• Hopkins is considered to be one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era.
• As a child, he was encouraged by his family to explore his talents while growing up in Essex, England.
• His writing style radically different from writers of previous generations, with his best poems not published until after his death (specifically not after WWI).
• He was highly influenced by his family and faith throughout his life, Hopkins regularly read the New Testament at school.
• His mother, Kate Smith Hopkins (1821-1900), was the daughter of a London physician. Being better educated than most Victorian women, she was interested in music and reading, particularly German philosophy/literature and novels written by Dickens.
• His interest in the visual arts connects to his extended family members his maternal uncle, Edward Smith began as a lawyer but soon made painting his profession, his maternal great-uncle Richard James Lane was an engraver and lithographer who frequently exhibited at the Royal Academy.
• Hopkins became estranged from his Protestant family after he converted to Catholicism, and decided to become a priest. After his, he burned all of his poems and did not write again for years.
• 30 years after his death, Hopkins’ friend and poet Robert Bridges published Hopkins’ work in an edited volume Poems.
“The Wreck of Deutschland”
“The Wreck of Deutschland” was written in 1875, and is the first poem Hopkins wrote after his period of creative standstill. In this poem, Hopkins writes in response to a German ship, the Deutschland, sinking during a storm killing many of its passengers including 5 exiled Franciscan nuns. During this time the Falk Laws, legislative bills in Prussia (modern day Germany) were established, which combated the Prussian Government with the Catholic Church. The decree expelled Jesuits from the empire and eventually extended to Redemptorists; Lazarists; Priests of the Holy Ghost, and Nuns of the Sacred Heart (as being religious associations allied to the Jesuits). As a Jesuit priest himself, Hopkins chose to write about an incident that connects to the decree against his faith.
The poem illustrates the tragic scene and the suffering of the passengers. Once the ship begins to sink, the passengers beg to “make mercy in all of us, out of us all” (stanza 10). While awaiting rescue, their feelings of hopelessness develop as “Hope had grown grey hairs” … “Hope was twelve hours gone” (Stanza 15), with the passengers knowing that they are unlikely to be saved.
“The Wreck of the Deutschland” introduced what Hopkins called
“sprung rhythm”, a metrical system composed of one-to-four syllables that start with a stressed syllable. Hopkins created this form to imitate the rhythm of natural speech, contrasting to the regular form of iambic pentameter. This form helped influence the rise of free verse in the 20th century.
Historical Context/Genre: Though many of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poems were written during the Victorian era, his work was not published until the early 1900s. For my response, I will focus on just three of Hopkins’ poems: “Author’s Preface” (1918), “The Wreck of the Deutschland” (written 1875; pub. 1918), and “God’s Grandeur” (written 1877; pub. 1918). Given the fact Hopkins was a poet during the Victorian era, his poems are unsurprisingly religious and praised God and nature. “Author’s Preface” sees Hopkins admit his own fearfulness, and admiration, of God’s power. In the first stanza, he urges everyone to be God-fearing people because the “love of Christ will win man’s love at last” (8). “The Wreck of the Deutschland” is dedicated to five Roman Catholic nuns who were exiled from Germany. Again, Hopkins highlights the power God has over human life, such as the “bound bones and veins…fastened flesh” (5) present in people. “God’s Grandeur,” which is my personal favorite, details God’s power on earth and how men should “now reck his [God’s] rod” (4) before his power is gone. Hopkins did not want society to disregard the immense power God and religion had on human life. As mentioned before, the two major themes the majority of Hopkins’ poems focused on were religion and nature. Though his poems contain rhyme schemes, his work almost reads like free-verse (at least when I read them).
Theoretical: I can’t think of any theoretical texts that might help in unpacking Hopkins’ work except the Levine article, which, as I stated before, can be applied to ANYTHING since everything has a ‘form.’ The form of a poem compared to a novel allows Hopkins to praise God in a quick and efficient manner. Detailing the “grandeur of God” (1) in a short poem as opposed to a chapter in a novel may have a different effect on the audience. One could, however, compare and contrast Hopkins’ poetry with Wheatley’s poems, especially her “On Virtue” and his “God’s Grandeur” since both heavily incorporate the Christian religion into their works.
Gerard Hopkins was a Jesuit Priest who died at the age of 44. He had tensions within himself between his calling as a priest and writing. He burned a lot of his works but a close friend published his works after his death.
The Windhover is a poem that chronicles the glory of nature and God.
• The introduction follows the bird the way your eye follows a plane in the sky.
• It is showing the majesty of this bird
• Thermal is a type of air, upward current
• Rein/wimple the bird is free yet experiences resistance to the air as well.
• Upon reviewing the mastery exhibited by the bird their heart moved
• The flight taken by the bird can be likened to the soul, mimetic language shows this buckle is something breaks down. Likened to the resistance experienced by the kestrel when flying and rebuffing the wind
• When farmers plow the land, the new earth holds new minerals and it looks like its renewed. When embers fall from a log it glows red with light. Just like your soul being renewed by Gods light when you are aligned with him.
Written in a sprung rhythm like most of his poems.
• He is heavily influenced by Nature.
The poem God’s Grandeur explore the nature between god and nature and how the divined is infused with everything.
The form is Italian sonnet 14 lines divided in octave and sextet/ iambic pentameter.
• Industrial revolution commercial revolution in Britain during this time and it placed significant pressure on the environment.
• It focuses on God’s handiwork, his natural phenomena he is in found in everything.
• God’s nature can be seen if one is willing to look.
• God has infinite renewal powers, he renews and regenerates.
• Men are no longer God-fearing and Hopkins wonders why.
o Neglect of God leads to neglect of the environment
o Previous generations caused this
o God has not left us contrary to what people believe
Dante can be used in context with Hopkins.
Wheatly use of Christian imagery compared to his use of Christian imagery could be an interesting comparison. They are both from the same time period, but their language is vastly different, of course, the continents they occupy may have something to do with it. Paranoid reading could possibly work for his works.
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