice which He demands of her—"But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken"—this is the doing of God in her.
In his Comments on the Spiritual Exercises Hopkins calls this sort of action an activity of that form of grace which is "elevating, which lifts the receiver from one cleave of being to another and to a vital act in Christ: this is truly God's finger touching the very vein of personality, which nothing else can reach and man can respond to by no play whatever, by bare acknowledgment only, the counter-stress which God alone can feel ('subito probas eum'), the aspiration in answer to his inspiration. Of this I have written above and somewhere else long ago."
In this passage, I believe, lies the key to the whole poem, which thus becomes an illustration of that elevating grace. If this is true, the thought-structure of the poem centers about the line "His mystery must be instressed, stressed," which expresses the inspiration of God and the answering aspiration of man. To understand the full implications of the line, it is necessary to examine the terms "instress" and "stress" and so to derive Hopkins' conception.
Dr. Pick—and in this he agrees with Mr. Gardner—takes the terms as synonyms: "Ordinarily Hopkins uses 'instress' verbally and 'stress' substantively; here, however, the first is an intensive form of the second, and the impact is heightened by the reversal of the expected word order." As Dr. Pick points out, such an interpretation is not in accord with Hopkins' ordinary use of the terms. There seems to be no good reason for supposing that Hopkins employs the terms in a sense different from his ordinary usage, which is here both appropriate and forceful. A consideration of Hopkins' usage of the terms in his other writings will make this clear.
Hopkins defines "stress" thus: "Stress appears so elementary an idea as does not need and scarcely allows of definition; still this may be said of it, that it is the making a thing more, or making it markedly, what it already is; it is the bringing out its nature" [Further Letters] (Nov. 7, 1883). He uses the term to denote emphasis of a word or syllable: "Its principle is that all rhythm and all verse consist of feet and each foot must contain one stress or verse-accent…" ([The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon] Dec. 22, 1880). He uses it further to denote the bringing out or the emphasis of a thing's or person's nature: "It is as if the blissful agony or stress of selving in God had forced out drops of sweat or blood…" ([Note-Books and Papers] 344). In this second usage the term "stress" is similar to the philosophical terms "act" and "perfection": "Nevertheless the being it has got has a great perfection, a great stress, and is more distinctive and higher selved, than anything else I see, except other such minds, in nature" ([Note-Books and Papers] 312)…. "The word inspiration need cause no difficulty. I mean by it a mood of great, abnormal in fact, mental acuteness, either energetic or receptive, according as the thoughts which arise in it seem generated by a stress and action of the brain, or to strike into it unasked" ([Further Letters] Sept. 10, 1864). It is opposed to "slack," both in the sense of word emphasis—"So that wherever there is an accent or stress, there there is also so much unaccentuation, so to speak, or slack, and this will give a foot or rhythmic unit, viz. a stress with its belonging slack" ([The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon] Feb. 27, 1879)—and in the sense of "nature" emphasis:
"Stress," then, is the general term which includes the terms "instress," "outstress," "distress," and "counter-stress."
"Instress" Hopkins defines as "throwing a stress on"—"The meaning of it is that you can without clumsiness instress, throw a stress on a syllable so supported which if it were unsupported would be drawling" ([Note-Books and Papers] 226)—or "coming to stress"—"And as more possibility, passive power, is not power proper and has no activity it cannot of itself come to stress, cannot instress itself ([Note-Books and Papers] 310). When used verbally, "instress" means for him the process of bringing a thing to a state of stress, of actualising a thing: "… for the constant repetition, the continuity, of the bad thought is that actualising of it, that instressing of it, which he refused himself to be guilty of but which is carried out by a power not his doing him violence" ([Note-Books and Papers] 321). In this last passage, it is clear that the one concerned could instress himself with the bad thought, that is, could make it actual in himself, put himself in a state of stress towards it, or he can be instressed by a power other than his own. It is "active power" which instresses, not "passive power."
When used substantively, "instress" usually means that quality in a thing which brings about a state of stress or of act in the beholder: "Take a few primroses in a glass and the instress of—brilliancy, sort of starriness: I have not the right word—so simple a flower gives is remarkable" ([Note-Books and Papers] 142-143); "… light beating up from so many glassy heads, which like water is good to float their deeper instress in upon the mind" ([Note-Books and Papers] 174); "(there is a simplicity of instress in the cinqfoil)" ([Note-Books and Papers] 209); "`The Woodpecker' reminds one of Cowper's poems in this metre and has the same sort of `instress' of feeling but not quite the same satisfactory cadences" ([The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon] Sept. 26, 1881). "Instress" in this substantive use might be called the "flavor" of a thing.
Hopkins further distinguishes the general term "stress" by means of the term "outstress," which refers to the act proceeding from the stress of the subject and terminating outside the subject: "The first intention then of God outside himself or, as they say, ad extra, outwards, the first out-stress of God's power, was Christ…" ([Note-books and Papers] 344). "Outstress" is the act of the stress out from the self, as "instress" is the act of the stress, either one's own or the power of another's stress, towards the self.
Hopkins uses "distress" to signify a falling from stress, a de-emphasizing of the nature: "Michael and his angels instressed and distressed them with the thought of their unlikeness to the Most High…" ([Note-books and Papers] 351). The bad angels were instressed with the thought (that is, the thought was made actual to them) and were distressed, thrown off from stress, made even less what they should be. If their natures had not been in rebellion against truth, if they had said "yes" instead of "no," they would have been "stressed" as a result of that "instress," that is, their natures would have been emphasized, have been in more perfect act, have been more what they should be.
The line from the Deutschland states "His mystery must be instressed, stressed." God's mystery must be instressed, that is, made actual in us. After it has been made actual in us, it must be "stressed" by us, emphasized, made more what it already is. Note that as a result of the instress of God's mystery we are not, like the bad angels, "distressed," unless we say "no," refuse to accept and respond to that "instress." By saying "yes" we respond to the instressed mystery, we "stress" it, emphasize it, throw ourselves into act in regard to it. Hopkins refers to such action in the passage: "… this is truly God's finger touching the very vein of personality, which nothing else can reach and man can respond to by no play whatever, by bare acknowledgment only, the counter-stress which God alone can feel ('subito probas eum'), the aspiration in answer to his inspiration" ([Note-books and Papers] 337). Here "counter-stress" means our own stress or act as counter or opposed to God's stress or act. "Counter-stress" is distinguished not from "instress" or "outstress," but from the distinct stress of another. Taken in itself, without considering some outside stress, "counter-stress" means merely "stress." The "counter-stress" in this passage results from feeling the stress of God, from being "instressed" or touched by the finger of God. "Stress" refers to immanent activity, and our stress or counter-stress springs from our own being. Therefore, when God's power or stress acts upon us, that power must be responded to or "stressed" within us by our own "counter-stress", our own reaction, our aspiration answering His inspiration.
According to Hopkins' ordinary use of the terms "instress" and "stress," then, the line "His mystery must be instressed, stressed" means: "God's mystery must be made actual in us by his action, and must be responded to by our own." We can respond to His power "by bare acknowledgment only," by "blessing" and by "greeting" Him: "For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand." To say that God's "mystery must be instressed, stressed" is to say that although God is under the world's splendor and wonder, nevertheless the mystery of His being there must be made actual in me, and, having been made actual, must be responded to by my own response, my "greeting," my "kissing my hand" to Him, my saying "yes."
The sixth stanza states that the stress which we feel, the stroke dealt, does not spring from His bliss; it springs from nature, from time. This stress or stroke brings us to the recognition of Christ in nature. It is the absence of this recognition which terrifies the guilty when the stroke of God swings from the natural objects around us; it is the presence of this recognition of Christ which makes faithful hearts flush and melt. The stroke of lightning is the same for all, but the response to that stroke, the meaning of that stroke, differs with each man. The faithful may waver before the terror of God, as the poet described himself doing in the third stanza, "… where, where was a, where was a place." But those in whom Christ lives fully, those who have said "yes," are steady as a beacon of light: "But in all these things we overcome because of him who has loved us. For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor powers, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord" (1 Cor., 1: 18).
The key to understanding that stress which we feel in stars and storms lies in the Incarnation of the Second Person of the Blessed Trinity, the God-Man Jesus Christ. From His life and passion swells that supernatural power of grace which carried the poet and the nun to selfsacrifice to God, and to salvation: "For grace is any action, activity, on God's part by which, in creating or after creating, he carries the creature to or towards the end of its being, which is its selfsacrifice to God and its salvation" ([Note-books and Papers] 332). We ordinarily are ignorant of this power acting within us, since it is the very life of our supernatural life (if we have it), the very current in which we move. We should always be ignorant of it unless we were driven hard at bay, knew our own strength as useless, and felt a greater power surging through us. That is the way the "heart, being hard at bay, is out with it." This is the point at which the man knows himself to be slipping away like sand in an hourglass, and feels the upsurge of divine power from underneath lifting him up "from the flame to the flame," towering "from the grace to the grace." In such an hour we lash out with our best or worst word; we "word" ourselves—we say what we are. We are mouthed to flesh-burst, and flooded with the taste of ourselves. In his Commentary on the Spiritual Exercises, Hopkins says, "… I consider my self-being, my consciousness and feeling of myself, that taste of myself, of I and me above and in all things, which is more distinctive than the taste of ale or alum, more distinctive than the smell of walnutleaf or camphor, and is incommunicable by any means to another man…" ([Note-Books and Papers] 309). In one of the later sonnets (No. 45) he develops the same thought:
Those in hell taste themselves forever, as they have chosen to do, and they are sour. They excluded the stress of God which would have instressed them, brought them to stress. They said "no" to Him, and their "no," when time is no more, is eternal.
The prayer which closes the first part of the poem is that God will master us all, exert His power in all, and in all of us be adored King. Our "yes" is all we can give, and it is the glory of man to give that "yes," the sublime opportunity of man to have a chance to say that "yes," to share the Sacrifice, the infinite "yes" of Christ. The poet was given that chance and "did say yes." The nun was given that chance, and "the call of the tall nun to the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm's brawling." It is clear, then, surely, how far this poem is from being one of sorrow, of penitence, of doubt, of suffering. I believe that Canon Dixon, admirable critic though he sometimes was, missed the essence of the poem, which lies far beyond the "elements of deep distress in it" which he mentions: "The Deutschland is enormously powerful: it has however such elements of deep distress in it that one reads it with less excited delight though not with less interest than the others" ([The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon] 32-33, March 1, 1880). The Deutschland, as a matter of fact, concerns itself with elements of deep distress only as a prelude to the triumph which follows. It is not a poem of Good Friday; it is an Easter poem. It is the record of the triumphant cry of a Christian who won the good fight, who received the crown of glory, who after glorious combat is dissolved and lives with Christ.
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4118
SOURCE: "Making Earnest of Game: G. M. Hopkins and Nonsense Poetry," in Modern Language Quarterly, Vol. XXVIII, No. 2, June, 1967, pp. 192-206.
[In the following essay, Sonstroem draws an analogy between Hopkins and the nonsense poets of the late nineteenth-century.]
In the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, there is often a play with words and their sounds that comes very close to nonsense, a verbal play comparable to that of Lewis Carroll, Edward Lear, or Sir W. S. Gilbert. Hopkins loses nothing in the comparison with his fellow Victorians: play is seldom if ever trivial or meaningless, and it is entirely compatible with seriousness and reverence. Furthermore, the nonsense game that he plays is more ingenious, more difficult, and broader in scope than that of his contemporaries. The analogy between Hopkins and the nonsense poets is both interesting in itself and especially helpful in revealing Hopkins' method of composition and his motives for writing poetry. In pursuing the analogy, I shall let Edward Lear, the poet of the purest nonsense, serve as a foil to Hopkins, although any other nonsense poet would have served almost as well.
In professed intent, Hopkins and Lear are poles apart: one poet declares, "want of earnest I take to be the deepest fault a work of art can have" [Further Letters], and the other holds, "Nonsense,' pure and absolute, [has] been my aim throughout" [Introduction to More Nonsense Pictures, Rhymes, Botany Etc., 1872]. But their poetic practices disclose their kinship. Hopkins' severity is tempered by occasional frolic—for example, in the octave of "Spring" (No. 33)—and a melancholy underlies Lear's superficial playfulness. Furthermore, there is something childlike in the verse of both. In Hopkins, the childlike resides in the poetic speaker, who responds with bright eyes and naïveté, suddenly and violently. Note the sixteen exclamation points in "The Starlight Night" (No. 32) and the frequent shouts that punctuate the poetry: "O," "Oh," "Gush!" "Ah!" "Five!" "there then!" "Ah!" "oh!" But the greatest similarity between the two is simply in the texture and flow of their lines:
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.—
The basic likeness between "The Golden Echo" and "The History of the Seven Families of the Lake Pipple-Popple" is due to the fact that their authors are playing very similar games with their language.
Both fuse two words into one to form what Lewis Carroll called "portmanteau" words. Hopkins is more apt to juxtapose than fuse ("flockbells," "Amansstrength," "churlsgrace," "trambeams," "bloomfall"), but he does create "yestertempests" and "disseveral"; in Lear we find "grammarithmetic," "galloobious," and "howloudia." Also frequent in both are disparate words unexpectedly connected by means of alliteration or some other similarity in sound: Hopkins writes "carrion comfort," "bow or brooch or braid or brace," "piecemeal peace is poor peace. What pure peace…"; Lear gives us "diaphanous doorscraper" and "comfortable, confidential cow." Both practice the forced rhyme:
There was an old Lady of Winchelsea,
Who said, "if you needle or pin shall see /….
There was an Old Man of Columbia,
Who was thirsty, and called out for some beer.
Both are apt to split a word at the end of a line for an unusual rhyme. Hopkins writes:
In Lear we find:
Though you're such a Hoddy Doddy—
Yet I wish that I could modify the words I needs must say!
How can I translate German Metaphys-
Ics, if mosquitoes round my forehead whizz?
In both there is often a feeling for the rhyme at all costs, a release from convention, an allegiance to rhyme before sense.
Hopkins and Lear have a fondness for lists, lists of adjectives especially: "Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, larkcharmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded" (No. 44); "Earnest, earthless, equal, attuneable, vaulty, voluminous,.. stupendous" (No. 62). Lear writes, "and then returned to their respective homes full of joy and respect, sympathy, satisfaction, and disgust" and "took an affecting and formal leave of the whole of their acquaintance, which was very numerous and distinguished, and select, and responsible, and ridiculous" The lists of both poets are especially remarkable for their unpredictability; each word of a series strikes us as a surprise.
Progressing from words in static arrangement to words in motion, we recognize additional similarities. One is a strong, regular, rhythmic beat. [The Complete Nonsense of Edward Lear]. Hopkins himself notes the relationship between his Sprung Rhythm and more childlike, less serious antecedents: "It is found in nursery rhymes, weather saws, and so on."
A final likeness is the quirky movement of their thought. Both poets forever leave us puzzling over how we got from there to here. Illustration is from Lear first for a change:
G was Papa's new Gun,
He put it in a box;
And then he went and bought a bun
And walked about the Docks.
This admirable stanza has been called "the perfect `non sequitur,'" [by Angus Davidson, in Edward Lear: Landscape Painter and Nonsense Poet (1812-1888), 1938] and indeed one must maneuver sharply to keep on Lear's track. The properties of the words themselves (the principal ones, at least) are the key to the ordering relationship. What holds "Gun," "box," "bun," and "Docks" together is simply the pattern of sound that they form. There are two pairs of rhymes, the pairs themselves joined by the alliteration of "box" and "bun." When Lear writes unrhymed prose, alliteration and other chiming takes up the slack:
all the Blue-Bottle-Flies began to buzz at once in a sumptuous and sonorous manner, the melodious and mucilaginous sounds echoing all over the waters, and resounding across the tumultuous tops of the transitory Titmice upon the intervening and verdant mountains, with a serene and sickly suavity only known to the truly virtuous.
Like Lear, Hopkins makes quirky progress through chiming chains. The complexity of his sound patterns and the extent to which he is preoccupied with them are extraordinary:
With the aid of W. H. Gardner's complex (although incomplete) diagram [in Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1949], I estimate twenty-eight different "echoes" in these four lines. Unlike Lear, who gives the impression of falling into his resonances without effort and quite by accident, Hopkins is plainly struggling from word to word. Instead of setting forth directly in pursuit of his meaning, he makes his way incrementally, tortuously, along archipelagoes of sound. One critic has called his method "a sort of breathless hunt after assonant monosyllables [in Studies VIII (1919)]:
Surely the Jesuit Hopkins knew from the start the Christian answer to the question he was posing. That the question is not at all so significant as the questioning can be appreciated when Hopkins' lines are compared with an "improvement" upon them by T. Sturge Moore:
How to keep beauty? is there any way?
Is there nowhere any means to have it stay?
Will no bow or brooch or braid,
Brace or lace
Latch or catch
Or key to lock the door lend aid
Before beauty vanishes away?
Moore has attempted to discard Hopkins' "most ludicrous redundancies," but, as F. R. Leavis remarks [in New Bearings in English Poetry, 1950], "He has discarded, not merely a certain amount of music, but with the emotional crescendo and diminuendo, the plangent rise and fall, all the action and substance of the verse." By omitting the fumbling repetitions and the laborious stresses, he has lost the striving—the strenuous exertions of Hopkins' intense verbal play—which is the heart of the poem's dramatic effect.
Punning is another manifestation of quirky movement, and both poets practice it to a limited extent. Here is an example from Lear:
There was an Old Man in a tree
Who was horribly bored by a Bee.
Bees sting, although "bore" is a better nonsense word because it alliterates with "Bee." But "bored" can also mean "bored to tears," and this is its eventual primary meaning in the rhyme. Lear has, so to speak, boarded the word at one meaning, disembarked at another. To an even greater extent than Lear, Hopkins progresses by double meanings, entering a word through one, departing through another:
The constellations are seen as communities of fire-folk—"boroughs." If I am not mistaken, the movement from this image to that associated with the word "delves" is through "burrow," a homophone of the first word, a synonym of the second. A final example is the following:
The apparently abrupt shift between stanzas and the interplay between Easter and Good Friday seem to hinge on the double meaning of "palms"—Christ's pierced hands and the fronds associated with Christ's triumph.
The list of likenesses completed, it must be remembered that, although Hopkins uses the devices of the nonsense poet, he is not a nonsense poet himself. No list of shared characteristics will persuade even the most casual reader of the two men that they are essentially kindred. Hopkins' agonizing moods, his lofty intentions, and his earnest personality are very different from Lear's. But the likenesses we have encountered are not specious ones. They have their explanation—one that accounts for the basic differences between the two men, as well as their extensive superficial similarities.
Let me begin the explanation with some observations on the nature of nonsense. Of course, nonsense is not what it says it is, senseless. Quite to the contrary. It might better be called double-sense or double-talk. One kind of sense is what we usually mean by the term: an arrangement of words that is governed by grammar, reason, and observation of the world at large. The second kind of sense is concerned exclusively with the properties of words themselves. It is simply an arrangement of words that is governed by the repetition (and, in the case of punning, coincidence) of their sounds.
Nonsense, like all poetry, has something to do with both kinds of arranging, of making sense; but, unlike conventional verse, its first allegiance is to rhyme rather than reason. Or, rather, rhyme is its primary reason. The writer of nonsense—I describe an ideal procedure—first gives sound its head, arranging words into patterns according to the rules of prosody. Except for these strictures and the most rudimentary ones of grammar, the words, subject to chance, pour forth at random. (The "automatic writing" of Surrealism and the computer-poetry of the present moment come to mind as analogous.) Then the writer follows in his own tracks, tracing out whatever rational meaning is to be found there, observing what he has uttered with respect to the referents of the words that he has arranged. The writer himself may well be as surprised and pleased as other readers at the "sense" thus derived, for its production has been largely accidental and spontaneous. In the introduction to More Nonsense Pictures, Rhymes, Botany Etc., Lear speaks of his "uproarious delight and welcome at the appearance of every new absurdity"—as if his verses had appeared from without and he had had nothing to do with creating them.
The strength of nonsense poetry is its tidy self-consistency and its independence from referents. Its position relative to conventional poetry is much like that of mathematics to physics: although it can refer to the world at large, it can also mind its own business and do whatever it pleases, provided that it is true to itself. All poets customarily take advantage of the sounds of words to clinch an observation: "presume not God to scan; / The proper study of mankind is man" [A. Pope, Essay on Man]. The rhyme, the repetition of "man," and the forth-right rhythm all give resonance to the sentiment. But the sound must always be only an echo to the sense, never its master; otherwise, the result is nonsense poetry:
I would modify Gibson's merry observation slightly: it is only nonsense verse that tells off our Sober Selves; the chimes of conventional verse must ever hide behind What's Correct and obediently wait upon it. Only nonsense lives upon the difference between the rule of rhyme and the rule of reason.
By letting the sound of words lord it over their meaning, the nonsense poet is playing a game with his referents. Twisting them and pushing them around is a way of mastering them, perhaps of getting even with them. The "opponents" that Lear has recruited are not hard to discern; the greatest number of his limericks treat of sickness, injury, death, ugliness of character, inadequacy, or distortion:
There was an old man who screamed out
Whenever they knocked him about….
There was an old person of Stroud,
Who was horribly jammed in a crowd;
Some she slew with a kick, some she scrunched with a stick,
That impulsive old person of Stroud.
There was a Young Lady whose chin,
Resembled the point of a pin….
There was a Young Person of Smyrna,
Whose Grandmother threatened to burn her;
But she seized on the Cat, and said, "Granny, burn that!
You incongruous Old Woman of Smyrna!"
After his fashion, Lear is defeating these evils by demonstrating his power over them within the terms of his game. Deep feelings are muffled in foolery: the attitude of nonchalance with which the Young Person of Smyrna confronts her Granny is the typical one of these limericks. By busying himself with verbal tricks, rhyming "Smyrna" with "burn her," Lear is able to sail triumphantly through the rhyme and past the horrors—literally putting them in their place in the process.
Whereas the conventional poet's practice is first to make sense and yet have it come out rhyme, and the nonsense poet's practice is first to make rhyme and have it come out to the embarrassment of sense, Hopkins' practice is first to make rhyme and yet have it come out sense: "Poetry is… speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above its interest of meaning" [in Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Humphry House and Graham Storey, 1959]. Like the conventional poet, Hopkins does not have to commit his allegiance either to rhyme or reason to the exclusion of the other, because he expects them to work in tandem. But, like the nonsense poet, he begins with the sounds of words and lets the sense come tumbling after. Using the practices of the nonsense poet, he yet expects his verse to fulfill the requirements of reason. Little wonder that his progress is more painful and tortuous than that of Lear, for he is playing a more demanding game.
His game has much in common with the old word-game whose object is to progress from one word to another of the same length through a series of words formed by changing only one letter of the previous word. For example, one might move from "black" to "white" by means of the series, -slack-shack-shark-share-shale-whale-while-. Hopkins "wins" his game by letting the accidents of his words carry him from black to white, from a pessimistic presentation of a problem to a reassuring answer:
The rungs of sound are clear enough (an effect that might be overlooked is the running on of the chiming from the end of a line into the beginning of the next), except that there seems to be a break between "joke" and "poor potsherd." The break is only apparent, however: W. A. M. Peters, S.J. [in Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Critical Essay towards the Understanding of his Poetry, 1948] has remarked that Hopkins, here casting about for words to describe abject, miserable man, must have skipped from "joke" to "Job," and thence to the very potsherd with which the sufferer scraped his sores. If "potsherd" is permitted as a substitution for "Job," the ladder is an unbroken one.
Frequently the cheerful turn from black to white is abrupt, marked by a play on words:
The right word springs from the ashes of the old. A similar phonetic drama takes place in "The Lantern out of Doors" (No. 34):
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
And again, in The Wreck of the Deutschland (No. 28), the insight that the poet has been searching for comes to him in the form of a pun. After trying to determine the significance of the drowning nun's cry, "O Christ, Christ, come quickly," he suddenly realizes that she was re-enacting verbally what Mary had performed physically—was uttering, giving birth to, Christ: she was
Wording it how but by him that present and past,
Heaven and earth are word of, worded by?
The conventional Christian play on "Word" is what holds the analogy together. Addressing Christ, the poet remarks,
We see that verbal play lies at the heart of Hopkins' method, serving as the means that permit him to move from quandary to Christian assurance.
His practice is not so silly, so unworthy of his argument, as it might seem, for the apparently accidental, fortuitous play that characterizes his poetic method is truly significant. To him nothing is haphazard, not even the most trivial of objects and events that we customarily relegate to chance: "All the world is full of inscape and chance left free to act falls into an order as well as purpose: looking out of my window I caught it in the random clods and broken heaps of snow made by the cast of a broom" (Journals, [Sonstroem's] italics). Every reader of Hopkins knows of the poet's continual quest for inscape—his term for the pattern of characteristics that reflects the inner nature of each object and event: "design, pattern or what I am in the habit of calling `inscape' is what I above all aim at in poetry" [Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, 1955]. And words proper, as well as events and other objects, have their inscapes: "Poetry is in fact speech only employed to carry the inscape of speech for the inscape's sake—and therefore the inscape must be dwelt on" (Journals). Besides their meanings, the inscape of words consists of their sounds, the likeness of their sounds to those of other words, coincidental relationships—in short, just those "casual" aspects with which we are concerned in this essay. Much of Hopkins' appreciation of inscapes is simple and spontaneous—his genuine joy at the fresh discovery of a pattern in a landscape, a cloud formation, or a group of words is direct and obvious—but the relationship between inscape and chance that he makes in the passage above shows his awareness that something more intricate is taking place.
Inscape is precious primarily for revealing the hand of God that fashions it: "All things therefore are charged with love, are charged with God and if we know how to touch them give off sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him" [Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Christopher Devlin, 1959]:
Of course the sentiments are exactly those that we should expect of a good Jesuit, but our expectations may prevent us from appreciating an aspect of Hopkins that is very important. Let us not mistake his discoveries of God as rote expressions of automatic piety. He is out for signs and wonders. He is looking for "replies," and it is they that provoke his raptures. His search for inscape is a search for fresh tokens of God's continuing influence on the things of the world.
Desire for a reassuring sign from heaven is a strain that runs throughout his poems:
My prayers must meet a brazen heaven
And fail or scatter all away.
God, though to Thee our psalm we raise
No answering voice comes from the skies;
To Thee the trembling sinner prays
But no forgiving voice replies;
Our prayer seems lost in desert ways,
Our hymn in the vast silence dies.
Speak! whisper to my watching heart
One word—as when a mother speaks
Soft, when she sees her infant start,
Till dimpled joy steals o'er its cheeks.
Then, to behold Thee as Thou art,
I'll wait till morn eternal breaks.
On several occasions, too, he believed that he had received such a sign: "Also in some med. today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions…. And this I believe is heard" (Sermons); "I received as I think a great mercy about Dolben" (Journals); "Do not make light of this, for it is perhaps the seventh time that I think I have had some token from heaven in connection with the death of people in whom I am interested" (Letter of 9 October 1877 to his mother, quoted in Sermons); "'I hear a voice you cannot hear' etc. We who are converts have all heard that voice which others cannot or say they cannot hear, have seen that beckoning finger which others etc" (Sermons); and finally:
When a man has given himself to God's service… he has fitted himself to receive and does receive from God a special guidance, a more particular providence. This guidance is conveyed partly… by direct lights and inspirations. If I wait for such guidance, through whatever channel conveyed, about anything, about my poetry for instance, I do more wisely in every way…. [Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon, edited by Claude Colleer Abbott, 1955]
I believe that it is not going too far to suggest that Hopkins is courting just such "mercies" as these in the very writing of his poems.
He deals out his words according to their sound, and then he expects them to turn up in a meaningful pattern that will serve as evidence of an unseen intelligence that is regulating them. He is, so to speak, giving God a free hand, so that He can declare Himself. Chance is not really chance, because it is superintended by God. Thus there is nothing fortuitous about the fact that "heaven" sounds much like "haven," "despair" embodies "spare," and "Jack" leads to "diamond"; God means them so.
The poet's and my card-talk is not out of place; the rationale surrounding his earnest word-play is the same as that behind the fortuneteller's Tarot Pack and, originally, behind many games:
behind many games lies magic of just this sort, divination—that expressive word…. So any game is at one and the same time an exercise of skill and manipulative ability, a way of finding out how God deals with the universe, and a dangerous make-believe with holy things [Elizabeth Sewell, The Field of Nonsense, 1952].
Like Lear, Hopkins is playing a game with words, but his is a somewhat different and more difficult one, with more profound implications. He has more at stake, for his prize, if he wins, is the recognition of the Power that makes the victory possible.
As a poetic method, Hopkins' game is unique but not so outrageous as it may seem. A poet's calling upon the gods for aid has its precedents, of course, and Hopkins' efforts may be seen as the wooing of a very special, Christian form of poetic inspiration. It is in these terms, rather than those of a game, that he sees his own practice:
He hath put a new song in my mouth.
For him there is no distinction to be made between poetic and religious inspiration. It is for his soul's sake that he pleads, and he calls to be his muse the Holy Ghost, who came upon the Disciples in the form of a tongue of flame and gave them the gift of tongues. Hopkins felt the "first and highest" kind of verse to be "the language of inspiration" (Further Letters), and he employed the term "Parnassian" (Journals) to indicate that verse written by a competent poet entirely on his own, of a high level but uninspired. Many of Hopkins' own poems would seem to be of this lower order of composition—"To R. B.," for example, and the Terrible Sonnets (although his remark that some of the Terrible Sonnets came "unbidden and against my will" may indicate an entirely different and more sinister species of inspiration). They are marked by a desire for a visitation—"send my roots rain" (No. 74)—and a sharp reduction in sound effects, as we might expect. It is ironic that most of us prefer the later "Parnassian" poems to the "inspired" ones. Perhaps we find the "inspired" ones, with their movement from rhyme to reason, too perverse or obviously contrived to succeed in a grand way. But Hopkins was writing them for Christ, "the only just literary critic" (Correspondence of Hopkins and Dixon), rather than for us; and even we, appreciating the inner logic of the verse, can hardly refuse to admire.
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SOURCE: "Seeing Pied Beauty: A Key to Theme and Structure," in Victorian Poetry, Vol. 14, No. 1, Spring, 1976, pp. 64-6.
[In the following essay, Lowenstein asserts that the features that give "Pied Beauty" its distinctive quality are characteristic of Impressionist art.]
As Francis Fike suggests [in VP, 1970], there is room for further exploration of Hopkins' relation to the art of painting. Hopkins' belief that poetry and painting are closely allied, that "inscape" or patterning is, to use Fike's word, "crucial" to both, sanctions such endeavors; but aside from Hopkins' complaint to Bridges about Millais' lack of "feeling for beauty in abstract design," there is little in the comments about painting that illuminates the distinctive quality of a poem like "Pied Beauty."
Unlike the popular paintings of its day, the visual art in "Pied Beauty" is neither anecdotal nor literary. In itself, it is free of ideas or sentiment, and is constructed from optical data alone. The element of contrast, lights and darks particularly, is abstracted and presented instead of a whole object. A two-dimensional quality stresses surfaces rather than plastic form. The pictures are presented in rapid succession so that their transitory nature is intensified; the eye jumps from one to the next, taking in the alternating brushstrokes within each panel as well as the alternating images as they flash by.
These characteristics belong to Impressionist art which, at about mid-century, had begun to isolate the optical from the conceptual elements of experience. The first collective exhibition was one hundred years ago (1874), and, as I write, the centenary is being celebrated in Paris with an exhibition of the kind of academic painting shown that year in stern opposition to the new movement. Now that Impressionism is part of the Establishment, "we are unable even to imagine," says Arnold Hauser [in the Social History of Art, translated by Stanley Godman, 1951], "how helplessly the public confronted this medley of spots and blots"; he comments further, "the feeling of being jeered at may never have been so strong."
A similar feeling is unmistakable in Hopkins' well-known comment to Bridges that an artist who is true to his "inscape" or his own distinctive patterning risks becoming queer. In England Turner had been a target of public derision before Ruskin's spirited defense turned the tide. Twenty years later Monet, whose debt to Turner is established, exhibited his painting of a sunrise, "Impressions," a title which was applied derisively to a movement. And in 1877, the year Hopkins composed "Pied Beauty," the jeering went on, this time against Whistler whose "Nocturne in Black and Gold: The Falling Rocket" owed much to the Impressionist imagination. Ruskin's accusation that Whistler was "flinging a pot of paint in the public's face" carried such weight that the famous Whistler v. Ruskin libel suit resulted.
Certainly the tenets of Impressionism and the resistance to them were "in the air" as Hopkins "painted" "Pied Beauty," and there is no doubt that he was aware that he, too, was presenting images in a new way and that the new way was not a popular depiction of beauty. We are educated by the Impressionists and their heirs, the Neo- and Post-Impressionists, and can respond as Hopkins' contemporaries could not to "dappled things," purposely imprecise, immediately suggesting a fleeting world of sunlight and shadow. The "skies of couple-colour," huge alternating brushstrokes, themselves alternate strangely and unexpectedly with an image of a streaked, spotted cow. The pointillist description of the trout, like the work of Seurat, emphasizes color contrast within form; yet it is not stat ic—the trout "swim," the "finches' wings" flash by (their bandings of light and dark a possible association with the term for a streaked cow, "finch-backed"), the sparks shower down from the roasting chestnuts (Whistler's "Falling Rocket" in little?). The patched landscape with its diverse forms in field and fold, tool and plow, is not unfamiliar to sensibilities developed by Monet, Van Gogh, and Cezanne. And beyond the shifting, transitory quality of the designs themselves, their presentation in rapid succession, linked by the eye alone, breaks the world of experience into moments of delight in contrasts and forms abstracted from natural phenomena.
Nevertheless, these images, which are in themselves free from any emotion except the joy of translating sense experience into art, have a rhetorical as well as a deeply religious frame. The "argument" of the poem moves from the first line where the poet alone praises God for the beauty of "dappled things," to the last line in which the "viewer" is asked to join in such praise. Between these lines a series of images is presented which revolutionizes perception. In the penultimate line, "He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change," Hopkins sees God as the consummate harmonizer, the ideal artist in perfect control over his darting, speckled, freckled, spotted, striped, contrasting phenomena in all their transitory beauty. The greatest Impressionist, whose light dapples the world's landscape, is, paradoxically, beyond the impermanence, beyond time and change, perpetually avant-garde. Hopkins' visual images, abstracted from life, are returned to the source of life, but not before those who now have eyes to see, shocked out of their Victorian ideas of prettiness, have redefined beauty, and are therefore able, along with the artist, to "Praise him."
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 5398
SOURCE: "A New Style," in Gerard Manley Hopkins, Twayne, 1982, pp. 64-92.
[Bump is an American critic with a special interest in Hopkins's work. In the following excerpt, he offers a stylistic analysis of his poetry, focusing on the recurrence or "parallelism" of certain sounds in Hopkins's work.]
Hopkins's new style was developed in response to his question, "If the best prose and the best poetry use the same language… why not use unfettered prose?" [Journals of Gerard Manley Hopkins]. He answered, "It is plain that metre, rhythm, rhyme, and all the structure which is called verse both necessitate and engender a difference in diction and in thought." The first difference is "concentration and all which is implied by this. This does not mean terseness nor rejection of what is collateral nor emphasis nor even definiteness." Indeed, though Hopkins achieved a conciseness and concentration unusual among Victorian poets, he did so not by rejecting but by inviting collateral meanings of words, that is, not by an exclusiveness but by an inclusiveness of meaning. For him a word was not limited to one of its meanings: "every word may be considered as the contraction or coinciding-point of its definitions." Thus, if the first principle of his new poetics is concentration, the second is multiple levels of meaning or, to borrow a term from science, multivalence.
Poetry differs from prose by a greater concentration not only of meaning, moreover, but also of word-music and imagery, according to Hopkins. Inspired by the pervasiveness of parallelism throughout the Bible, Hopkins reduced these third and fourth features of his poetry to his principle of parallelism or recurrence in the sounds and thought in a poem:
The artificial part of poetry, perhaps we shall be right to say all artifice, reduces itself to the principle of parallelism… in rhythm, the recurrence of a certain sequence of syllables, in meter, the recurrence of a certain sequence or rhythm, in alliteration, in assonance and in rhyme. Now the force of this recurrence is to beget a recurrence or parallelism answering to it in the words or thought and, speaking roughly and rather for the tendency than the invariable result, the more marked parallelism in structure whether of elaboration or of emphasis begets more marked parallelism in the words and sense. And moreover parallelism in expression tends to beget or passes into parallelism in thought … metaphor, simile, parable, and so on, where the effect is sought in likeness of things, and antithesis, contrast, and so on, where it is sought in unlikeness.
Such a definition of poetry supplies the broad parameters within which Hopkins developed the style that made him a great English poet, a style developed primarily between 1868 and 1875, seven years during which, paradoxically, he composed very few poems. The birth of the new style is apparent, however, in revisions of his earlier Pre-Raphaelite poems, especially "For a Picture of St. Dorothea," and in the only new poems of this period, "Ad Mariam" and "Rosa Mystica." These initial attempts to discover his "authentic cadence" illustrate the practical effects of his definition of poetry and, relatively simple in their own right, they show us how to approach the more difficult poems which followed.
Hopkins's revisions of "For a Picture of St. Dorothea," for example, demonstrate concisely how his definition of poetry as parallelism in sound led to his conception of poetry as speech, music, dramatic performance, and sacrament. "Rosa Mystica," on the other hand, illustrates clearly the answering parallelism in the thought in a poem, especially that special kind of recurrence described by such terms as "type," "antitype," and "archetype" which imply a multiplicity of "vertical" parallels and movements between God and the world as well as a sense of mystery and, at times, even obscurity of meaning. "Rosa Mystica" also epitomizes Hopkins's conception of poetry as discourse on a higher level of generality than prose and illustrates how Hopkins's conventional imagery restricts his originality primarily to his parallelism in sound, that is, his word-music.
Confronted with the example of Christina Rossetti's songs of heaven, Hopkins began to consider which of the senses is most important in our response to words: seeing or hearing. Ever since the invention of the alphabet, the initial visualization of language in the Western world, there has been a propensity to regard literature as essentially a visual art. "Oral Literature" is in fact a contradiction in terms, for "literature" means "letters." Hopkins eventually became aware, however, of the danger of this overemphasis on the role of the eye in communication and began to modify the visual models of language he had inherited from Keats, Ruskin, and the Pre-Raphaelites in order to place more emphasis on the role of the ear.
Ironically it was his revision of "For a Picture of St. Dorothea" that generated much of his distinctive auditory poetics, including his first use of sprung rhythm, his first dramatic monologue, and his special use of word-music to "beget" metaphor. Though the title, "For a Picture of St. Dorothea," proclaims the poem's genre as the verbal initation of the visual arts, Hopkins's revisions invoke the conventions of rival genres appealing to the ear more than the eye, that is, appealing more to the Victorians' fondness for reading aloud than to their love of word-painting, thus emphasizing the poem as speech, drama, and music.
Hopkins's aim was to revitalize the medieval legend of St. Dorothea. Just before her martyrdom, a lawyer named Theophilus jeeringly asked Dorothea to send him some fruits and flowers from the heavenly garden she believed awaited her. He converted when an angel delivered them. This legend became a favorite of the Pre-Raphaelites: Dante and Christina Rossetti, William Morris, Edward Burne-Jones, and A. C. Swinburne had all represented St. Dorothea in their art before Hopkins took her up in 1864. When a subject such as this was represented in a Pre-Raphaelite painting, moreover, they frequently accompanied it with a poem for the painting in Dante Rossetti's manner, often inscribed in the frame of the painting itself.
Hopkins's title reminds us that he originally wanted to be a painter and a poet after the fashion of Dante Rossetti and the Pre-Raphaelites. They obviously inspired both his subject and his choice of the genre of poems-for-pictures. Hopkins differed from them by substituting lilies, larkspurs, and a quince for the roses and apples in the legend, and by developing the exchange between Theophilus and Dorothea and/or her angel. His special emphasis on the role of speech and music, however, two auditory effects as likely to compete with visual sensations as to complement them, most clearly distinguished him from the Pre-Raphaelites.
Hopkins soon perceived that the ancient definition of poetry as a speaking picture is intrinsically dialectical, a contradition in terms. His decision to stress speech made his poem-for-a-picture not merely independent of an imaginable picture but distinctively different from any picture. As he put it, "the sensations of the eye are given in space, those of the ear in time." Speech, being invisible, with no existence in space, tended to force the imaginary picture of his title back into that world of time from which the spatial arts seem to escape.
Hopkins thus discovered how language has its own intrinsic generic propensities, especially a tendency to generate drama. In his first revision Hopkins's subtitle stressed the presence of two different speakers in the poem, and in his second he actually broke the poem up into five separate speeches. This incipient attraction to drama is more obvious in his plays—Floris in Italy, Castara Victrix, and St. Winefred's Well—but they, along with his more dramatic versions of "For a Picture of St. Dorothea," remain unfinished. His theatrical tendencies, like those of many Victorian poets, blossomed instead in his lyrics, in the interpolated "oh's," "ah's," and exclamation marks which, like the outbursts of the narrator in Dickens's novels or the histrionic gestures of Victorian melodrama, emphasize climactic moments. In "The Windhover" and "The Starlight Night" (1877), for instance, his interjections dramatize his excited discoveries of unusually felicitous sacramental symbols.
This love of drama led to the invention of "sprung rhythm" and the sacrifice of many of the painterly effects in "For a Picture of St. Dorothea" (I). Seeking the more dramatic conciseness and directness of the sense-stress rhythms of Renaissance verse drama, Hopkins replaced regular rhythms in the poems such as "I am so light, I am so fair" and "And at the basket that I bear," with the more concise "sprung" rhythms, "I am so light and fair" and "With the basket I bear" (II). A comparison of the original lines with their revisions reveals the most striking feature of sprung rhythm: the freedom to vary the number of unaccented syllables, allowing more conciseness, and a more dramatic stress on the accented syllables. It is a rhythm, as Hopkins said of his use of it in "Harry Ploughman," "which is altogether for recital, not for perusal (as by nature verse should be)" [The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges].
This realization of the dramatic potential of language encouraged the idea that poetry should not be merely word-painting, but also, as Wordsworth put it, "man speaking to men." This archaic sense of literature as "speaking," and thus reading as "reading aloud," the common usage in ancient and medieval cultures, was revived in the nineteenth century, apparently as a response to the accelerating mechanization of printing. Even novels were read aloud to families and large audiences. Philip Collins reminds us that a hundred years ago "much current literature was apprehended in this way—was indeed written with such a reception in mind," and thus "many people met contemporary literature as a group or communal, rather than an individual experience."
Hopkins in particular must have been conscious of the many parallels between the communal experiences of literature and religious ritual. At the time he was revising his Dorothea poem he was agonizing about his religious vocation and no doubt was aware that some of the most popular Victorian public readers were clergymen—indeed, two of the most successful were Anglican priests who had gone over to Rome. Moving in the same direction himself, Hopkins was in fact experiencing two simultaneous and related conversions; he felt the necessity of restoring not only the medieval religion but also some of the oral traditions with which it was identified.
Hence in his version of the legend of St. Dorothea Hopkins concentrated on the speeches that led to the conversion of Theophilus and, in the process, developed his theory of sprung rhythm. As he explained to his brother Everard in 1885, sprung rhythm
gives back to poetry its true soul and self. As poetry is emphatically speech, speech purged of dross like gold in the furnace, so it must have emphatically the essential elements of speech. Now emphasis itself, stress, is one of these: sprung rhythm makes verse stressy; it purges it to an emphasis as much brighter, livelier, more lustrous than the regular but commonplace emphasis of common rhythm as poetry in general is brighter than common speech.
In his revisions of the Dorothea poem, Hopkins uses sprung rhythm to stress the "parley," the debate between Dorothea and Theophilus, which ironically had the effect of the delivery of a "writ" to the pagan Theophilus, himself the Protonotary, writer of writs, now converted by the spoken rather than the written word.
Hopkins's representation of the "parley" making its "market here as well," moreover, increases our sense of a discussion with an audience, both inside and outside the poem, which is to be persuaded to strike a bargain, "to make market," to trade, to buy. This dramatization of the role of the audience led to the explicit exhortations and question and answer technique in the sequel to the Dorothea poem, "The Starlight Night": "It is all a purchase, all is a prize. / Buy then! Bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, alms, vows."
In many of Hopkins's subsequent poems the performance of the poem, the "parley" between the poem's speaker and the audience, is clearly intended to be the delivery of a "writ" for the audience's conversion. In other words, Hopkins replaced the modern axiom of the autonomy of the artistic imagination with the older idea of poetry as rhetoric. It can be argued that most of Hopkins's poetic techniques were developed to serve this clearly proselytical purpose. His most "modern" innovation, sprung rhythm, was obviously developed primarily for its rhetorical and oratorical potential: "Why do I employ sprung rhythm at all," Hopkins wrote to Bridges, "Because it is… the native and natural rhythm of speech, the least forced, the most rhetorical…. My verse is less to be read than heard, as I have told you before; it is oratorical, that is the rhythm is so." Along with the rhythm, the highly mnemonic sound structure of Hopkins's poems and their commonplace themes all suggest deep roots in the ancient tradition which defined poetry as a special kind of rhetoric, a tradition large enough to embrace even poems-for-pictures, for it prized enargeia (pictorial vividness) and ecphrasis (giving speech to an art object).
As his commitment to medievalism in religion and art increased in the 1860s, Hopkins conceived of poetry not only as speech and drama but also as music. Music, the least representational, the most spiritual of the arts, generally replaced painting as the sister of poetry in the Middle Age. Thomas Aquinas's hymn, "Adoro Te Supplex," for instance, which Hopkins translated, asserts of God: "Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived; / How says trusty hearing? that shall be believed" ("S. Thomae Aquinatis Rhythmus," undated). Aquinas's emphasis on the ear was reinforced in the eighteenth century by Edmund Burke and Gotthold Lessing, who reaffirmed Aristotle's assertion that poetry belongs with music as an art of temporal movement. This thesis was also supported by the German critics most important to Hopkins, those who promulgated romanticism as a medievalist movement animated by Christian spiritualism: Johann Herder, W. H. Wackenroder, Novalis, and the Schlegels. They praised music as the nonmimetic, expressive art to which lyric poetry should aspire.
The English romantics adapted their musical analogy, often in Aeolian harp imagery, and John Keble consecrated it for the Victorians. Thus, while Keats's "Ode on a Grecian Urn" epitomizes the romantic attraction to the visual arts, many other nineteenth-century poems emphasize affinities between poetry and music—so many, in fact, that romanticism has been defined as the shift from ut pictura poesis to ut musica poesis. In his revisions of his Dorothea poem, Hopkins was reconstructing this basic pardigm of romanticism.
He unified his own poem-for-a-painting through word-music rather than word-painting. Recognizing that we need to integrate a poem (which we usually apprehend first in discrete units) more than a painting (which we first perceive in one glance), Hopkins unified his poems with what he called "verbal parallelisms." Recurrent patterns of consonance and assonance, along with the audible rhythms of structural parallelism which he called "the figure of grammar," replace the Pre-Raphaelite painters' unifying techniques of ornamental designs and color harmonies. Perhaps the most obvious examples are the initial images of "a basket lined with grass" (I-III), in which "basket" and "grass" are audibly linked by a assonance and s consonance, and the later image of a "quince in hand" (I) which is integrated by i assonance and n consonance. Similarly, it is the audible rhythm of structural parallelism ("the figure of grammar") that narrows the focus from St. Dorothea's basket of flowers to her lilies: "flowers I carry… Lilies I shew" (I). In addition to this kind of fugal iteration of structure, Hopkins also repeats sounds like "nor" to unify his picture, or in this case its disappearance: "We see nor fruit, nor flowers, nor Dorothy" (I).
The result is that although in fact we never see her, when the poem is read aloud we hear her music and that becomes the "message" of the poem. The impression of unity created by the word-music in "For a Picture of St. Dorothea" conveys the beauty of the final union with God in the realm in which Dorothea is "sphered": that heaven of "choice celestial music, equal to the motion of the spheres," invoked in Massinger's Renaissance drama of Dorothea, The Virgin Martyr (V, ii).
It was no doubt because music had such spiritual as well as formal powers that the musical analogy eventually became central to Hopkins's definition of poetry. He speculated that originally "music and verse were one" and such words as "measure," "timbre," "melody," "air," "cadence," "rest," "modulation," and "pitch" pervade his discussions of poetry. Toward the end of his life he even preferred musical to rhetorical models for the performance of his poems: "above all remember what applies to all my verse, that it is, as a living art should be, made for performance and that its performance is not reading with the eye but loud, leisurely, poetical (not rhetorical) recitation, with long rests, long dwells on rhyme, and other marked syllables, and so on. This sonnet should be almost sung: it is most carefully timed in tempo rubato."
By aspiring to the condition of music, romantic poetry also sought to minimize the referential quality of language (which Victorian word-painting depended on), and thus lent itself to Hopkins's definition of poetry as "speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even over and above its interest of meaning. Some matter and meaning is essential to it but only as an element necessary to support and employ the shape which is contemplated for its own sake. (Poetry is in fact speech only employed to carry the inscape of speech for the inscape's sake—and therefore the inscape must be dwelt on)." In his own poetry Hopkins "dwells on" fugal repetition of the auditory inscape "to be heard for its own sake." Conventional syntax and clarity are consistently sacrificed for such musical effects, and the result in, say, "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo," is an operatic performance which clearly subordinates the referential qualities of language to the musical.
This emphasis on language qua language and Hopkins's initial attraction to visual metaphors such as "the shape" of a poem, has naturally led us to associate his theories with modern criticism and its basic tenet of art for art's sake. The result, however, is often a misunderstanding of Hopkins's aims and methods. Many twentieth-century formalist critics, with basically spatial paradigms of language, naturally assume that language was primarily visual for Hopkins too and therefore the essence of poetry for him was writing and reading silently, alone.
Yet Hopkins said that "such verse as I do compose is oral, made away from paper, and I put it down with repugnance." Hopkins's increasing emphasis on auditory rather than spatial effects often means that his poetry, for all its apparent modernity, cannot be read the way we normally read modern literature, as Hopkins himself discovered to his surprise: "When on somebody returning me the 'Eurydice,' I opened and read some lines, reading, as one commonly reads whether prose or verse, with the eyes, so to say, only, it struck me aghast with a kind of raw nakedness and unmitigated violence I was unprepared for: but take breath and read it with the ears, as I always wish to be read, and my verse becomes all right." "The Loss of the Eurydice" his other shipwreck poem, was also on his mind when he wrote to Everard: "I am sweetly soothed by your saying that you could make anyone understand my poem by reciting it well. That is what I always hoped, thought, and said; it is my precise aim. And thereby hangs so considerable a tale, in fact the very thing I was going to write about Sprung Rhythm in general."
Hopkins's considerable tale concerns the relationship between poetry and music. He took liberties with traditional grammar and diction in order to transform speech into something like music. "Some matter and meaning is essential" but we are to concentrate on the musical "shape" of the words, until the music itself becomes meaningful. Encouraged by onomatopoetic etymologies of contemporary linguists, Hopkins believed that similarity of sound in words "begets" similarity of meaning, that phonic harmony generates semantic harmony. Hopkins's choice of the word "begets," echoing the Nicene Creed's "Begotten not made, one in Being with," emphasizes not only the casual relationship, but the essential unity of sound and meaning.
This concept of the higher meaningfulness of the music of a poem had many nineteenth-century precedents. The romantics revived Pythagoras's theory of the music of the world, what Boethius called musica mundana, because they believed its sole aim is the Infinite. Pater defined this Pythagorean and Platonic "music of the spheres in its largest sense, its completest orchestration" as "the harmonious order of the whole universe." While contemporary musicologists related their studies to this music of the spheres and other mystical paradigms, Wordsworth asserted that "the roar of waters, torrents, streams / Innumerable" on top of Mt. Snowdon was "felt by the starry heavens."
The Platonic emphasis on the rhetorical and ethical effects of man-made music, what Boethius called musica humana, also remained popular. The romantics recalled Longinus's assertion that harmonious word-music makes us receptive to sublimity, and Newman claimed that the "perfection of the Intellect" has "almost the beauty and harmony of heavenly contemplation, so intimate is it with the eternal order of things and the music of the spheres." Similar ideas affected theorists both as modern as Valéry, who felt that the aim of music in poetry was to produce an extraordinary harmony in the listener, and as reactionary as the nineteenth-century medievalists, who resurrected many other traditional connotations of verbal harmony. Hopkins's word-music in his poem on Dorothea and her angel, for instance, may well be a response to Anna Jameson's insistence, in the book that inspired the cult of St. Dorothea, that "there is nothing more beautiful, more attractive in Art than the representation of angels" as the singers of the "music of the spheres."
Hopkins's word-music was designed to "beget a recurrence or parallelism answering to it in the words or thought," moreover, ultimately a recurrence of the music of heaven. These connotations of harmony in poetry suggest how Hopkins's word-music was designed to convey that sense of the possibility of a radically different order of time and experience that is one of the goals of most religions. Hopkins's Dorothea poem shows how, from the beginning of his career, even in his most conventional, mimetic phase, Hopkins was interested in representing not only nature but that which seemed to miraculosuly deviate from nature. Religion encouraged Hopkins to represent this independent reality, this world unto itself, this time out of time. "For a Picture of St. Dorothea," like so many other Hopkins poems, is the music of this other word of centuries of religious traditions as well as the song of a particular self.
Ironically, while revising his poem-for-a-picture in search of new ways to tap the poetic power of these traditions, Hopkins's most important discovery was that the ear was more important than the eye. He sensed that the medieval age which his imaginary "picture" evoked was more alive than his own to the power of the spoken word, in the sacraments and in its oral traditions generally. Such traditions, as Walter Ong has shown [in The Presence of the Word, 1970], consisting of audible rather than visualized words, make the world more personal, for spoken words invoke the presence of speakers.
It is a sign of the ability Hopkins acquired to revive those traditions that his poems written for performance often evoke a world inhabited by personified presences, a vitalistic world in which all objects are animated by powers "deep down" inside them, a world very much like that resurrected by his ultimate revision of the Dorothea poem: "The Starlight Night." In that poem as in so many others, Hopkins taps the extraordinary power of this vital oral tradition with a virtuoso auditory performance which rejuvenates and energizes the ancient metaphors. He extends their life in time in another sense as well: when the metaphors of "The Starlight Night" are spoken aloud, as they should be, they inevitably seem more successive and less simultaneous, for the tongue is much slower than the eye. But only by performing this and other poems by Hopkins aloud can a reader apprehend this aspect of his metaphors and feel the primary effect he aimed at in all his poetry: the parallelism of his sounds actually "begetting" the parallelism of his images, the integration of his word-music activating and reinforcing the unifying power of the metaphors.
Hopkins thus resurrected the original meaning of the term "sonnet"—like "sonata" it means "to be sounded or played." That his poems are based on a theory of poetry as performance was the rest of that "considerable tale" he adumbrated in his letter to Everard in 1885:
Every art then and every work of art has its own play or performance… books play, perform, or are played and performed when they are read; and ordinarily by one reader, alone, to himself, with the éyes only…. Poetry was originally meant for either singing or reciting; a record was kept of it; the record could be, was, read, and that in time by one reader, alone, to himself, with his eyes only. This reacted on the art: what was to be performed under these conditions for these conditions ought to be and was composed and calculated. Sound-effects were intended, wonderful combinations even; but they bear the marks of having been meant for the whispered, not even whispered, merely mental performance of the closet, the study and so on…. This is not the true nature of poetry… till it is spoken it is not performed, it does not perform, it is not itself….
Hopkins's use of the word "perform" here is full of echoes of the King James Bible familiar to most Victorians. These echoes include that sense of fulfilment of prophecy so basic to the typological imagination: "For I am the LORD I will speak, and the word that I shall speak shall come to pass… in your days… will I say the word, and will perform it" (Ezek. 12:25).
But the biblical "perform" is not limited to this typological meaning; it conveys all the connotations of speech as act: "I am the LORD that… confirmeth the word of his servant, and performeth the counsel of his messangers; that saith to Jerusalem, Thou shalt be inhabited; and to the cities of Judah, ye shall be built,… That saith to the deep, Be dry, and I will dry up thy rivers; That saith of Cyrus, He is my shepherd, and shall perform all my pleasure; even saying unto Jerusalem, Thou shalt be built, and to the temple, Thy foundation shall be laid" (Isa. 44:24-28). One of the reasons that the Bible is the book of Western civilization is that it is the one most in tune with those original oral traditions which endow our language with great power. The source of the ultimate performatives in our language, the Bible is the drama of word as event, speech as act, from the creation ("And God said, Let there be light: and there was light") to the New Testament: "In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God." Biblical words are clearly kinetic, dynamic—they make things happen.
The emphasis is of course on speech, not writing, for the Hebrew tradition is oriented to the ears, not the eyes. The God of the ten commandments is heard, not seen: "And the LORD spake unto you out of the midst of the fire; ye hear the voice of the words, but saw no similitude; only ye heard a voice: And he declared unto his covenant, which he commanded you to perform" (Deut. 4:12-13). Other echoes of the word "perform" also stress the effect of the voice of the invisible God on the ear: "And the LORD said to Samuel; Behold, I will do a thing in Israel, at which both the ears of everyone that heareth it shall tingle. In that day I will perform" (Isa. 3:11-12).
To move closer to Hopkins's own situation, much of this sense of the power of the word is transferred to the poet when the word of the Lord comes to him and he accepts the role of the prophet with his "Amen" ("So be it"): "The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, Hear ye the words of this covenant, and speak unto the men of Judah, and to the inhabitants of Jerusalem; And say unto them, Thus saith the LORD God of Israel; cursed be the man that obeyeth not the words of this covenant… Obey my voice, and do them, according to all which I command you; so shall ye be my people, and I will be your God: That I may perform the oath that I have sworn unto your fathers, to give them a land flowing with milk and honey, as it is this day. Then answered I, and said, So be it, O LORD" (Jer. 11:1-5).
So far we may seem to have stayed within the oral tradition, though the Bible is its visual transcription, but the biblical echoes of the word "perform" include explicit instructions on how to perform a written text: "And the king stood by a pillar, and made a covenant before the Lord, to walk after the Lord, and to keep his commandments and his testimonies and his statutes with all their heart and all their soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book" (2 Kings 23:3). In this model of reading, the performance of the words of a text demands the complete participation of the reader; his heart and soul are to embrace the heart and soul of the text: "I have inclined my heart to perform thy statutes alway, even unto the end" (Ps. 119:112). It is not enough to read the text, or even to speak it aloud; one must pour one's whole being into the performance of it: "That which has gone out of thy lips thou shalt keep and perform" (Deut. 23:23); "Now therefore perform the doing of it; that as there was a readiness to will, so there may be a performance also out of that which ye have" (2 Cor. 8:11).
This sense of the text as the script for a performance is clearly at the other end of the spectrum from the idea of the text as merely a visual object. Hopkins soon discovered that to read with the eyes only is to be deaf and dumb, to have one's organs closed to the magical or miraculous power of words in performance. In his sermon, "Cure of the Deaf and Dumb Man; Ephphetha," for instance, Hopkins recalls that "having made the organs ready to hear and speak he looked up to heaven and groaned…. And said Ephphetha, Be opened—The evangelist tells us the very word which had this magical or rather miraculous effect…. Much more should we admire what Christ has done for us—made us deaf hear, if we will hear… made us dumb speak."
Hopkins's literary goal was a new genre of spoken lyric emphasizing poetry's affinities with speech and drama rather than the visual arts. Anticipating H. Marshall McLuhan and Walter Ong, he suggested how the phonograph, which had been invented only seven years before, could help restore the human voice to literature:
I look on this as an infinite field and very little worked. It has this great difficulty, that the art depends entirely on living tradition. The phonograph may give us one, but hitherto there could be no record of fine spoken utterance…. the natural performance and delivery belonging properly to lyric poetry, which is speech, has not been enough cultivated, and should be. When performers were trained to do it (it needs the rarest gifts) and audiences to appreciate it it would be, I am persuaded, a lovely art…. With the aid of the phonograph each phrase could be fixed and learned by heart like a song.
As I have suggested elsewhere, the poetics expressed in this letter suggest our need to reevaluate how we teach literature and how we communicate generally.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 3115
SOURCE: "Hopkins: Numinous Numbers in the Virgin Mary Poems," in Papers on Language and Literature, Vol. 26, No. 4, Fall, 1990, pp. 513-21.
[In the following essay, Anderson points out that little attention has been paid to the numerical inscapes in Hopkin's poetry, and argues that the Virgin Mary poems demonstrate the development and complexity of the dialectic between verbal and numerical structures in his work.]
While much has been written about Gerard Manley Hopkins's innovations in meter, such as sprung rhythm, inscape, and instress, little attention has been given the numerical structure that he builds into his work. Hopkins provides us with both verbal and numerical inscapes, and the "symmetry" between the two creates a "beauty" that "explodes" with revelations to reinforce the meaning. This dual structure acts as a kind of dialectic and conforms with Hopkins's theory of beauty in diversity, outlined in his essay "On the Origin of Beauty" (May 1865): "All poetry differs from prose by having a continuous and regular artificial structure… of continuous parallelisms…. A singularly beautiful expression of poetry has of its essence an antithetical shape:—for that the antithesis is essential to the beauty." The numerical structures unify a poetry that gives the appearance of randomness; the mathematical symmetry is directly related to Hopkins's world view as ordered and intelligible. Since Hopkins does not mention the numerical structure, we trust that it is a kind of code or riddle intended to be solved or experienced in some mystical way.
Hopkins makes one important reference to a book written by his father, Manley Hopkins, The Cardinal Numbers (1887), and states that he had some hand in it. Although the book has some limitations, it glosses some of the number symbolism discussed below, as does Bosman's The Meaning and Symbolism of Numbers and Hopper's Medieval Number Symbolism. Manley Hopkins discusses the psychological effect of the repetition of numbers:
Upon human beings, rhythm, or the regular repetition of numbers exerts an influence which is generally pleasing…. The mind keeps unconsciously a measure or account…. The Greek name for number is [arithmos], and rhythm, which originally means a certain number of pulses in a given time, is derived from the word [rhuthmizo], showing that rhythm is in direct relation to numbers. We can at least say… that an expectancy arises in the mind involuntarily and often unaccountably, for the return of sounds and ideas in the mind.
That Gerard Manley Hopkins shared this view is evident in the number symbolism that he weaves into his poetry to be experienced by the listener or reader. Numbers were very real for Hopkins; in his father's book he recounts his experience with "the very fantastic and interesting" circumstance of "apparition" or "spectral numbers."
The works that illustrate numerical structure and meaning are the Virgin Mary poems, which, taken in chronological order, show the development of Hopkins's verbal and numerical style and complexity. Certain key words or constructions are repeated according to the numbers from one to twelve. These repetitions conform to what Hopkins calls "aftering" and "oftening" and "over-and-overing," similar to the repeated tune or melody in music.
The first of the Virgin Mary poems, "Ad Mariam" (26), is one of the poems he dismissed as the "little presentation pieces" written during his seven-year poetic drought. The number symbolism in the poem begins with the duality in the word "Spring," which occurs twice, as a noun in the second line and as verb in the second-to-last line. The verb from of "spring" forces the reader back to the beginning in a circular motion, in order to glean this active meaning and to explore and "explode" both connections. The double meaning in "spring" is a typical Hopkins construction in which both noun and verb meanings reverberate in the same word; in fact, in the simplest terms, inscape can be seen as the noun and instress as the verb, and the beauty is in both the symmetry and dichotomy. Thus May-Mariam's inscape includes her relationship to the Old Testament maid and Queen of King David's house, who "sprang" from the tribe of Judah, and is the proverbial line from which the "son" (Christ) also "sprang." Hopkins may have in mind the scripture from Hebrews 7.14: "For it is evident that our Lord sprang out of Judah."
"Maiden," also repeated twice, symbolizes the dual nature of both virginity and potentiality. As such she is the duality in the physical world, objectified in matter, and is the "Mother-Substance of all things" [Leonard Bosman, The Meaning and Philosophy of Numbers, 1932]. Occurring twice, "Maiden" and "Spring" symbolize duality and symmetry, matter and spirit, which conforms with Hopkins's theory of beauty as interaction. Manley Hopkins also notes a similar "peculiar feature" of the poetic forms in Old Testament literature, in which a "parallelism," or "duplication" of an idea "forms an antithesis and a disjunctive conjunction." This difference of expression is necessary for "fulness and elegance."
The rhyme scheme of the first four stanzas, ababccab, changes in the fifth stanza to ababaaab. In all five octaves the ab rhyme occurs three times, suggesting the Trinity; it functions in its location at the beginning and end of each octave to represent an organic and circular order of continuity and completion. Manley Hopkins comments on just such a structure in music: "the third tone in union with the first produces the strongest harmony which two notes in the octave are capable of forming." In keeping with the lyrical quality of the poem, the rhyme scheme is slightly altered in the fifth and final stanza to emphasize the musical quality of the long "e" vowel sound ("we," "thee," and "tree"). "Thee" occurs nine times, a multiple of the trinitarian three, and forms an image of "perfect balance in all things" [Leonard Bosman, The Meaning and Philosophy of Numbers, 1932]. In the final stanza "thee" occurs seven times, the number of earthly completion and consummation. Hopkins thus emphasizes May-Mariam as the "May-hope of our darkened ways"—in the material world.
While Christ and Mary are not named in the poem, their presence "springs" out in the numerical structure. The structure of five stanzas suggests the number of Christ; there are five dots that form the cross; and "the stigmata, or five wounds of the crucifixion, have been held reverently dear to Christians." The number five is "the symbol of the creative Power of God, manifested in the "Word' or Logos in creation"; in Greek iconography the "Pythagoreans named it, cardiatis… the heart of things manifested, the centre of all things." Further, "May" and "month" are repeated five times, and May is the fifth month. Implicit in the poem is the image of Christ linked with the images of time, such as, "May," "month," "day," "hour," "year," "past," the seasons, and generation, all representing Christ's role in Creation and His birth into time as the ultimate beauty in duality—God made man.
Although Mary is unnamed, her presence is established in the numerical structure as well. The five stanzas contain eight lines each, forming five octaves, for a total of forty lines. At line twenty, at the very center, "Maid," "mother," and "May" come together in a triune, placing Mary at the very center of the birth process.
"Rosa Mystica" is also striking in its numerical form. Eight stanzas of six lines are divided into three rhyming couplets, with each final couplet a song-like refrain. [According to Bosman], Eight symbolizes a "Universal Harmony, Mother"; and "the simplest of all concords," to reflect the song-like character of the poem. The title of the poem, "Mystica," and the use of "mystery" three times (including the title) express the mystery of the union of God and Christ in Mary. The three rhyming couplets symbolize Mary's role as the mother in whom Father and Son are combined: "Christ Jesus our Lord, her God and her son." The words "Mary," "Grace," "blossom," and "sweet(ness)," are each repeated three times, symbolic of Mary's role "for purposes of manifestation," for it is through her that God manifests the Son. "Mother" occurs nine times (a power of three), a number symbolic of "the final stage of preparation… in which all things are formed"; "God" occurs ten times, the number of spiritual completion and perfection in which all are combined. The earthly completion of the creation process in Genesis is recalled in the seven repetitions of "Garden" and "Daylight."
Seventeen questions are raised in the poem, a number that at first glance appears relatively insignificant, except to restate seven and ten as the symbols of earthly and heavenly completion. However, Hopkins's placement is much more complex. There are fifteen questions up to stanza 7; then in stanza 7, other numbers and combinations call for interpretation. "Five" occurs three times—three and five respectively representing the Trinity and the number of Christ. Then Hopkins plants a curious clue to stimulate the questioning process: "Multiply, multiply, who can tell how?" But he has just told us how, for 3×5=15, which is precisely the number of questions to this point in the poem.
Further, the numerical structure of seventeen questions in eight stanzas leads to a scripture in Jeremiah 17.8 (note the numbers), which is appropriate to the meaning of the poem, and especially to stanza 7. In the scripture, as in the poem, we note the union of masculine and feminine in the image of the tree. Hopkins's "Make me a leaf in thee, mother of mine" recalls: "For he shall be as a tree planted by the waters, and that spreadeth out her roots by the river, and shall not see when heat cometh, but her leaf shall be green; and shall not be careful in the year of drought, neither shall cease from yielding fruit" (Anderson's emphasis). This tree is similar to the plant described by Manley Hopkins as a "wondrous five-leaved plant which exorcised demons, counteracted poisons, cured fevers, and contributed to the expiation of sin!"; and the number five and the mystical power of the plant are analogous to the miraculous and spiritual power of Christ.
The third poem, "The May Magnificat," uses numerical structure in several significant passages. The poem has twelve stanzas, a number associated with time, season, and universality, and adumbrates Revelations 12.1 (again note the numbers): "And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars." "Wonder" appears at the beginning of the poem; "Twelve stars" are the twelve stanzas in "her" honour; and Mary's crown is associated with stars, since "Spring" has a "stareyed strawberry-breasted / Throstle above her nested" (st. 5). Moreover, the "throstle" has triangular markings on its breast, and this symbol of unity is "nested" above her like a crown.
Four references to Mary—twice in the Mary-May sense (sts. 1, 9), and twice in the Mary-Christ sense (sts. 7-8, 12) suggest that her beauty lies in her dual nature, both temporal and divine, and analogize her with the forces of regeneration (st. 4). Four denotes "the form of the world" and the "signature of nature"; the "potentialities of objectivized Nature," and the "concretion of the Divine Idea working in Substance" (Bosman). "May" is represented four times in the poem, and shares in a parallel symbolism, while "Christ," "Lord," and "God" are each mentioned once only, in keeping with their spiritual perfection. In the last stanza, "Mary," "Christ," and "God" appear together, and Mary's reproductive role in Christ's birth is thus represented as the final or twelfth star in her crown. The poem opens with "May" and "Mary," and ends with "God" and "salvation," the path and provision for salvation. Just as Mary leads out from God, in Christ, she also leads back to God.
The fourth poem, "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air we Breathe," appears to be a simple poem; its short lines, rhyming couplets and tercets give the poem a lilting character. However, the rhythm is sprung and the syntax requires much diligent reading. Its numerical structure is also more complex, reflecting a mature poet who has refined his style and technique. Consisting of 126 lines divided into six stanzas, the poem locates Christ's birth exactly in the middle, at line 63 in the third stanza, corresponding to His place in the Trinity. References to "Mary" and "mother" three times denote her spiritual unity and role as the mother of Christ, and conforms with the meaning of the poem. "Mother" also appears in several other forms, including compound words, such as "world-mothering" and "motherhood," for a total of six times (2×3), which may symbolize the function of "mother" in both the temporal and eternal spheres. Manley Hopkins notes that "in the Genesis of the world, the sixth day is prominent as being that on which man was created." Since man was created in the image of God, he also blends Spirit and Matter. For Bosman, "the "six-ing' process… relates the opposites, links triangle to triangle, trinity of Spirit to trinity of Matter…. Spirit and Matter are blended and synthesized."
The key word in the poem, "air," Hopkins uses twelve times. Its symmetry is further indicated in its occurrence three times in the first, and three in the last stanza, to represent the unity of the Trinity. Also, "air" and "Mary" are one, since "air" is contained within her name: "As if with air the same / Is Mary [Mairy], more by name" ([Anderson's] emphasis).
The emphasis on will, intellect, and revelation appears in a key numerical signal in the poem, which deals with the number 7 and leads to a scripture. This signal is similar to those found in the other three poems, but in this case the technique is perfected so that there can be no doubt about the poet's intention. We note that "air" is repeated seven times up to line 87, the point at which the poem states, "The seven or seven times seven / Hued sunbeam will transmit / Perfect, not alter it." The seven leads to a scriptural reading which unfolds the meaning both in word and number: "The light of the sun shall be seven fold in the day of the Lord (it) bindeth up the breach of his people and healeth the stroke of the wound" (Isaiah 30.26). Seven symbolizes the open door between Heaven and Earth, and for this reason "the rainbow, and its seven colours… was considered a sign of the alliance between Earth and Heaven" (Bosman). Like the light of the sun in the rainbow, it heals the "breach" between heaven and earth, and signifies completion in the temporal world. Significantly, then, the poem follows the scripture at lines 89-102 with the analogy of the sunbeam that transmits "perfect" to dispel the "blackness bound" in the "grimy vasty vault." The reference to "vault" may signal Hopkins's reply to Plato's cave analogy, in which man sees only shadows in the cave; Hopkins demonstrates that man is not denied the perfection and light of God, but that he participates in the conception of "God's and Mary's Son" in Mary and thus becomes a "new self and nobler me."
It is important to the theme that it is the third stanza that deals with the Incarnation, since three is the number of unity. The stanza suggests that Mary conceives Christ continuously, and also conceives Christ "in us." We note the tentative approach at the beginning of the stanza, "If I have understood," before the poem continues:
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God's and Mary's Son.
This birth moves from flesh to spirit, "though much the mystery how," and emphasizes both the temporal and the spiritual in the circularity of the lines.
References to "God" seven times in the poem, and the numerical relationship with scripture, reveal Him as ultimately responsible for the provision of healing on earth and in time. The one instance of the "god" (lower case), which is a little puzzling in a Christian poem, may reveal that the historical function of the "god of old" in the Old Testament is also "God," even before redemption became possible when "A mother came to mould" in the New Testament.
The emphasis on knowledge in the poem and in the scripture is reinforced in Hopkins's punning of "wound" (34, 125). We are forced, in a "winding" motion, to go "round and round" and to perceive both the noun and verb meanings of "wound" (similar to "Spring" in "Ad Mariam"). The reference to the homonymic "mind" shows that the noun "wound" and the "breach" represent man's limited knowledge, and suggests that duality and dichotomy precipitate the dialectic and the search for wisdom, and thus for "God." We are constantly reminded of Hopkins's equation: duality equals symmetry equals beauty. It is significant that "we are wound / With mercy round and round" and that "round" is repeated five times, the number of "the Lord" who appears in the scripture and in the poem. He is in Mary and "in us" and represents a synthesis. The beauty that explodes for us is that the wonder, winding, binding, and folding aspects of our limited knowledge can be seen as "wounds" that are healed in Mary and in Christ. The healing then is in the mind, in knowledge and in spirit. In the last stanza, therefore, the air is "live" and speaks into "my ears"—it is the Word made Flesh in an immaculate conception.
In" all of his "Mary" poems, Hopkins uses names, images, and language in a nontraditional way, and thereby forces the reader to experience the meaning of Christian doctrine in a new form. The "mystery" of diction and syntax and the "riddle" of the numerical structure force the mind into a state of inquiry, meditation, and openness, which then "conceives" new associations and ideas "in us."
The numerical symbolism in Hopkins's "Mary" poems, derived from his father's book and traditional theories of religious number symbolism, not only supports the theme of each poem, but provides both a tool and a challenge to unravel its meaning. There can be little doubt that Hopkins's numerical structures are intentional. Their subtle, secret, and mystical purpose he never expressed, but left to be discovered by experience. The poet who abandoned conventional measuring techniques of rhythm also constructed an undergirding of numerical form to convey a hidden symmetry and proportion. Clues within the scheme suggest that Hopkins intended for us to discover the numerical structures as another "wonder"(ful) inscape to be explored and "exploded," and a game to be played in "ten thousand places."
Last Updated on June 8, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 2624
SOURCE: "Uttering Truth: The Aphorism in the Poem," in Thought, Vol. 65, No. 259, December, 1990, pp. 544-49.
[In the following essay, Motto describes how aphorism functions in Hopkins's poetry.]
It is an often cited paradox that Gerard Manley Hopkins, a poet identified with a seemingly unstoppable lyrical onrush of imagery, is also the poet who fits that lyrical onrush into poems so short that they sit two on a page. Similarly, the concentrated stresses of Hopkins's sprung rhythm seem to cram the short space of his line with sound and meaning. And while Hopkins often had his eye on larger-than-life people in the midst of heroic effort—the nun, Harry Ploughman, Felix Randal at the forge and then rising to God—he also trained his eye in admiration on the small and seemingly insignificant: the small child crying because leaves were falling, a skylark, a man who achieved sainthood by patiently waiting. That is, in any number of ways Hopkins seems to enjoy meeting the challenge of compression, of seeing and saying much in small. So the aphorism is a structure that suited him well.
The word "aphorism" comes from the Greek, and it means to set up boundaries. Hopkins liked, one suspects, the aphorism's definition, its marking of boundaries, and he perhaps especially liked that quality in a poetry that is elsewhere so propelled by dynamic motion. Hopkins' tendency toward aphorism—toward saying the large, general truth succinctly, memorably, neatly—is pronouced. In "To his Watch," for example, the aphorisms and near-aphorisms are packed as closely as the gears on the watch he addresses:
The telling time our task is; time's some part,
Not all, but we were framed to fail and die—
One spell and well that one. There, ah thereby
Is comfort's carol of all or woe's worst smart.
The terse sayings of general principle are authoritative; the characteristic Hopkinsian play of sound gives the sayings their sharpness and wit. It's a decided pleasure in reading Hopkins, this coming upon aphorism.
The aphorism is a text of pleasure, not a text of bliss. As W. H. Auden and Louis Kronenberger wrote in the foreword to their anthology of aphorisms [in The Faber Book of Aphorisms: A Personal Selection, 1962], "Aphorisms are essentially an aristocratic genre of writing. The aphorist does not argue or explain, he asserts…" Aristocratic and elegant, the aphorism stands at arm's length, closing the reader out of the act of perception by asserting a polished conclusion. Its emphasis is not on the voice speaking but on the language said. In other words, the aphorism is "detachable" language, and it detaches itself from the poem, from the reader, and finally perhaps from the poet too. It is language within the poem that moves in the direction of autonomous sign.
THE APHORISM ITSELF
In an article on aphorism in Wallace Stevens [in PMLA 91, 1976], Beverly Coyle argues that Stevens liked and used aphorisms "despite his belief that such truth is tentative." Stevens aphorisms, as in "Thirteen Ways of Looking at a Blackbird," express a "momentary balance between reality and the imagination," a tentative truth-catching modified, deflected, or frankly contradicted by other equally valid aphorisms.
Of course, it is not so in Hopkins. Although Hopkins, like Stevens after him, is fond of beginning his poems with general principles and truths, his organization does not often depend on questioning the truth he has stated or considering a contradictory idea. Initiating statements in Hopkins are not likely to be phrased as aphorism and are almost never rejected in the poem's process. They are not used to create tensions or reversals. Instead, the poem is liable to deepen its opening statement through detailed exploration. "The world is charged with the grandeur of God"; "Glory be to God for dappled things"; "Nothing is so beautiful as Spring"—all these openings are poised as relatively uncomplicated statements waiting for the poet's lyrical substantiation.
These initiating statements of poems anchor the images to come. They mandate a momentary stability in their fresh discovery of old, known truth. They ordain the subsequent rhyming and assent to the world-design found. For all their decisiveness, abstraction, and stability, such statements are readiers (a fact often signalled by their punctuation), and they hold the reader and poem back in anticipation. To the practiced reader of Hopkins, they are felt as thematic setups, pressurized springboards before the plunge into the imagery that proves the principle. As initiatory statements, clearly, even loosely, phrased and occurring right before the densely figured language of lyricism, they suggest perhaps that the underlying truths of the world are easily discoverable, clearly offered by God to anyone paying attention.
Significantly then, the aphorisms in Hopkins occur not at the openings of poems but later in the poetic context; they occur in confirmation of ideas already introduced or developed. They exhibit concentration and polish. Bounded and defined in their meaning, the aphorisms assert truth irrefutable with self-confident authority. Much of the reader's pleasure derives from the integrity of the saying: "Self-yeast of spirit a dull dough sours." Or, "Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed / What heart heard of, ghost guessed."
Hopkins' aphorisms are efforts of language that reflect God-given truths, but they also exhibit a complicated, at times even dazzling, linguistic ability. Each is a linguistic performance, an exploit even, relating large ideas in few syllables. No less than the initiating statements, they speak of general principle, but they are now intensely charged by the poet's sensibility partly as a result of the foregoing experience of the world and of the poem:
shéer plód makes plough down sillion Shine,
Man Jack the man is, just;
("The Shepherd's Brow")
meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder.
Each aphorism is self-sufficient, with a strong sense of closure. (We hear a period even when one does not exist.) Each takes a large, idea, a general principle, and locks it up—neatly, pleasingly—in a few words. And although Hopkins does not often employ traditional rhyme to achieve the encapsulation of aphorisms, he does use practically every other sound effect known to poet.
In, for example, "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things" in "God's Grandeur," the aphorism starts and ends with rather general abstract words, words relatively uncharacteristic of Hopkins: the enclitic "There" and the general "things." These two throwaway words that begin and end the line are alliterated and so come together in sense. The alliteration helps define the aphorism's boundaries, its endpoints. But it is at the line's center that we find its meaning: at the heart of all the old, known things is the revelation, the "dearest freshness." In other words, in addition to playing with sound, Hopkins is wittily playing with the pattern of his words, enacting the truth of the aphorism in the saying of his statement: "There lives the dearest freshness deep down things."
Again, in "shéer plód makes plough down sillion / Shine," we have the saying of a general truth (the truth seeming to have emerged from the image of the windhover's buck ling) in the tersest form imaginable. And the terseness is revealing, even witty: Hopkins ploughs the sounds of "plód" into "plough down"; and "shéer" at the line's opening sheers off into "shine" at its end. Again, the first and last words, "shéer" and "shine," alliterate, marking the aphorism's outline, helping it to stand alone.
