Literary Criticism on G. M. Hopkins Poetry

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1. Bernard Bergonzi: Heaven-Heaven

      One of the best-known of the early poems, “Heaven-Haven”, is sub-titled “A nun takes the veil.” It is an exquisite lyric, though pervaded with pre-Raphaelite religiosity, somewhat akin in feeling to Charles Allston Collins’s painting “Convent Thoughts”:

I have desired to go
Where springs not fail,
To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
And a few lilies blow.

      The last line of that stanza echoes a Keatsian phrase - “And no birds sing” which recurs like a haunting tune throughout nineteenth century from Keats himself to the fin de siecle. The influence of Keats on Hopkins has already been referred to, and the traces are frequent in his undergraduate poetry, as for instance, in the strong but rejected sensuousness of “The Habit of Perfection.” Yet other English poets, were at least as influential. Thus, the title of “Heaven-Haven” suggests a line by George Herbert, “ These seas are tears, and Heaven the haven.” And certainly, Herbert was a major influence in the development of Hopkins as a poet.

2. Alison G. Sulloway: God’s Grandeur

      God’s Grandeur’, written in the same year as The Sea and the Skylark contains another dirge on modern man’s perverse use of energy:

Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

      Again, according to the principles of mimetic art, Hopkins’s sounds have imitated the sluggishness of decay: ‘seared’, ‘bleared’, and ‘smeared with toil’ are long, drawn-out syllables: the inexorability of the insensate feet that ‘have trod, have trod’ have trod suggest Ruskin’s most ‘absolute type of impurity. The mud or slime of a damp, overtrodden path, in the outskirts of a manufacturing town.

      The moral significance of color was as important to Hopkins and Ruskin as the moral meaning of energy. Both men loved to drench their work in color; they loved to describe exotic colors, and soft colors, triumphant and aggressive primary colors and gentle half-shades. Constantly shifting color was part of nature’s universal dance, and the shifts of color from moment to moment contributed to nature’s infinite variety. Ruskin and Hopkins loved to use vivid color metaphors to describe God’s gifts to man. Here again, their tools of praise mimic the objects of praise: since ‘Nature’s self’ is bathed in an infinite variety of colors, shifting not only according to whim, but also according to distinct laws, then the art of man’ should imitate both the whims of color and the laws of color.

3. J. Hillis Miller: Pied Beauty

      Nature in “Pied Beauty” lives in movement and change. The sky’s pattern of couple-color is only momentary; the trout are swimming; the chestnuts have fallen, and are like that evanescent and glowing thing, a fresh fire coal, perfect image of a dynamic energy which is spending itself by its very act of being itself. The flinches fly; the landscape is plotted and pieced-what is fallow one year is plow’ or fold’ the next; and each trade, with its special gear and tackle and trim, is an activity of making and changing the world.

      Though nature here lives in dynamic change it never repeats itself. Like the Lark’s song it “goes on through all time, without ever losing its first freshness, being a thing both new and old.” No two couple-colored skies, trout, or finches’ wings are alike. They are counter to one another, original, ‘spare’, in the sense that a spare part stands by itself and strange, in the sense that they cannot be wholly known in terms of past experience. Though the poet can recognize that it is a cow, a trout, or a sky, to some degree it evades his categories and appears strange, a strangeness which makes him recognize that he does not understand how it is what it is. “Who knows how?” he asks, which may mean both: “How can I tell you all the ways in which things can be fickle or freckled?” and also “It is impossible to understand how this comes about.” This failure to understand the thing fully, though it registers on the senses, opens up the gap between sensation (or ‘simple apprehension’) and position (or ‘understanding’) which is so important to Hopkins as a Scotist.

4. Norman H. Mackenzie: Duns Scotus’s Oxford

      The technical achievements of the sonnet deserve recognition. The opening line (Towery city is so much higher than Million’s ‘towered cities’) preserves the airy gracefulness of the Gothic architecture which predominated in Oxford The towers at the start and the end of the line enfold the trees between them as they do in the city itself. In March these would still be ‘branchy’, the leaves not yet out. Onomatopoeic effects of a complexity possible only in sprung rhythm cluster in line two, which has seventeen syllables. Since any number of slack syllabus can in theory hurry between the stresses, we do not absolutely need to invoke or identify outride; to scan it. Its vowel-chimes and busy movement contrast admirably with the stark monosyllables in line 5 (Thou hast a base). The poem is, in fact, full of contrasts in sound and sense: an octave about Oxford leads on to a sestet about Scotus. And what sonnet before those of Hopkins could incorporate both the nimble hurry of the opening and the emphatic conclusion with its two sprung leaps: “Who fired France for Mary without spot.”

5. Patricia A. Wolfe: Carrion Comfort

      In ‘Carrion Comfort’, the first stage of his spiritual crisis, Hopkins battles with an enemy whose identity is progressively revealed. As the poem opens, however, Hopkins is fighting his own self-pity. Refusing to indulge in despair, the comfort of decaying flesh, the poet chooses to assert himself; but what can he? He ‘can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be. But, ironically, is not choosing not to be, he is pitting himself against the Almighty. Taking pride in the invincible human spirit, Hopkins is coming dangerously close to denying man’s essential dependence on God; for it is not man’s place to choose to be: man is made to serve, not to govern, A passage from one of the priest’s spiritual exercises may help to clarify this point. In it, Hopkins explains what man can and should do on this earth. ‘But man can know God, can mean to give him glory. This then was why he was made, to give God glory and to mean to give it; to praise God freely, willingly to reverence him, gladly to serve him.’ By contrast, not choosing not to be is an ungodly answer: it is rooted in human pride rather than Christ-like humility; and because the poet suggests this as a possible way of asserting himself he encounters a divine enemy.

6. Frederick Page: Hopkins’s Passion For Souls

      His own priesthood makes prayer for them. And so similarly with his longest and most ambitious poem, ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’, 1875; for though the compelling occasion of this poem might seem to be the presence in the wreck of five German nuns expelled from Germany, yet the first part of the poem is (without any explicit reference to the shipwreck) a long, impassioned, and beautiful (though difficult) apostrophe to God, as the constrainer of men’s wills, who have contrived this wreck for His own purpose as surely as Prosper contrived his. In the second part, where the wreck is narrated, one of the nuns (the Miranda of this tempest, and of the poet’s love and wonder) becomes the interpreter and the mediatress of this purpose to the shipwrecked crew and passengers. The subject is still the salvation of souls.
He calleth his own sheep by name: in ‘The Loss of the Eurydice’ it is ‘Marcus Hare, high her captain, ‘Sydney Fletcher, Bristol-bred;’ in other poems, Felix Randal, the farrier; the ‘boy-bugler, born, he tells me, of Irish mother to an English sire’; The bothers Henry and John; the young child, Margaret grieving over Goldengrove unleaving; Tom and Dick, the navies; Harry, the Ploughman. Even if these last are but the generick ‘Tom, Dick and Harry,’ they bear witness to Father Hopkins’s need to individualize his flock.

      You have there, and throughout these poems, a double passion, the human a flection tor each Jessy and Jack, and that passion for souls: that they should glorify God.

7. