The Wreck of the Deutschland: Summary & Analysis

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Summary

      The poem The Wreck of the Deutschland is a profound meditation by Hopkins on God. The poet glorifies the omnipotence and omnipresence of God Man with his finite knowledge cannot know and realize the infinite God unless he develops his intuitive knowledge. God does not reveal himself only through the beauty of the world but God does manifest Himself through the sufferings. There is always a deeper meaning to human sufferings and to the mystery of misfortune. Since the Crucifixion of Christ, the human heart has come to know and understand the inner meaning of human suffering. There is a paradox in God's behaviour. While he is merciful He is also authoritative in His mercy, The poet pleads to God to forcefully and mercifully bring back the people to the right path. He should subjugate the rebellious nature of the people and bring about a sudden change in the attitude of the people as He did to St. Paul and St. Augustine.

      Human nature is strange. We see the appearance of death in many forms but though we see others dying we remain forgettable to the fact that one day death also will snatch us. There were two hundred passengers including emigrants children and women on board in the German ship the Deutschland. These messengers were not under the divine protection of God but at the same time God's mercy didn't leave them. The ship was caught in a sea storm and got stuck in the sand near England. The wind was tempestuous and the passengers's hope of surviving gradually fainted. These passengers were constantly being threatened by the fury of storm. All were incrippled in their situation. There was a young brave man who couldn't tolerate the predicament of a woman and tried to save her and her child but lost his own life in this attempt. Many though clung to the rope of hope but were crushed violently by the cruel sea.

      But the atmosphere in the poem suddenly takes a turn when the voice of nun is heard. It was the voice of the chief nun which overcame the sounds and furies of the sea. The chief nun belonged to the St. Francis order. She along with other five nuns was expelled from Germany. But these five nuns stood as symbol to something deeper and divine. They represented the five marks on the body or Christ. Hopkins also refers to St. Francis who carried five marks on Christ s body. While the poet was quite safe in Wales, these nuns had fallen prey to the snowstorm. The poet has given a contrast to the two different situations. But the chief nun invoked Christ at this crucial moment, this could turn the negative events to, positive hope or turn the evil to good.

      The poet became curious to know the reasons which prompted the chief nun to call on God. He asks the nun to explain him the meaning of her words. The poet asks whether she wanted to follow Christ in martyrdom or wanted to be blessed in the pleasure of enjoying the comfort in heaven. The poet thinks that heaven must be much more beautiful than one can imagine. The reason he gives is that the Nature with its panoramic beautiful spectacle have an unending attraction for the human beings. But then suddenly the poet suggests that the incantation to be in heaven must not have prompted her nor she could have been jolted by the danger she was confronted with. But the nun's fervent cry was to escape the toils and the torments of daily life. Human beings seek deliverance not from the danger that keeps threatening them but from the humdrum life. But there is only one who can liberate us. He is Christ. Christ's presence has been acknowledged by the nun's cry. Only nun could behold Christ because she was above the torments of the storm and could transcend the pathetic plight. The poet gave a comparison and pointed out that the physical conception of Christ was through Virgin but he is mentally conceived by the nun, in other words, it was the rebirth of Christ. The poet then questioned the safety of other passengers but again said that they also were saved spiritually as she could create a sense of faith and devotion in other passengers.

      Towards the end of the poem, the poet pays glowing tribute to God. He acknowledges the divine power of God where power and mercy is incomprehensible but great. Every human being can have the infinite mercy of Christ. This nun can bring the English people back to Christ which in other words means that the English people should welcome and embrace the Roman Catholicism.

Critical Analysis

Characteristics of the Poem

      1. A Deeply Devotional Poem: The wreck of the ship named The Deutschland became an opportunity for Hopkins to underline his deepty religious and devotional beliefs. The accident becomes a source of inspiration of religious ideas. This poem becomes casy to understand if some one does possess some knowledge about the Christian religion. The content will appear ambitious to those who are not, equipped with proper knowledge of Christ and some of the significant events in his life. But the Christian people also feel mentally handicapped in understanding the poem. The Deutschland would be more generally interesting if there were more wreck and less discourse, I know, but SIll it is an Ode and not primarily a narrative.

      2. A German Ship Wrecked: The Deutschland was the name of a German ship that got wrecked near the river Thames in England. There were nearly two hundred passengers including five Franciscan nuns who were exiled Irom the Germany under the Falck Laws. This disaster had a deep impact on Hopkins mind which immediately prompted him to pen down this poem.

      3. Hopkins's Purpose in Writing this Poem: The shipwreck was not an ordinary incident but rather a serious one which had greatly affected him. He even confessed to his mother. He could derive a different meaning from this accident that God is moving towards His children-human beings and He can manifest himself through the positive and negative aspects, or through his blessings and wrath. Man in the moments of crisis can accept him or refuse him but God is always open and accommodating and Hopkins asserts God's place in the world and has given befitting examples to affirm his faith of acceptance.

      4. The Shipwreck Reports Published in Newspaper: The wreck of the ship the 'Deutschland' at that time created a sensation in England. In a letter to Dixon, he wrote: "In the winter of 1875 the Deutschland was Wrecked in the mouth of Thames and five Franciscan nun, exiled from Germany, aboard her were drowned. I was affected by the account and happening to say so to my sector, he said that he niched someone would write a poem on the subject. On this hit I set to work and, though my hand was out at first, produced one. I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm, which I now realized on paper."

      In The Times' it was reported: "Women and children and men were one by one swept away from the shelters on the deck Five German nuns, whose bodies are now in the deadhouse here, clasped hands and were drowned together, the chief sister calling out loudly and often, 'Christ came quickly!'."

The story in its violent fury was graphically described by the 'The Times'.

      5. Hopkins's Vivid Description of the Storm. When the stom approached it terrified one and all, children and women shrinked in fear and trembled. People were mercilessly killed by the cruel waves. One event described in the poem makes all to shudder. There was a brave young man who was quite safe in holding the rope tightly suddenly decided to rescue a woman with a child who were in peril. Though he decided to take a risk, but the waves couldn't tolerate rather dashed him against the bulwark instantly killing him. The next morning his bloody-body was seen dangling to and fro on the sea.

      6. Hopkins's Dual Concepts: Moralism and Sensuousness

      Hopkins is a different man in the poem. His feelings are quite intense and his long pent-up feelings erupted in the poem. There are many stanzas in the poem which reveal Hopkins' dual aspects.

Stanza 4

I am soft sift
In an hourglass-at the wall
Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift...
...Of the gospel proffer, a pressure,
a principle Christ's gilt.

Stanza 5

I kiss my hand
To the stars, lovely-asunder
Starlight...and
Glow, glory in the thunder,
Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west.

      The two above stanzas give a contrast. While in the latter stanza we find Hopkins as a sensuous man who revels and enjoys but in the former stanza he is more serious and mature. From the very beginning these dual aspects have been well reflected by him, but towards the latter part of the life, we find in him a continuous clash which have been reflected in his poetry.

I am gall, I am heart-bum: God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me.
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse

      The two aspects in him were constantly at war with each other. One was the spirit and the other flesh, or the will to self-negation with the will to self expression and many a time it was self-negation which had triumphed over self-expression.

      7. A Complicated Poem: The poem appears not so easy to understand and is very often ambiguous to non-Christian readers. The poem is full of examples from Christian religion and thus makes it at times incomprehensible.

      8. Hopkins's Originality of Style: The rhythm, style and the words bear a distinctive mark of the poet. The rhythm used in this poem was not known to other Victorian poets. His style of writing has not been straight forward so it becomes obscure. He becomes too precise in writing it complicatedly.

      9. The Wreck of the Deutschland as a Spiritual Autobiography: The Part I of the poem is deeply spiritual in tone. The poet successfully uses a lot of symbols to create a spiritual atmosphere. The poet many a time draws a parallel between ship and himself.

The lines

In to the snows she sweeps
Hurling the haven behind
and the lines:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep
and the hurt of the trod
Hord down with a horror of height.

      Hopkins has glorified Christ as the only Prince and hero or high priest. Towards the end of the poem the lines reflect this:

More brightening her, rare-dear Britain,
as his reign rolls
Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,
Our heart's charity's hearth's fire
our thoughts' chivalry's
throng's Lord.

The Two Sections of the Poem

      (i) The First Section: The poem is unequally divided into two sections, the first section being shorter than the second. The first part of the poem is a study of his mind and the poet alertness deep into his self for introspection. The first part contains the different moods of the poet, his hopes and doubts, aspirations and frustrations and his dual nature. The poem is not a narrative nor does it only describe the wreck and the drowning of the five nuns along with others but a deep expression of the poet's mind:

I did say yes
O at the lightening and lashed rod;
Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess
Thy terror, O Christ confess O God;
Thou knowest the walls altar and
hour and night:
The swoon of a heart that the sweep
and the hurl of thee trod
Hard down with a horror of height
And the midriff astrain
with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

      (ii) The Second Section: Unlike the first section, the second section is a narrative. Hopkins appears as a poet and has graphically described the furious storm, the wreck, the cries of the children and women and the death of nuns. Hopkins has frequently used alliteration. He has been master craftsman in his use of words.

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