Gerard Manley Hopkins

Start Free Trial

Discussion Topic

Gerard Manley Hopkins as a religious poet and the reflection of his beliefs in his poetry


Gerard Manley Hopkins, as a religious poet, deeply reflects his Jesuit beliefs in his poetry. His works often explore themes of faith, God's presence in nature, and the struggle between doubt and devotion. Poems like "The Windhover" and "Pied Beauty" showcase his reverence for God's creation, emphasizing the divine intricacies of the natural world.

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does Gerard Manley Hopkins reflect his religious beliefs in his poetry?

Having converted to Catholicism in 1866 while at Oxford University, John Manley Hopkins studied under the great Cardinal John Henry Newman at a Jesuit school in Birmingham, England.  After his conversion, Hopkins supposedly burned all his poems, but "most of them must have been reproduced later" (enotes).

One poem which certainly illustrates the religious fervour of Hopkins is his "Pied Beauty" in which he praises the ever-changing delights of nature.  For, his first and last lines attribute creation of this beauty to God: 

Glory be to God for dappled things--.... 

He fathers forth whose beauty is past change:

                  Praise him.

Hopkins intended his poetry to have the sound of speech rather than the rhythmn patterns of traditional verse.  This technique of his is termed "sprung rhythm." This is also evident in another poem with religious overtones, "God's Grandeur," a Petrachan sonnet that describes a world that resists human corruption because it has been "charged with the grandeur of God," having the Holy Spirit "bent" over the world, protecting it.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gerard Manley Hopkins' role as a religious poet.

Gerard Manley Hopkins was brought up in a very religious home. In particular, his relationship with his father was key to his religious focus within in his poetry. One of the major beliefs that his father transmitted to his son was the belief that nature was a book written by God which leads its readers to a thoughtful contemplation of him. Hopkins therefore wrote poems which not only encapsulate the Romantic approach to nature but also hark back to an older tradition of explicitly religious nature poetry.

Much of Hopkins' poetry can be described as following the model of a "Hymn to Creation", which we see in Psalms such as Psalm 148. Poems that clearly fit into this mould are "God's Grandeur", "Pied Beauty", "Easter" and "Hurrahing in Harvest." In all of these poems, man and nature are linked by love in one joyous hymn of creation, although often nature is depicted as being the more faithful worshiper. Consider these lines from "Easter":

Gather gladness from the skies;

Take a lesson from the ground;

Flowers do ope their heavenward eyes

And a Spring-time joy have found;

Earth throws Winter's robes away,

Decks herself for Easter Day.

Nature's example, then, is meant to be an impetus to spur mankind on to faithful worship of our creator God.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gerard Manley Hopkins' role as a religious poet.

Hopkins didn't set out to be a modern poet. During his lifetime, his writing was seen by no more than a handful of people, most notably Robert Bridges. Yet the relatively isolated existence that Hopkins led as a Jesuit priest meant that he was able to devise his own highly unique way of writing poetry, one that was largely immune to the prevailing aesthetic standards. In that sense, one could describe Hopkins as a modern poet ahead of his time. In terms of poetic diction, meter, and rhythm, he broke free from the constraints of Victorian poetry and pointed towards a much freer, more experimental style that only really took hold after the First World War, more than a quarter of a century after Hopkins's death. As already mentioned, there are a number of modern features to Hopkins's poetry, but you might like to concentrate on the unusual words that he uses, many of which, ironically, are archaic, derived from Anglo-Saxon. By delving deep into the past, Hopkins was effecting a radical change in English poetic diction. The old words had a certain directness and vigor to them which made them especially useful to Hopkins in his depictions of nature in such works as "The Windhover," for example. The finely-wrought and elaborate Latinate style so beloved of contemporaries such as Tennyson and Browning was decisively rejected by Hopkins in favor of an earthier language, which sought to re-establish a connection between man and God's creation, lost in the midst of rapid industrialization and environmental destruction.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gerard Manley Hopkins' role as a religious poet.

I am not going to write the whole 400 words for you, but here are some ideas to get you started.

Although Hopkins was not recognised as a major poet in his lifetime, he is now regarded as one of the key "modern" poets. His major tour de force which exemplifies what he brought to poetry is "The Wreck of the Deutschland", which narrates the death of 5 nuns in a shipwreck on the coast of England who had been exiled from Germany. In this poem, Hopkins introduced his revolutionary sprung rhythm. This rhythm, in contrast with traditional rhythm, which is based on the alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables, is based on stressed syllables alone.

