"Autobiographies of great nations are written in three manuscripts – a book of deeds, a book of words, and a book of art.
Of the three, I would choose the latter as truest testimony." - Sir Kenneth Smith, Great Civilisations

"I must write each day without fail, not so much for the success of the work, as in order not to get out of my routine." - Leo Tolstoy

I have never believed that one should wait until one is inspired because I think the pleasures of not writing are so
great that if you ever start indulging them you will never write again. - John Updike

"The life of every man is a diary in which he means to write one story, and writes another; and his humblest hour
is when he compares the volume as it is with what he vowed to make it." - J.M. Barrie, Peter Pan

Friday, November 17, 2017

Gerard Manley Hopkins - "Inversnaid": An Epitaph Worthy of Environmentalists

In my readings of Hopkins yesterday I came across a verse which might be used as an epitaph on a tombstone for any of those nature loving environmentalists amongst us. I found it in "Inversnaid" and it can be found in the last four lines of the verse. I've also included a commentary to the verse as a help to understanding it. Enjoy.

R.E. Slater
November 17, 2017

by Gerard Manley Hopkins

This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

- Gerard Manley Hopkins

Commentary on Inversnaid by Hopkins
"The sensation of a stream"

Hopkins describes the different parts of a highland stream, using word-painting to bring out its wildness, hoping that that wildness might never be destroyed. Mountain burn itself is a mountainside brook which is the focus of the poem as the poet witnesses a mountain stream rushing down the hillside and emptying itself into the lake below.

Hopkins describes it mainly from the bottom upwards, which is how he would have experienced it, having arrived on the lakeside, either by road or, more probably, by ferry. He emphasizes its untameable force as it pours over a waterfall, or series of falls, interspersed with whirlpool-like depths at the base of the cliffs.

Stanza 1 describes the final fall of the stream, or burn, in its tumultuous rush into the lake;

Stanza 2 describes the movement of the water in a deep pool formed under the cliffs;

Stanza 3 moves to higher ground, the plateau on top of the moor, so the stream is smaller and flowing less violently. All the time, Hopkins is trying to paint detailed pictures of each part of the stream.

The final stanza 4 is a repeated sort of prayer: ‘Let them…O let them….'. It is not clear who is to do the letting:
  • Is it a prayer to God or to his fellow humans?
  • Is it a prayer at all, or just a heartfelt desire?
  • Or do they come to the same thing?

Certainly, it is an unusual finish for Hopkins, but very memorable in its simplicity. It only takes a few minutes to learn by heart.

Investigating Inversnaid:
  • Locate words and phrases that personify the stream.
  • Try learning the last stanza by heart.

Thursday, October 19, 2017

The four great loves of Gerard Manley Hopkins

The four great loves of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a man of intense passion and intense loves, and he can best be understood, perhaps, by probing his four great loves.  But first it helps to know a bit about the man himself, this grand, musical poet and priest.
Gerard Hopkins was a short man--5’3” or so--with a high-pitched voice.  He liked to hike and swim, enjoyed music, puns, and sketching, and once thought of becoming a painter.  Nicknamed “Skin” at school and “Hop” among his fellow Jesuits, he rarely used his middle name “Manley,” was sometimes enthusiastic, sometimes melancholy, was unknown and largely unpublished when he died, and is now recognized as a major, experimental English poet.
Born in 1844 as the eldest child of an Anglican businessman, he grew up in the London suburb of Hampstead, did brilliantly at Oxford, became a Catholic in 1866, entered the Jesuit Order, and was ordained a priest in 1877.  Fr. Hopkins worked in schools and parishes in England and Scotland, taught Classics at University College Dublin, and died in 1889 at the age of 44.  Unpublished until 1918 and largely unknown until the second edition of his poems in 1930, he permanently changed the face of English poetry, influencing such major figures as W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Sylvia Plath, and the Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney.  Who was this Gerard Hopkins?  We can best discover him, I suggest, by probing his four great loves: nature, humans, God, and words. 
I. Nature: Its Beauty and Shape
Hopkins loved nature’s beauty, and described it with rare skill and vivid images.  At 19, he wrote in his Oxford diary of “moonlight hanging or dropping on treetops like blue cobweb.”  At 21, he noted how “over the green water of the river...swallows [were] shooting, blue and purple above and shewing their amber-tinged breasts..., their flight unsteady with wagging wings.”  Lying awake one night, he saw lightning “coloured violet...but afterwards sometimes yellow, sometimes red and blue.”  He watched young lambs in springtime “toss and toss...as if it were the earth that flung them, not themselves.”  Whether describing moonlight, birds, lightning, or cavorting lambs, Hopkins always sought the exact detail and the accurate, fresh word: “blue cobweb,” “wagging wings,” “toss and toss.”  Loving nature, he wanted to make nature’s beauty permanent—at least in the words and images of his notebook.
He also loved the shapes of nature.  Clouds were “repeatedly formed in horizontal ribs.  At a distance their straightness of line was wonderful.  In passing overhead...the splits [were] fretted with lacy curves and honeycomb work.”  He noted the “curves and close folding” of tulip petals, and at his grandparents' home in Croydon the lawn had “half-circle curves of the scythe in parallel ranks.”  Even hailstones intrigued him, being “shaped like the cut of diamonds called brilliants.”  Loving nature, Hopkins loved its very shapes--its uniqueness of form.  This fascination with uniqueness, spurred by the philosophy of the medieval Duns Scotus, brought Hopkins to his famous concept of “inscape”—a word he created to express both an object's external shape and its “inner core of individuality.”  In poetry he worked to capture the inscapes of nature.
In 1877, for example, he expressed his love of nature, shape, and individuality in his rapturous sonnet “Spring”: 
    Nothing is so beautiful as Spring--
  When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
  Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
    Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
    The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
  The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
  The descending blue;  that blue is all in a rush
    With richness;  the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
Notice how the tossing lambs of his journal reappear in the poem, as does his interest in the shapes of nature: “weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush.”
Another poem, “The Starlight Night,” catches his breathless, childlike joy in discovering towns, castles, diamond-mines, even elves in the night sky: 
    Look at the stars! look, look up at the skies!
  O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
  The bright bóroughs, the circle-citadels there!
    Down in dim woods the diamond delves! the elves'-eyes!
Autumn evokes a similar delight in the poem “Hurrahing in Harvest”:
    Summer énds now;  now, bárbarous in béauty, the stóoks ríse
    Around;  up above, what wind-walks!  what lovely behaviour
    Of sílk-sack clóuds! has wilder, wilful-wávier
    Méal-drift moulded ever and melted acróss skíes?
No wonder Hopkins is considered one of the finest nature-poets in English.

His famous poem “Pied Beauty” celebrates not only nature's variety but also its peculiarities, as he contemplates a cow’s hairy flanks, a trout’s rosy spots, a chestnut cracked open by falling, and the angular fields of a Welsh valley:
    Glóry be to God for dappled things--
       For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
          For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-fálls;  fínches' wings;
       Lándscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough.            
“Lándscape plotted and pieced”: again he notes nature's shapes—the plots into which farmland is divided, the contours of a field lying fallow, the straight rows made by a plough.
Loving nature's beauty, Hopkins also grieves at the loss of this beauty.  He is a major environmental poet, and his poem “Binsey Poplars” mourns the cutting of shade trees upriver from Oxford: 
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quélled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
Áll félled, félled, are áll félled....
O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew--
Hack and rack the growing green!

He also stresses nature’s beauty and permanence.  After watching tossed clouds, dancing elm branches, tree-shadows on a white wall, and drying mud, Hopkins cries out, “Million-fuelèd, nature's bonfire burns on.”  For him, nature is a never-dying bonfire, always changing, ever brilliant, surpassingly beautiful.
II. Humans: Heroes, Plain People, and the Self
 Hopkins' second great love was for humans—men, women, and children.  In life, he loved his family and had many friends, lay and Jesuit, and often ended his letters, “Your affectionate friend.”  In poetry, he celebrates heroes and simple people, some brave to the point of death, others just laborers or soldiers or sailors, or generous children, or innocent youths.
The greatest hero of Hopkins' poems—except for Christ—is not a hero but a heroine, the “Tall Nun” in his ode “The Wreck of the Deutschland.”  Exiled from her native Germany by Bismarck's Kulturkampf, she and four other Franciscan nuns were sailing to America in 1875 when, in a swirling snowstorm, their ship ran aground on a sandbar in the Thames estuary.  Unaided for thirty hours, many passengers and crewmen perished from the cold or were washed overboard by fierce waves.  Amid the tumult, the “Tall Nun” stood on a table in the ship’s cabin, thrust her head through a skylight, and kept crying out, “O Christ, Christ, come quickly.”  Deeply moved, Hopkins began his first great poem, one of the finest odes in English, about the Tall Nun who recognized God in her suffering:
Ah! thére was a héart right!
There was single eye!
Réad the unshápeable shóck níght
And knew the who and the why.
She was “a líoness,” “a próphetess,” who found Christ even in the fury of a winter storm.  Her reward was great: “for the pain, for the / Pátience” she was to be with “Jésu, héart's líght, / Jésu, máid's són,” for all eternity.
Other heroes are more common.  One is a blacksmith, “Felix Randal,” a Liverpool parishioner to whom Hopkins ministered in his illness.  Hopkins had watched his strong body weaken—a body once “big-bóned and hardy-handsome”—and memorializes him in a sonnet.  In other poems Hopkins praises an altar boy's generosity, a sailor's heroism, a beggar’s cheerfulness, a bugler's innocence, a ploughman's physical grace, and a worried boy watching his younger brother in a school play.  He praises a Welsh family for their kindness, and prays for a Lancashire couple marrying in th dull industrial town of Bedford Leigh. He celebrates his favorite saints: the Virgin Mary, St. Dorothea, St. Thecla, St. Winefred, St. Margaret Clitheroe, and his fellow Jesuits St. Francis Xavier and St. Alphonsus Rodriguez.  He also celebrates his fellow Jesuits in a comic poem I discovered in London in 1998.  Entitled “‘Consule Jones’” and written to a rollicking Welsh melody, the 48-line poem jokes about Hopkins’ fellow theologians at St. Beuno’s College in North Wales:
Murphy makes sermons so fierce and hell-fiery
Mothers miscarry and spinsters go mad.
Hayes pens his seven and twentieth diary,
Bodo’ does not, there’s no time to be had.
Lund, ever youthful, well vizor’d and turban’d,
Robs hives of that honey which we are to sip....
Hopkins’ regard for children inspired one of his finest and most accessible poems, “Spring and Fall.”  As autumn leaves fall, a young girl grieves over the loss of nature’s beauty. Naming her “Margaret” but stressing the last syllable—Margarét—Hopkins plays on the word's root-meaning: the girl is a “margareta” or “pearl.”  And as this pearl mourns for the death of nature, a greater sadness soon grows clear to the poet: lovely young Margarét is also mourning for herself.  She too will die.  “Spring and Fall” thus becomes a meditation on nature, childhood, growth, and death.  It is one of Hopkins' simplest, loveliest, saddest poems:
Spring and Fall: to a young child
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Léaves, líke the thíngs of mán, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Áh! ás the héart grows ólder
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow's spríngs áre the sáme.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What héart héard of, ghóst guéssed:
It ís the blíght mán was bórn for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.
Like Margaret, Hopkins also suffered, and in Dublin he was depressed and feared madness, penning a sonnet that screams in pain: 
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, wórld sorrow;  on an áge-old ánvil wínce and síng--
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.
In another sonnet he describes himself as “gall” and “heartburn,” bitter-tasting, no better than the damned in hell.  He knew well that a human, so lovable, is also so fragile, so able to suffer.
More commonly, though, he celebrates the unique selfhood of every human.  Fascinated by self, he turns to distinctive images of camphor, ale, and alum, of a plucked violin, a swinging bell, and a flame-colored kingfisher, to describe the self’s uniqueness.  And he includes himself: “I find myself more important to myself than anything I see....Nothing else in nature comes near...this selfbeing of my own.”  His most eloquent poem about selfhood is his 1877 sonnet “As kingfishers catch fire”: 
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves--goes its self;  myself it speaks and spells.
Yet all humans, even such glorious, unique selves, will perish and die, and only his third great love—God—can offer full hope. 
III. Hopkins and God
In God, Hopkins finds the best hope for humans.  God is the source of nature's beauty, a creator who so loves the world that he is always present and active in his world, working in his creation and giving eternal life. Hopkins' most memorable poem about God is “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” which begins with a divine portrait that is cosmic, powerful, compelling:
Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
Wórld's stránd, swáy of the séa;
Lord of living and dead....
Hopkins then grows personal, recalling his own terror before God, most likely when deciding to become a Catholic:
Thou hast bóund bónes and véins in me, fástened me flésh,
 And áfter it álmost únmade, what with dréad,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
 Over agáin I féel thy fínger and fínd thée.
I did say yes
O at líghtning and láshed ród;
Thou heardst me, truer than tongue, confess
Thy terror, O Christ, O God....

In such terror, Hopkins finds a fearsome God of “dréad” and “láshed ród” who wants to “master” Hopkins.  But even in terror Hopkins remembers another aspect of God, the Christ of the Eucharist, and flees to him in relief: 
...where, where was a, where was a place?--
I whirled out wings that spell
   And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the
Hopkins flees to the Eucharistic Christ as his savior and his love. In various poems he sees Christ as “heavenly Bread” and the “sweet Vintage of our Lord”;  as an Anglo-Saxon “hero of Calvary,” “hero of us,” “holiest, loveliest, bravest...Hero”;  as “Our passion-plungèd giant risen;  as “king,” “prince,” “high-priest,” “God-made-flesh”;  as “spouse” and “Saviour”;  as “immortal diamond”; even, in a poem about a soldier’s First Communion, as a whimsical “royal ration” and “treat” “from cupboard fetched”—as if the Eucharist were stored in a kitchen breadbox!
For Hopkins, God and Christ are always present and active in the world.  He uses a metaphor from electricity: “The world is charged wíth the grándeur of God, / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil.”  As sheet-metal flashes in the sun, so God's presence flames out in all creation, almost forcing our eyes to recognize him.  Even the wild behavior of clouds raises his mind to God: “I wálk, I líft up, Í lift úp heart, éyes, / Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour.”
Hopkins also sees God living and acting in humans.  In the sonnet “As kingfishers catch fire,” the just man 
Ácts in God's eye what in God's eye he is--
  Chríst.  For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
  To the Father through the features of men's faces.
The metaphor here is of an actor on stage: even more than an actor is Hamlet, or is Lear, or is the Fool, Christ himself is acting in, is working in you and me and every human.
Hopkins' lovable God, finally, is present even in absence, pain, and death.  In his “Terrible Sonnets” of 1885, Hopkins feels that God is absent, yet still recognizes him and complains to him: “Comforter, where, where is your comforting?” or, “...my lament / Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent / To dearest him that lives alas! away.”  Yet Hopkins later looks back on his pain and sees that even then God has been actively present with him: “That níght, that yéar / Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.”  Whether present or absent, God is Hopkins’ firm hope and firm love, and Hopkins ultimately is part of Christ:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
  I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
  Thís Jack, jóke, poor pótsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal
Is immortal diamond.
IV. A Poet's Delight: Words, Sounds, Rhymes, Rhythms
But the world knows Gerard Hopkins primarily as a poet, and I now turn to him as poet: as a lover of words—of their sounds and rhymes and rhythms.  In truth, perhaps Hopkins’ most obvious love is his love for words. Even as a teenager, Hopkins loved words.  His secondary-school poems show an uncontrolled, adolescent fascination with rhythm and alliteration: “Rowing, I reach’d a rock,” “the dainty-delicate fretted fringe of fingers.”  At Oxford and as a Jesuit, Hopkins was fascinated by the meanings, derivations, histories, sounds, and rhythm of words, as when a Jesuit from Lancashire called a grindstone a “grindlestone.”  In his journal he notes Irish expressions, Spanish accents, and an old lady who still speaks the Cornish language.  He corresponds with a friend about Semitic and Egyptian influences on Greek, and enjoys foreign accents, once noting, with humor, how “an Italian preaching in England upon Faith said ‘He zat has no face cannot be shaved.’”
Hopkins had a lifelong love of words and of their varieties.  In his poems he sometimes chooses the uncommon word for stunning effect: “the móth-soft Mílky Wáy” or “my cries heave, herds-long.” Sometimes the unexpected common word shocks: “I am gall, I am heartburn.”  He incongruously mixes textures and temperatures, combining hard with soft and cold with hot: in “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” wintry waves are “cobbled foam-fleece” and snow is “Wíry and white-fíery.”  He invents words with abandon: “Goldengrove,” “Betweenpie,” “fallowbootfellow,” “onewhere,” “Churlsgrace,” “Amansstrength,” “shípwrack,” “downdolfinry.”  He creates hyphenated combinations that would puzzle a lexicographer: “wimpledwater-dimpled,” “wíndpuff-bónnet of fáwn-fróth,” “down-dugged ground-hugged grey,” and his famous “dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon.”  Like an alchemist he transmutes parts of speech, turning nouns into verbs (“Let him éaster in us,” “the just man justices”), participles into nouns (“leaves me a lonely began”), and nouns into adjectives (“a madrigal start”).  To strengthen a line, he omits relative pronouns: “O Hero savest” instead of “O Hero [who] savest.”  Strange verb forms delight him: “Have fáir fállen.”  He puts exclamations into mid-sentence: “I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.”  In one poem he mixes homely dialect words (“Squandering,” “Shive”), his own compounds (“rutpeel,” “fíredint”), formal words (“resíduary”), and the basic, undignified “worm.”  Rejecting rules, he forces words to be lively and colorful, so as to catch the motion and verve and variety—and uniqueness—of life.
His rhymes are likewise wild.  To make a rhyme, he freely splits words between lines (“king- / dom,” “ling- / Ering”), breaks a contraction (“smile / 'S not wrung”), and carries a word’s final letter into the next line (“wear- / y”).  Tradition is unimportant: Hopkins, ever self-confident, prizes original word-music.  Refusing to be bound by mechanics—iambic pentameter, for example—he invents “sprung rhythm” for freshness and strength.  Thus, in “Binsey Poplars” (the poem about trees which had been cut down), instead of normal iambic pentameter which requires ten syllables for five stresses (_’_’_’_’_’), Hopkins omits unimportant syllables to make a line of only six syllables with five stresses: “Áll félled, félled, are áll félled” (’’’_’’).  The line is stronger, more telling—and more like the sound of an axe—because Hopkins uses what he calls “sprung rhythm” which makes a line “spring”—leap—from stress to stress, ignoring the unstressed syllables.  He even gives careful directions on how to perform—not “read” but “perform”—his poems.  How he loved his words!  How he loved their sounds and rhymes and rhythms!
* * * * * *
Such, then, was Gerard Hopkins: lover of nature, of people, of God, and of words.  This funny, short little poet with a high-pitched voice was a playful man, a good friend, a fine priest, a so-so teacher, a poet who liked science and despised ugliness.  Often eccentric, he was a political conservative with a strong social conscience.  He felt grand elation and deep depression.  He was holy and loved sense-experience.  He was, in short, a consummate individualist.  And a rare, truly splendid poet.
It is good to turn one last time to a poem—to the sonnet “God's Grandeur,” where with wonderful sounds and images Gerard Hopkins proclaims God's presence in the world while asking why men ignore God and damage his world.  Yet however much humans damage his world, Hopkins knows that God’s lovely nature still remains fresh and, as the rising sun spreads its first light-rays like the wings of a bird, he imagines how God broods over the world with love and is the very rays of light:
The world is charged wíth the grándeur of God.
  It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
  It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed.  Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Génerátions have trod, have trod, have trod;
     And all is seared with trade;  bleared, smeared with toil;
  And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
Ánd, for all this, náture is never spent;
  There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
  Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs--
Because the Holy Ghost óver the bent
  World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
That is how Hopkins loves nature and humans and God and words.  That is the passion of a poet and a lover.
Saint Joseph's University
Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Praise Him: Celebrating the life and work of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Praise Him: Celebrating the life and work
of Gerard Manley Hopkins