THE APHORISM IN THE POEM
So far, we have been discussing the aphorism as in the poem but not of it, and indeed, its capacity for standing single, as truth, gives it a curious isolationism today. In an age when closure is frowned upon, when even sentences in poems have a hard time getting themselves finished, the poetic experience is supposed to let us into the act of perception, to leave us "root room" to continue what the poet only begins.
On the face of it, the device of aphorism denies this whole romantic modern quest for inconclusiveness, incipience, and contingency. The aphorism instead objectifies an interior experience, holding forth a cool answer, a truth exterior to poet, poem, and reader. In this way, it is a denial of accessibility, a detachable saying that can be separated from its context and anthologized or inscribed on the wall.
Stevens found his way though this problem essentially by playing aphorism against aphorism and so focusing on the transience of any sense of finality. In effect, he made aphorism reflect a fragmentary existence, and filled his walls with illuminations that proclaimed themselves absolute and contradictory, because "The only emperor is the emperor of ice-cream." Hopkins' aphorisms are far more traditional, drawing firmly on the elegance of a poetry of statement. At the same time, Hopkins makes them work within poems, ever playing with Romantic ideas, patterns, and motions.
Hopkins knew well that his aphorisms were not starting places; they were not invitations into the poem either for the speaker or the reader. But he also knew that "Iron bars do not a prison make" and that "Nuns fret not in their
narrow convent walls." Hopkins explicitly chooses the density and closure offered by aphorism; he chooses the temporary linguistic imprisoning of poetic impulse. But if aphorisms are not starting places for his poems, neither do they serve as conclusions. If the poet seems to have surrendered voice to language momentarily, he calls it back again, always bringing the poem back to the reader, as in "The Windhover."
"Shéer plód makes plough down sillion / Shine": This aphorism captures the major idea of everything that precedes it in the poem. Its saying signals that the poet is turning to a more abstract voice, now formulating the meaning of all the previous imagery. In fact, the poem proclaims that the aphorism is explanation; the speaker signals that he is going to explain the windhover's buckling beauty: "No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion / Shine." The aphorism is dense with sound and stress, and firmly closed, authoritative, so much so that on a first reading, the reader is probably aware of closure and sound before he makes sense of the thought.
Hopkins quickly moves to take advantage of the reader's imbalance. In the aphorism, in effect, Hopkins is saying, "Now I have hold of the idea—this is what it is," and then, before that quite comes clear, the aphorism yields to another saying that is likeness in unlikeness: "and blue bleak embers, ah my dear, / Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion." The idea, the thought, of this clause is like that of the aphorism that precedes it, but the saying, the poetry, is something else again. The onwardness of "and" contradicts the finality of the aphorism while affirming its thought. And this, the second saying of the idea, is richer, fuller, and less aphoristic by virtue of the breathy, open-voweled exclamation at its center, and because now, this saying seems spontaneous, under the pressure of the moment as it opens up and out, spilling gold beyond neatness: "and blue bleak embers, ah my dear, / Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion."
The poem moves from soil to fire. The conjunction, the "and," tells us that we are to hear the truth said again. It is the intervention of "ah my dear" that changes everything: "ah my dear" is a recovery of selfhood and voice, a recovery of poetic process, an intimate embrace that defies detachment from the poem, softens the harshness of the blow, and alleviates all the finality. Having seemingly surrendered his poetic authority to language in the aphorism, "shéer plód makes plough down sillion / Shine," the speaker then, in "ah my dear," recovers the poem for himself and for the reader. The aphorism, the stopping to gather and admire meaning, becomes but a temporary storage place, a gravity whose energy is drawn upon in the process onward.
In Hopkins, the aphorism fixes what has come before into defined boundaries; it utters and confines explicatory truth. But it is not an ending; instead Hopkins takes the hardness and in many different ways liberates what he has enclosed. The result is that what follows the aphorism, the end of the poem in "The Windhover," for example, seems to rise out of the ground, to fly all the more free for the stillness that preceded it.
In "As kingfishers catch fire," Hopkins writes, "Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells." Later in the same poem, he condenses the idea even further: "the just man justices." In this aphorism, the adjective, "just," unexpectedly becomes verb, "justices"; the statement thus turns characteristic into action, adjective into verb; the statement deals out linguistically what indoors dwells.
The concluding verb thus proves itself the principle of continuance, becoming a way out of self-enclosure, and into the further indwelling reason for all justicing: "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."
In the octave of "Felix Randal" the speaker remembers and chronicles his association with Felix, and then blesses the farrier and seemingly dismisses him: "Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!" In the next line, the aphorism, the speaker seems to turn away in order to read his text by formulating the general truth, the lesson, out of their relationship: "This seeing the sick endears them to us." This is a distancing generality, subsuming the relationship of priest and farrier into one example of a general truth. But now, even before the speaker has finished the statement, poetic rather than aphoristic speaking has begun to take over: "us too it endears." Thus, "This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears" turns back in on itself, moving forward and backward to illustrate the general truth of the relationship between the two men. The distancing generality cannot be maintained, and the speaker turns from general truth back to individual memory.
The aphorism then yields to memory, now renewed and in a different mode, of the intimacy between the two men. And the tercet ends in the speaker naming the farrier, individually, personally, affectingly: "child, Felix, poor Felix Randal." The point is that the aphorism cannot hold: it begins to turn as soon as it is said. And the turn is Hopkins' road onward from aphorism; the next line is firmly planted not in the universal Us and Them, but in the "I" and "Thou," the particular farrier and priest. Hopkins, of course, utters his truths in many ways, has disparate motions and modes of seeing and saying. Here he is speaking to himself at the very center of The Wreck of the Deutschland:
Like the truth expressed by his unbidden tears, the words "mother of being in me, heart" are also unbidden. That phrase—"mother of being in me, heart"—reads as if it is "soft sift," words completely at one with the emerging self and spoken in a voice that seems wholly unself-conscious, stressless, and without any otherness.
In diametrical opposition to such truths are Hopkins' aphorisms: concentrated, articulated, forethought statements distancing themselves from the voice of the speaker. Centers of gravity, their truth-saying imposes discipline on the poem's motions and stays the poet's impulse for lyrical onrush. But for the most part the aphorism, however true in the poet's and reader's mind, functions in the poem as a place to stay only until the poet can again liberate the voice he has enclosed. The motion of liberation, the motion out of aphorism, is felt again and again, emerging as one of the characteristic and dynamic patterns of Hopkins' poetry.
Last Updated on June 7, 2022, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 4092
SOURCE: "Hopkins' Influence on Poetry," in Saving Beauty: Further Studies in Hopkins, edited by Michael E. Allsopp and David Anthony Downes, Garland Publishing, 1994, pp. 59-93.
[Egan is an Irish poet, critic, and the founder of the Hopkins Society in Ireland. In the following essay, he summarizes Hopkins's influence on several major poets.]
When we compare the lines from Tennyson's "Requiescat" (pub. 1842):
Fair is her cottage in its place
Where yon broad water sweetly slowly glides
It sees itself from thatch to base
Dream in the sliding tides.
with these of Spender's poem "Rough" (c. 1930):
My parents kept me from children who were rough
Who threw words like stones and who wore torn clothes.
Their thighs showed through rags. They ran in the street
And climbed cliffs and stripped by the country streams.
—we can notice a shift in consciousness and in technique. The latter quatrain owes something of its technical structure to Hopkins. To the new way of writing developed by Hopkins.
Owes quite a lot. Tennyson's lines are framed in the old metrics which had nourished poetry in English up to the end of the last century; Spender's on the other hand are in sprung rhythm.
Hopkins' style, in sprung rhythm, played a crucial part, expressed not only his own embodiment of anxiety and hope but also—a great artist does this as indeed Tennyson had done—that of his age. Sprung rhythm seemed a necessary device to Hopkins:
Because it is the nearest to the rhythm of prose, that is the native and natural rhythm of speech, the least forced, the most rhetorical and emphatic of all possible rhythms, combining, as it seems to me, opposite and, one wd. have thought, incompatible excellences, markedness of rhythm—that is rhythm's self—and naturalness of expression (Letters I).
So, "scanning by accents or stresses alone, without any account of the number of syllables" (Letters II), will establish the kind of control and fluidity which he wished for. Other secondary tricks of style derive from this need: inversion of word-order to put the most significant word in the most emphatic position; the coining of compound words; elision of less important relative pronouns, prepositions etc.; his ellipses, heavy alliterations, asyndeton, internal rhyming, far-stepping parentheses and preference for predicates… these with his other eccentricities of language derive from his concern for a less literary, more rhetorical or speech-oriented quality and serve as a reminder that, as he put it to Bridges, "My verse is less to be read than heard… it is oratorical, that is, the rhythm is so" (Letters I).
Hence the "expressive torque" (Hugh Kenner's telling phrase) of Hopkins' best work.
When Whitman introduced free verse into poetry he showed a revolutionary break with the syllable-stress tradition; Hopkins, however, showed how to combine freedom from the formality of the past with a sense of structure. The whole development of twentieth-century poetry traces back to these two progenitors. Whitman's contribution has, of course, been fully acknowledged; that of Hopkins, less so. (Neither of the recent biographies by Robert Bernard Martin and Norman White, for example, exhaustive as they are in other areas, have much to say on this subject though it is important for our understanding of Hopkins' achievement.) Interestingly, Hopkins had confessed in a letter to Bridges in October 1882 that Whitman had a mind, "more like my own than any other man's living" (Letters I).
In the same letter he allows that the nineteenth-century French school of landscape painting may trace back to Constable's The Hay Wain, which was exhibited in Paris in 1824; Hopkins' own impact on the development of modern verse has proved equally decisive. In two ways: the first (already averted to) that of technique; the other relating to the changing consciousness implicit in any technical revolution—that of philosophy. Hopkins' enormous influence has still not been fully recognized and codified. Hopkins Among the Poets (edited by Richard Giles) is a useful collection of short articles on this vast subject but it represents no more than a first step toward the sustained scholarly examination which is appropriate.
For a start, Hopkins' presence can be detected in a number of Robert Bridges' poems: [in Hopkins among the Poets, 1985] Donald Stanford counts at least seven borrowings of phrases in Bridges' verse, mostly in his early work. It was through Bridges that Hopkins' influence first showed itself. No doubt this contributed to the vogue in the Thirties for Hopkins' poetry, following the publication of the second edition. Yeats, though he confessed in a letter of 1935 to hating it, nevertheless experimented a little himself in sprung rhythm, notably in his plays, The Herne's Egg and Purgatory. Even for poets who felt little affinity, Hopkins was in the air, inescapable; and minor figures such as Monk Gibbon and Ivor Gurney (1890-1937) provide early evidence of the Victorian poet's growing modern legacy. William York Tyndall in his book on James Joyce suggests that the Dubliner was quite familiar with Hopkins' poetry. I find this easier to accept than does Robert Boyle. There were too many points of interest for Joyce to overlook: the Newman connection; the Catholic University; Dublin; and, of course, the literary one. (Padraic Colum who knew Joyce better than most, told me in 1963 that the Jesuit link was one which Joyce valued: to the end of his life he looked on himself as a Jesuit boy.) Certainly in the last chapter of Finnegans Wake there is a direct echo of Hopkins' "That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire":
A flasch and, rasch, it shall come to pasch.
just before the resurrection of Finnegan. There are other echoes too: "The Windhover," "Tom's Garland," "Heraclitean Fire" (again), through Joyce's earlier two slim volumes, Chamber Music (1907), and Poems penyeach (1927) came too early to have crossed Hopkins' path.
(I am not aware that another Dubliner, Samuel Beckett came under Hopkins' spell although the "terrible sonnets" with their bleakness, their sense of impotence and of failure, and their almost desperate commitment to persevering would surely have interested the Irishman—but Beckett was hardly an avid or systematic reader.)
Ezra Pound never quite got Hopkins in focus—although Hugh Kenner [in his The Pound Era, 1971] has spoken of an "eloquent eccentricity of diction akin to Hopkins in Pound's superb but underestimated version of The Seafarer, and again in one of the Cantos. [In Hopkins among the Poets] Hugh Witemeyer has shown that Pound was actually more interested in Bridges (for a short while) and grumbled, in his Guide to Kulchur (1938) that poets had become obsessed with imitating Hopkins.
It was the Modernists of the Auden generation who came strongly under the influence of Gerard Manley Hopkins, though the Hopkins craze had begun in Oxford and Cambridge just before 1930, when the second edition of his poems appeared. Auden himself parodied Hopkins, and when he published A Certain World in 1971, the anthology of his favorite writing—which he considered a kind of autobiography—he did not include Hopkins among the writers "from whom I have learned most" (although he did include Bridges). Nevertheless John Boly [in Hopkins among the Poets] argues that Auden owed a real debt to Hopkins, "from whom he learned the strategy of using biblically and religiously validated discourse to contend with the romantic repertoire." Comparing "Thou art indeed just, Lord" with Auden's "Sir, No Man's Enemy" (1929):
Sir, no man's enemy, forgiving all
But will his negative inversion, be prodigal:
Send to us power and light, a sovereign touch
Curing the intolerable neural itch …
Boly points out, "an indebtedness that reveals how he mastered and then extended Hopkins' strategy on very different levels of poetic achievement, I would add, but that's another story…." At any rate, Hopkins had by now become a major force in the shaping of the poetic heritage nourishing the work of modern poets. Stephen Spender, as we have seen, was one such; Edwin Muir (1887-1959) another. Muir, a significant figure in British poetry, came under Hopkins' influence later in his career, but as a critic he also helped to promote the latter's reputation—a significant contribution in the 1930s.
A more important figure—though his somewhat overblown reputation has begun to reduce a little—was the Scottish poet, Hugh MacDiarmid (1892-1978). Hopkins' sense of the inscape, the haecceitas or individuality of things derived from, or rather was formulated after, his reading of Duns Scotus; we can catch an echo of this philosophy in MacDiarmid's emphasis on the particularity of an experience; in his statement that:
Our opponents, Scotist opponents, are the Thomas Aquinas people who are trying to prematurely synthesize, whereas we are continuing to insist upon the individuality of the elements in a particular context.
MacDiarmid confuses Thomist with Scotist—whoever accused Aquinas of being a Scotist—(and is equally cavalier in his treatment of the infinitive), but his meaning comes across. The Scot even more tellingly reveals a debt to Hopkins, the unlikely darling of the Communist poets of the 1930s, in his own prosody, notably in the sprung rhythm he often employs and in other tricks of style which we recognize as Hopkinsian, e.g., heavy alliteration, compound words etc. [In Hopking among the Poets] Harvey Oxenhorn argues that "Clearly, MacDiarmid's metrical techniques owe much to his great predecessor." But MacDiarmid's style is so variant and his interest in prosody so low-key that apart from the Scot's use of sprung rhythm it seems difficult to establish such a strong case. In poems such as "In Memoriam James Joyce" (1955) or "Second Hymn to Lenin" (1935), where various authors both loved and hated are mentioned, Hopkins' name does not crop up. Interestingly, MacDiarmid seems to come closer to the Hopkins mode when he writes in the Scots dialect, and here the example taken from Oxenhorn, "The Eemis Stane" (a lyric from Sangschaw, the first published collection of 1925) is convincing on many levels:
I' the how-dumb deid o'the cauld hairst nicht
The warl' like an eemis stane
Wags i' the lift;
An' my eerie memories fa'
Like a yowdendrift.
David Jones, in Auden's opinion the author of "the greatest long poem written in English in this century," (The Anathemata), was deeply influenced by Hopkins' poetry and wrote admiringly about it on many occasions. Jones, in Epoch and Artist (1959) described The Wreck of the Deutschland as "… a work full of significance for future English poets and one of the most exciting poems in the English language." Twenty years later, Jones saluted Hopkins for "his particular and uniquely important contribution to the common tradition of English poetry [The Dying Gaul and other Writings, edited by Herman Grisewood, 1978].
Samuel Rees highlights the affinities between Jones and the Victorian poet and the impact of Hopkins' aesthetic. Though Jones wrote in a different form, idiom, and mostly at greater length, nevertheless his use of language owed much to Hopkins. [In Hopkins among the Poets] Thomas Dilworth identifies Hopkins' impact under such headings as: use of ellipsis; compounding; disruption of syntax; alliteration; neologisms and the association of incongruous images. Of particular interest to an Irishman is Jones' belief that because he "felt" Welsh he was able to see through Hopkins' own Welsh influence to the Celtic tradition informing it, with its strange mixture of particularity and sense of the mutability of everything—the special quality of imagination we find, for example, in The Book of Kells. A sense of fantasy deriving I believe from the Celtic mystical vision of existence which can allow animals, words and human forms to transmute playfully into one another. Or, as Jones put it in a statement to H.S. Ede (1935), "There should always be a bit of lion in your lamb."
In his native country Hopkins also exerted a significant influence on the poetry of William Empson, and perhaps even more so on that of Elizabeth Jennings, whose poem "Sparrow" echoes Hopkins in more ways than one:
Sparrow of "special providence" teach to us
Your joy, your gladness, your success, for you
Live in accord with that power which moves
You fast and far. Your flights and pauses bring
Delight to us. We are not surprised you were chosen
Specially, for even birds who sing
With a rapture of angels lack your flare and fling.
Apart from the obvious influence of "Spring," the poems exhibits the even deeper debt of sprung rhythm.
Dylan Thomas certainly learned something from Hopkins, though he denied any conscious influence: David Jones would see the Welsh connection and the deeper Celtic metaphysics as significant links.
In Great Britain then, Hopkins' influence has been crucially important in shaping the technique, assumptions, and development of poetry in this century, so that even those who had little or no interest in his work were influenced indirectly in a fundamental way by him.
Hopkins had a comparable impact on American writing, but it began later, with Roethke, Lowell, Jarrell, Plath, Berryman, and the Modernists. When we compare this:
We chanced in passing by that afternoon
To catch it in a sort of special picture
Among tar-banded ancient cherry trees,
Set well back from the road in rank lodged grass….
(Robert Frost, "The Black Cottage")
Oil all my turbulence as at Thy dictation
I sweat out my wayward works.
Father Hopkins said the only true literary critic is Christ.
Let me lie down exhausted, content with that….
(Berryman, "Eleven Addresses to the Lord." 10)
we can sense that the lines by Frost, for all that they catch something of the speaking voice in tone and movement, are framed loosely within standard metrical forms; those by Berryman, on the contrary, are composed in sprung rhythm.
Indeed John Berryman (1914-1972), most of whose poetry tries to reconcile the need for a colloquial freedom with an equal desire for orderly structure (something that derives from Berryman's Catholic upbringing, in my opinion), was very obviously influenced by Hopkins: not surprisingly, in view of Berryman's obession with style. Typical Berryman devices (especially in the Dream Song sonnets) include: ellipsis, omission of prepositions, conjunctions, relatives; straining syntax, including long separation of verb from object and interruptions with exclamations; and inversion of word order.
The shadow of Hopkins is here—so much so that when I was working, enthralled awhile by Berryman's example, on my own first collection of poetry Midland (1972), the Irish poet and critic Thomas Kinsella was able to see through the style of some of my poems to Hopkins—even though I was not then a Hopkins fan at all. In his Notes for Berryman's Collected Poems: 1937-1971 (1991), Charles Thornbury comments on Berryman's use of the archaic "estop" in "The Dispossessed" that:
One of the functions of the poet, Berryman believed, is to disrupt our expectations of language so that we are given a new angle of perception.
Or, as Berryman himself puts it, in words which would have struck a chord with Hopkins:
Nouns, verbs do not exist for what I feel.
Berryman was arguably the finest poet of his generation and exerted an enormous influence on the course of American poetry both then and since (Lowell's Notebook  is little more than pastiche Berryman, for example), and "Father Hopkins" was arguably the poet who mattered most to Berryman.
Robert Lowell also came under the influence of Hopkins via the New Critics (Ransom, Eliot, Richards, Empson, Tate, and Winters) who trumpeted the Jesuit's poetry between the Wars. Steven Axelrod who has written about the subject in Hopkins Among the Poets, picks out a number of poems where Hopkins' influence is clear and relates The Quaker Graveyard in Nantucket to The Wreck of the Deutschland in terms of theme, treatment, and technique. Though Lowell later moves away from Hopkins, the latter does figure again in two of Lowell's confessional poems: "Skunk Hour" (1959), and "Night Sweat" (1964), in Lowell's parodying Hopkins in the latter (a double sonnet) in which the American finally tries to recover his independence, Axelrod argues, "by transforming the anxiety of influence into the aggression of parody."
Another American poet who fell under Hopkins' spell was Theodore Roethke. And even if, like Lowell, he moved away from that, he later returned to the "terrible sonnets" and some of his own dark poems show an indebtedness to Hopkins though a well-assimilated one.
Other Americans who crossed the Hopkins path in one way or another include Cummings, Randall Jarrell, Thomas Merton (a great influence here), and Sylvia Plath. Jon Rosenblatt in his study of Plath [Sylvia Plath: The Poetry of Initiation, 1979] highlights the quasi-religious element in the later poetry and also suggests that Plath's style, with its combination of emotional exuberance and formal control (which included such Hopkinsian devices as heavy alliteration, assonance, jerky rhythmic effects, and pilingup related ideas) owed no small debt to the English poet.
Gerard Manley Hopkins also exerted a powerful influence on Irish poetry. His presence may be detected in various ways in the work of Cecil Day-Lewis, Eugene Watters (who wrote in Irish as Eoghan Tuairisc, and who was the most eclectic of his generation), Patrick Kavanagh (the only major Irish poet since Yeats), Michael Hartnett, Seamus Heaney, Desmond O'Grady… and indeed of myself. Heaney began as a slavish imitator, but even a 1979 collection reveals an influence not wholly assimilated and at odds with a plodding iambic pentameter more old-fashioned than Hopkins:
sirens of the tundra,
Of eel-road, seal-road, keel-road, whale-road raise
Their wind-compounded keen behind the baize.
Patrick Kavanagh—that towering figure whose reputation has continued to grow since his death in 1967—learned something from Hopkins both in terms of technique and approach. Kavanagh admired Hopkins' style and took from it a certain freshness of language and of syntax which shows itself in such devices as the formation of compound nouns and adjectives, occasional omission of unimportant words, the use of dramatic interjection, a readiness to coin words or to push them to new use, and a willingness to find, "God's breath in common statement" ("Advent")—even to the point of using "religious" imagery in a secular sense. This last example highlights how, most importantly of all, Hopkins' example encouraged Kavanagh to give full expression to his own mystical sense of God's presence in the world—as in a poem like "Advent" or in the beautiful canal-sonnets:
Leafy-with-love banks and the green waters of the canal
Pouring redemption for me, that I do
The will of God, wallow in the habitual, the banal,
Grow with nature again as before I grew.
The bright stick trapped, the breeze adding a third
Party to the couple kissing on an old seat,
And a bird gathering materials for the nest for the Word
Eloquently new and abandoned to its delirious beat.
O unworn world enrapture me, encapture me in a web
Of fabulous grass and eternal voices by a beech,
Feed the gaping need of my senses, give me ad lib
To pray unselfconsciously with overflowing speech
For this soul needs to be honoured with a new dress woven
From green and blue things and arguments that cannot be Proven.
("Canal Bank Walk")
There is no anxiety in this influence. Though Hopkins' shadow lies there, Kavanagh's own voice is strong and unique enough to assimilate the audaciousness of his predecessor and turn it to his own purposes. Even the final couplet from "Lines Written on a Seat on the Grand Canal" which has been reproduced on the Kavanagh seat and which acts as kind of epitaph, owes something to Hopkins:
O commemorate me with no hero-courageous
Tomb—just a canal-bank seat for the passer-by.
Kavanagh in turn has had a major impact on modern Irish poetry.
Hopkins' influence as it spread around other countries has yet to be explored and certainly lies beyond my ken. In Nigeria, for example, Hopkins became such a dominant influence that an exasperated critic referred to it as "The Hopkins Disease" [Emeke Okeke-Ezigbo, in Hopkins among the Poets].
While it is easy to see Pound's influence on the work of priest/politician/poet Ernesto Cardenal of Nicaragua, I think that Hopkins has left his mark there too. And writing about Canadian poetry, John Ferns concludes, "Gerard Manley Hopkins had and has, I believe, a significant creative influence among Canadian poets," citing A. J. M. Smith and Ralph Gustafson (like Cardenal, another Poundian) as particular examples.
We can safely say that the influence of Hopkins on twentieth-century poetry in English has been enormous. I have concentrated on the stylistic, but Hopkins' has been more than just a matter of technical influence, crucial though that be. The more subtle matter of his revitalization of the language, just when English poetry needed it, must be acknowledged; and the incalculable filtering of that new-ness into the consciousness of twentieth-century poetry. Hopkins' dislocations of syntax, nervous rhythms, and straining after expression do make heavy demands of us and, as W. H. Gardner puts it [in The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1970] "do at times subject both the language and the reader to a strain all but disastrous." But Hopkins himself deals with that objection when he relays to Bridges:
Obscurity I do and will try to avoid so far as it is consistent with excellences higher than clearness at a first reading (Letters I).
Returning to the subject nearly ten years later, he produces the clinching argument:
Plainly if it be possible to express subtle and recondite thought on a subtle and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way and with great felicity and perfection, the end, something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process, and this may be the being at once, nay perhaps even the being without explanation at all, intelligible (Letters I).
The assumptions behind this have had a vital bearing on the development of poetry. For one thing, Hopkins takes it for granted that musicality is not a defining principle of poetry; for another, he assumes that a poem represents an all-out attempt to capture in words the complexity of experience: an effort to say something. This philosophy—deriving partly from a Scotist reverence for the quidditas of things—distinguishes Hopkins' attitude to Nature from that of the Romantics. The result? David Downes puts it with real insight in his study The Ignation Personality of Gerard Manley Hopkins:
That is why we think of Wordsworth as a poet of the poet's nature rather than a poet of Nature.
Hopkins accepted the intensity of existence and tried to express it as directly as he could, forcing language to go its way rather than vice versa. Such a rationale has special appeal for the modern writer, and poetry has tended towards severity and directness of utterance in which one prefers to avoid figurative speech and adjectival labelling: has tended towards the death of metaphor. For Hopkins (as for Patrick Kavanagh) such immediacy of acceptance was easier because of his mystical sense of God's presence in the world; for other writers of our century, caught by an awareness of chaos rather than of order, it had a different appeal. But the note of objectivity had been struck and heard:
I caught this morning morning's minion, kingdom of daylight's dauphin,
dapple-dawn-dawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on wing.
There is a shift of consciousness here, as much as of technique; the emergence of a sensibility we have come to recognize as modern: in his inwardness, his self-consciousness, his modernity, Hopkins fits our age.
Not only that, but Hopkins' own experience seemed to reflect in advance something of the collapse of the old certainties of Victorian England and—with his gnawing sense of impotence, of being "time's eunuch" alienated in a life which did not seem to make sense and in which blind endurance appeared as the only grim option, he seems both to have anticipated the existential angst of the twentieth century and to have helped make its articulation possible. From,
O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
("No Worst, There Is None")
Where I am I don't know, I'll never know, in the silence
you don't know,
you must go on, I can't go on, I'll go on.
seems a lot closer than the three-quarters of a century which separates them.