Along with this new meter, this poem introduces other aspects of Hopkins' art, in particular his use of diction. He uses unusual compound words, terms borrowed from dialect and coined phrases. To this he adds internal rhyme, elliptical meaning, half rhyme and compression along with assonance, alliteration and metaphor.

Apart from these stylistic innovations, this poem also introduced Hopkins' revolutionary philosophy of poetry. This poem (and his later, shorter, works) reflect Hopkins' belief that man was made to praise God and we can see nature praising God. Also, it draws heavily on Jesuit practices of meditation and spiritual self-examination.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gerard Manley Hopkins' role as a religious poet.

To serve as examples of Hopkins's poems of extreme emotions are "Carrion Comfort" and "No Worst There is None" written while Hopkins was Professor of Greek at Universitiy College at Dublin where he became overwhelmed with his responsibilities. His poetry as "confessionals" and deeply personal reflections are certainly modernist in theme.  Such a poem as "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, not Day" expresses Hopkins inner turmoil over his homosexuality:

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,/What hourse, O what black hourse we have spent/This night!....And my lament/is cries coutless, cries like dead letters sent/To dearest him that lives alas! away/I am gall, I am heartburn.  God's most deep decree/Bitter would have me taste!my taste was me....

To write about such a topic was taboo, certainly, in the Victorian Age.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gerard Manley Hopkins' role as a religious poet.

Hopkins represents much of the modernist movement that was to take hold in Europe and America within his time period.  The fact that his fame and appreciation only happened after his death proves this.  His personal life impacted his work.  Writing in the Victorian Era, he confronted issues that would plague thinkers and writers in the 20th century.  Of particular note is the theme of religion and merging a conventional notion of spirituality within the notion of self.  Being both a poet and person of the faith proved to be a challenge in the modern setting.  This can be seen in his experience of extreme emotions and, to a large extent, confronting his sexuality.  Certainly this battle between the person he wished to be according the conventional standards of religion and the person he was might have contributed to extremities he experienced in both his approach to life and his psychological frame of mind.  His work followed structure of poetry at the time, but he developed new methods of rhyme and meter, proving once again the idea of working within conventional standards, yet trying desperately to infuse personal voice within it.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

Discuss Gerard Manley Hopkins' role as a religious poet.

Drawn to Catholicism in 1866, Gerard Manley Hopkins burned the poetry he had written, declaring it too worldly.  In a letter to his poet friend, Robert Bridges, Hopkins wrote, "I am a eunuch, but it is for the kingdom of God's sake."  After he became a Jesuit priest, Hopkins did not compose poetry although he had not forsaken his two vocations. Finally, in 1875, when he told his superior how moved he was by the wreck of the Deutschland, a ship that carried exiled Franciscan nuns from Germany who were all drowned, his superior expressed the hope that someone would write a poem about this disaster. So, it was this poem that joined, for Hopkins, God's love with God's wrath as in Part I, stanza 9:

Be adored among men,

God, three-numbered form;

Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,

Man's malice, with wrecking and storm.

Beyond syaing sweet, past telling of tongue,

Thou are lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;

Father and fondler of heart thou has wrung;

Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

Clearly, religion is not a refuge for Hopkins in his poetry.  In his "Terrible Sonnets," for instance, Hopkins exposes his misery.  But, many of his poems juxtapose anguish with rapture as in his poem, "God's Grandeur":

The world is charged with the grandeur of God....

It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

Crushed.  Why do men then now not reck his rod?

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod:

And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

...And though the last lights off the black West went

Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--

Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hopkins perceives God reaching out to help humanity; from  the original condition of man in which he became divided from God, the Holy Spirit now imbues man with offers of communion. Nature, too, is tied to this connection of man with God. For, Hopkins perceives divinity in nature, and in order to describe this view of the divine in nature, Hopkins uses that which he calls "inscape," a central organizing principle that is its identity. Human beings are capable of recognizing the inscapes of other people and of objects. When people experience the spirit of an object, they experience “instress,” which can be described as a feeling of communion with the “soul” of the object.  With inscape, one may feel the momentary union with God through Christ in the contemplation of natural objects:

Glory be to God for dappled things--

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;....

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on