March 25, 2015

‘I am so happy, I am so happy,” said Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J., as he was dying in Dublin on June 8, 1889. As rich and resonant as any words in his poems, these words offer a multilayered commentary on his life and reputation. In 1889 he was happy to go to God as an unknown poet; in 2015 he enjoys worldwide fame as a major poet in the company of Donne, Milton, Keats and Eliot. How did this happen?

Gerard Hopkins was born on July 28, 1844, in the London suburb of Stratford, Essex, the oldest child of nine in a comfortable Church of England family. His father, Manley Hopkins, owned a London firm that insured ships against shipwreck. But Stratford was soon industrialized, and when Gerard was 8, the family moved to Hampstead, a quiet, leafy London suburb. Young Gerard was a happy boy who loved to climb trees, joined in family prayers and wrote schoolboy poems. He went up to Oxford University in 1863, made many new friends, was a brilliant student of the classics and wrote more poems, including his first sonnets. Like all Oxford students, he went to Church of England services, but he gradually grew uncertain about his religion. He read, thought and prayed, talked with the famed convert John Henry Newman (later a cardinal) and became a Roman Catholic in 1866. In 1867 he won a “first”—Oxford’s highest degree—in Greek and Latin classics, then went off to begin his life.

At Oxford Hopkins wanted to be both a painter and a poet, and after his conversion he also considered the Catholic priesthood. For eight months he taught at Newman’s school in Birmingham—the Oratory School—then, deciding to be a priest, he became a Jesuit in 1868. As a novice in London he learned Jesuit life and prayer, then studied philosophy in Lancashire and theology at St. Beuno’s College in North Wales. The first flashes of his poetic genius shone out at St. Beuno’s in 1875, when he wrote his great shipwreck ode, “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” and later 11 brilliant sonnets about nature and God. In 1877 he was ordained a priest at St. Beuno’s and at the age of 33 became Father Hopkins.

For seven years he worked in Jesuit schools and parishes in England and Scotland, writing poems about the environment, about his students and parishioners (like the Liverpool blacksmith “Felix Randal”) and about the Blessed Virgin Mary. He wrote lively sermons too. Once in Liverpool he compared the Holy Spirit to a cricket player urging a teammate, “Come on, come on!” As Paraclete, he told the congregation, the Holy Spirit “cheers the spirit of man...calling him on...: This way to do God’s will, this way to save your soul, come on, come on!” The Holy Ghost as a cricket player? Hopkins had a most lively sense of humor!

In 1884 he was sent to Dublin as a professor of Greek in the new University College on St. Stephen’s Green and as an examiner in the Royal University. He made many good friends in Ireland and enjoyed his teaching and his students but twice a year grew exhausted from grading hundreds of examination papers from all over the country. For months in 1885 he suffered from deep depression, even failing to contact God in prayer and wondering if he was losing his mind. He screamed out his pain in anguished—and brilliant—sonnets like “I wake and feel the fell of dark” and “No worst, there is none.” After a few months he recovered from his depression, but in 1889 he contracted typhoid fever and died at the age of 44, seven weeks before his 45th birthday. People remembered him as a warm friend and fine priest, but he was unknown as a poet.

Who was this man they remembered? Who was Gerard Hopkins as a person? Hopkins stood about 5’3” tall, had a high-pitched voice, a lively sense of fun and was nicknamed “Hop.” As a boy he joined in school games and loved to sketch trees and their shapes. As a Jesuit he prayed, hiked, swam, climbed mountains, wrote poems and once hurt his wrist arm-wrestling. He was always close to his family and made warm, lifelong friends at Oxford, with fellow Jesuits and with Irish families; at St. Beuno’s, a Jesuit later wrote, he was “the most popular man in the house.” For recreation he visited art exhibitions and old churches, enjoyed concerts and took vacations with his family, with Oxford friends and with fellow Jesuits, in Switzerland, Holland, England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland. He also composed small pieces of music but was not very good at it.

Hopkins’s major passions were beauty, nature and the environment, language and poetry, art and music, family and friends, England, the saints and God. He was mostly a happy Jesuit, though he suffered from a lifelong “melancholy” (his word) that helped bring on that depression in Dublin. As a young man he worried excessively about sin but later learned the more positive Jesuit way of finding God in all things, and in the poem “God’s Grandeur” he wrote, “The world is charged wíth the grándeur of God”—God is in the world like an electric charge ready to spark out—“pfft, pfft”—to show God’s presence. He loved Christ deeply, especially as really present in the Eucharist, and in a sermon he delivered in Liverpool he celebrated Christ as a “Hero” for all humans. His intellectual hero was a medieval philosopher, Duns Scotus, who celebrated individuality and selfhood. Hopkins even saw a unique selfhood in every tree and every bird! He had a strong sense of his own self, too, and though recognizing the dangers of fame, he was highly self-confident as a poet, even writing in his last poem that though he was losing his inspiration, his technique remained perfect: my “hand at work [is] now never wrong.” Today, 179 of his poems survive, most in English and a few in Greek, Latin and Welsh, but very few were published during his lifetime. Hopkins died in 1889 as an unknown poet.

Who Is Hopkins Now?

Today Gerard Manley Hopkins is a poet of worldwide fame, and the story is fascinating. His poems were not published until 1918, 29 years after his death, when his Oxford friend Robert Bridges edited Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins for Oxford University Press. Only 750 copies of the book were printed, though, and just 180 were sold in the first year. Hopkins remained unknown.

But in the 1920s and ’30s, a new way of reading poetry—called the New Criticism—was being developed in England and the United States. Its practitioners rejected the old ways of literary critics—studying a writer’s life, sources, intentions and effect on readers—and studied the poem itself through a “close reading” of the text: its words, images, sounds and form. The New Critics admired Hopkins’s vivid language and rich sound—his “texture”—and showed his brilliance to readers, poets and fellow critics. Gradually, Hopkins became famous and over the decades influenced such poets as W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Denise Levertov, Sylvia Plath and the Nobel laureate Seamus Heaney. He also inspired some 500 musical works by Aaron Copland, Samuel Barber, Benjamin Britten, Ned Rorem, Sir Michael Tippett and others. Many books study him—commentaries, critical studies, biographies—and countless articles. There are three journals devoted to him: The Hopkins Quarterly, an international journal (of which I am co-editor), published in Philadelphia, and Hopkins Research and Nondum, both published in Japan.

Hopkins is also memorialized in art. A grand but little-known tribute is a huge bas-relief in the United Nations’ Palais des Nations in Geneva, which the United Kingdom presented to the League of Nations in 1938 as the Lord Cecil Memorial. The bas-relief is called “The Creation of Adam”; around Adam’s reclining figure the great English sculptor Eric Gill carved five lines from the opening stanza of “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” In 1975 Hopkins was honored in Westminster Abbey’s famed Poets’ Corner with a large floor stone of black marble bearing the tribute “Priest & poet/ ‘Immortal diamond’” carved below his name. In 2004 the Scottish Parliament building in Edinburgh was formally opened, and on its “Canongate Wall” 24 quotations were carved in stone, one bearing the last four lines of Hopkins’s environmental poem “Inversnaid” about a waterfall at Loch Lomond. Two monuments honor him at Regis University in Denver and in Monasterevin, Co. Kildare, Ireland. Smaller memorials also celebrate him: in London a “Blue Plaque” decorates the wall of Manresa House, Roehampton, where he lived and studied; and in Dublin, a plaque at the door of No. 86 St. Stephen’s Green, the original building of University College Dublin, records three famous figures who worked there: “John Henry Newman, Rector; Gerard Manley Hopkins, Professor of Greek; James Augustine Joyce, Student.” Notable company for a once-unknown poet!

The 1989 centennial of Hopkins’s death brought him new international fame. The centennial day itself, June 8, was celebrated in London, Oxford, Dublin, Washington, D.C., and at Loch Lomond. Major exhibitions were mounted by Oxford University, by University College Dublin and by the University of Texas at Austin, with smaller exhibitions at St. Beuno’s, at Hopkins’s birthplace in Stratford, Essex, at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Wash, and in a travelling exhibition in North Wales. Academic events honored him in England, Wales, Ireland, Italy and the United States; and lectures celebrated him in France, England, Wales, Canada, the United States, Paraguay, the Philippines and Japan.

Today, 25 years after his centennial, Hopkins’s poems still inspire music, new books still proliferate, and scholars of many religions—or none—teach, translate and write about him in countries as diverse as Israel, Sweden, Poland, Italy, France, England, the United States, Mexico, Korea and Japan. Book-length translations of his poems are published in Japanese, Korean, Dutch, French, German, Polish, Spanish, Italian and Hebrew, and a Russian translation is now underway. He has had novels written about him, notably Ron Hansen’s Exiles (2008); three one-man plays portray his life; and actors like Richard Burton and Richard Austin have recorded his poems. Every year, Regis University in Denver holds an international Hopkins Conference, and the Hopkins Society of Ireland sponsors a Hopkins Festival in Co. Kildare. Oxford University Press currently is publishing a new scholarly edition of everythingHopkins wrote, in eight large volumes.

A few final signs of Hopkins’s current fame complete the picture. Just before Christmas 2009, a theater company in Santa Fe, N.M., performed 30 Hopkins poems spoken, sung and danced by 35 people; the two performances drew audiences of several hundred. In 2011, at the funeral of the actress Elizabeth Taylor and following her wish, an actor read Hopkins’s poem “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo.” In 2013, just after his election, Pope Francis told an interviewer (Am., 09/30/2013) that he “liked Gerard Manley Hopkins very much.” And with a touch of whimsy, I add that two pubs memorialize Hopkins. In England, his birthplace of Stratford has a pub named the “Goldengrove” (a rich word from his poem “Spring and Fall”) with Hopkins displays inside, and in Ireland, Monasterevin has a pub called “The Manley Hopkins.” Not every poet—or every Jesuit priest—has two pubs named for him!

All these details tell a larger story: the man unknown at his death in 1889 is alive and famed today throughout the world.

Wednesday, October 18, 2017

Gerard Manley Hopkins - The Poet & His Poetry

The best ideal is the true
And other truth is none.
All glory be ascribèd to
The holy Three in One.

- "Summa," by GMH

The Windhover
by Gerard Manley Hopkins

To Christ our Lord

I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn 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 swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, —the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.


The Best Gerard Manley Hopkins
~ Poems Everyone Should Read ~

10 great poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins and why you should read them

Whittling down a great poet’s oeuvre to 10 essential must-read poems is always going to be difficult, and the list of the best Hopkins poems which follows is, we confess, somewhat personal. But if you’re looking for an introduction to the spellbinding poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) or an excuse to revisit his work, we hope you’ll enjoy this list, which might be considered a follow-up to our post detailing our favourite Gerard Manley Hopkins facts. Click on the link in the title of each poem to read it.

10. Thou art indeed just, Lord. One of a number of very popular sonnets Hopkins wrote, this one earns its place in this top-ten list of the best Hopkins poems because of the wonderful use of language in the phrase, ‘birds build, but not I build’. The poet’s sense of disappointment and frustration with life is brilliantly captured by his inability, here, even to build a simple, clear statement (it would have been very different had Hopkins written ‘birds build, but I don’t build’).

9. Binsey Poplars. Hopkins was moved to write this poem after hearing about the felling of some poplar trees in Oxford in 1879. By the end, the poplars were all gone: ‘All felled, felled, are all felled’ (how well that line captures the heartless and systematic felling of the trees through its bald repetition). The end of this poem reminds us a little of the song-like quality of some of Christina Rossetti’s verse; it’s not often that Hopkins reminds us of Rossetti, but there is something in the repetition of phrases and movement of the lines which evokes the song as much as the poem here.

8. ‘Felix Randal‘. Another one of Hopkins’s sonnets, ‘Felix Randal’ was written in response to the news that one of Hopkins’s parishioners had died. Like ‘The Windhover’ (see below) it’s a sonnet, and employs Hopkins’s distinctive sprung rhythm effectively within the longer lines of the poem. (For more on the sonnet form, see our introduction to the sonnet.)

7. Pied Beauty. A celebration of ‘dappled things’, from the pattern of clouds in the sky to the ‘stipple’ on the skin of trout, ‘Pied Beauty’ is another sonnet – but a very particular kind of sonnet, the ‘curtal sonnet‘. This shortened form of the usual fourteen-line poem was invented by Hopkins and used in ‘Pied Beauty’ as well as several other poems, but this is the best of them.

6. Carrion Comfort. Written in Ireland around the same time as the Terrible Sonnets, ‘Carrion Comfort’ (another sonnet) sees Hopkins refusing to give in to dark despair, no matter how much it wants him to. Worth reading for the last four words alone.

5. I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day. One of Hopkins’s ‘Terrible Sonnets’ (so named not because they’re badly written, of course, but because they date from a terrible period of depression in Hopkins’s life – this is actually one of the best Hopkins poems ever!), this poem is one of the finest evocations of a sleepless night that English poetry has produced: ‘But where I say / Hours I mean years, mean life.’ Ouch. Desolation has seldom been expressed so exquisitely.

4. Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves. This poem is yet another sonnet, but is another unusual and original take on the form, with each line containing even more syllables than ‘Felix Randal’. In Greek myth the Sibyls were seers who would foretell the future, though their messages would often be cryptic, leaving the recipient to make of them what he or she wished. Many poets have written about evening turning slowly into night, but none had done it quite the way Hopkins does here.

3. ‘God’s Grandeur. Starting with the arresting image of the grandeur of God flaming out ‘like shook foil’, this sonnet is among Hopkins’s most widely anthologised. The poet complains that the modern world has lost its spiritual connection with God because we have become estranged from nature: now that we wear shoes, our feet don’t even truly feel the grass beneath our feet!

2. ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland. Hopkins gave up writing poetry in the late 1860s when he joined the Society of Jesus, because he thought poetry was self-indulgent. However, an event that occurred in late 1875 convinced him to take up his pen again. ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ was written in 1876 to commemorate the sinking of a ship named the Deutschland. Aboard the ship were five Franciscan nuns, all of whom drowned off the Kentish coast along with nearly 200 other passengers. Hopkins’s poem grapples with the central issue for any believer: how can one reconcile such a tragedy with a belief in a benevolent God? One of the strengths of Hopkins’s poem is that he views God as all-powerful and benevolent but also terrifying and mighty. As we revealed in our post about Hopkins’s life, very little of his poetry was published in his lifetime (1844-89), and the first full book of his writing didn’t appear until 1918. This is Hopkins’s longest poem and was described by his friend (and, later, his first editor) Robert Bridges as ‘like a great dragon folded in the gate to forbid all entrance’, because it was printed at the beginning of The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1918. Readers would have to confront and overcome it if they were to make any sense of Hopkins’s poetry. Watch out for the 6ft-tall nun – she was based on real reports of such a nun among the five who lost their lives in the wreck.

1. ‘The Windhover. Hopkins himself called ‘The Windhover’ ‘the best thing I ever wrote’; we agree. It’s a tour de force as a piece of nature poetry and devotional poetry, and its language is vibrant and inventive throughout, from its splitting of the word ‘king-dom’ across the first two lines of the sonnet (yes, ‘The Windhover’ is another Hopkins sonnet) to the invented word ‘sillion’. A ‘windhover’ is an old poetic name for the kestrel, and Hopkins’s poem beautifully captures the experience of seeing the bird majestically in flight.

The best edition of Hopkins’s poems to get is Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works (Oxford World’s Classics). It contains a pretty complete collection of Hopkins’s poetry and also includes highlights from his letters and journals, which are written in the same idiosyncratic manner and reflect Hopkins’s individual and distinctive way of looking at the world. It also has a helpful introduction and detailed notes on the poems.

Have we missed any of Hopkins’s greatest poems off this list? Let us know what would make your top 10 of best Hopkins poems, and what would get the top spot.


Popular Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins

God's Grandeur The world is charged with the grandeur of ...

Heaven-Haven I have desired to go Where springs not ...

The Alchemist In The City My window shews the travelling ...

Spring And Fall: To A Young Ch... Margaret, are you ...

Moonless Darkness Stands Betwe... Moonless darkness stands ...

Easter Communion Pure fasted faces draw unto this feast: ...

The Windhover I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, ...

Gerard Manley Hopkins, c.1863

Biography of Hopkins

Wikipedia - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_Manley_Hopkins

Poetry Foundation - https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poets/gerard-manley-hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins, c.1880
Poems by Hopkins

Poem Hunter - https://www.poemhunter.com/gerard-manley-hopkins/

Bartleby - http://www.bartleby.com/122/

Saturday, September 16, 2017

R.E. Slater - Love and Time Explored Through Prose, Video, and Poem

Love in Pictures

Love pictures our lives placed like mirrors facing each other in timeless, or endless, reflection played as unending symphonies expressing being. A being that is innumerably, relentlessly, persistently expressed against all else which would undo its hold.

Love's melody plays in the background of our lives. It's tempo threads throughout our identity, relationships, existence. It confounds the human breast unsure its truth but driven by its madness.

Within its mystery comes the crescendos and decrecendos of our lives. It persists, can destroy, wreck, or ruin us till in weakness we turn to its destructive force to rebuild, restore, absolve, and become.

In our becoming, love lives best even as it rends all else apart until a balance is found restoring our lives back to the sublime symphonies we bear heard upon the winds of creation and within our very hearts beating its mystery.

In both the pauses, and the sustained chords, love finds recreation - as it must - until all comes to rest within the bosom of its melodious nocturne.

R.E. Slater
September 13, 2017

Spiegel im Spiegel (Mirror in the Mirror)
for Cello and Piano (Arvo Pärt)

Spiegel im Spiegel ('Mirror in the Mirror') is a piece of music written by Arvo Pärt in 1978, just before his departure from Estonia. The piece is in the tintinnabular style of composition, wherein a melodic voice, operating over diatonic scales, and tintinnabular voice, operating within a triad on the tonic, accompany each other. It is about ten minutes long.

The piece was originally written for a single piano and violin – though the violin has often been replaced with either a cello or a viola. Versions also exist for double bassclarinethornflugelhornflutebassoontrombone, and percussion. The piece is an example of minimal music.

The piece is in F major in 6/4 time, with the piano playing rising crotchet triads and the second instrument playing slow F major scales, alternately rising and falling, of increasing length, which all end on the note A (the mediant of F). The piano's left hand also plays notes, synchronised with the violin (or other instrument).

"Spiegel im Spiegel" in German literally can mean both "mirror in the mirror" as well as "mirrors in the mirror", referring to an infinity mirror, which produces an infinity of images reflected by parallel plane mirrors: the tonic triads are endlessly repeated with small variations as if reflected back and forth. The structure of melody is made by couple of phrases characterized by the alternation between ascending and descending movement with the fulcrum on the note A. This, with also the overturning of the final intervals between adjacent phrases (for example, ascending sixth in the question - descending sixth in the answer), contribute to give the impression of a figure reflecting on a mirror and walking back and towards it.

In 2011, the piece was the focus of a half-hour BBC Radio 4 programme, Soul Music, which examined pieces of music "with a powerful emotional impact". Violinist Tasmin Little discussed her relationship to the piece.

* * * * * * * *


Love transcends the dialation of time.
It moves and morphs
    by that aspect we know as relationality,
    so entwined within the fabric of creative chaos,
    whose entropy destroys all we had,
    or have,
    or will.

And yet love, like gravity,
    binds all time,
    across its spaces,
    whatever the time slice,
    whatever the moment,
    whatever the distance.

Love's pain is bourne -
    in the losses we feel.
It's relevance -
    in the groundedness we experience.
It's possibility -
    in the willingness to lose oneself in another,
    that it might be held briefly as a living thing,
    before becoming mere memory,
    leaving only lingering trace winds,
    of feeling and memory.

Love is the binding metaphysical gravity
of all human chaos-recreation.
    It transcends,
    it brings near distant objects,
    moves to action the necessary,
    and refuses any kind of objectivity,
    it is an elemental mystery.

Though the mind dissects it the heart lives it.
    It lives unnoticed most of the time,
    but its force overturns our lives,
    at every stage of our being,
    both the bad and the good.

Its force, like gravity,
    is seemingly weak in daily transactions,
    but is exceedingly strong across large distances,
    unrealized until we take the backwards look
    of introspection to life's biography.

Love is always present,
    yet, like the beating heart,
    or, act of breathing,
    unnoticed, until displayed.
It exists because we exist.
    And we exist because it exists.

Love is the breath of life
    we most depend, need, want, and crave.
Its addiction can do phenomenal things
    in the lives of those willing its power.
Its what we call God's image
    which we image back,
    to the Divine mystery,
    through ferocity,
    or, grief.

Love is,
    and its capture is what gives to us meaning.
Nothing else exists so pervasively,
    so powerfully,
    so beautifully,
   or, so independently.

Love just is.

Love is the why,
    the what,
    the sustenance,
    to all else.
Love transects all living
    or, future.

Love's process is unlike
    any other force we know,
    or will ever know,
    so complete is its knowledge,
    of both divine and human,

Love is us and we are it.

R.E. Slater
September 13, 2017

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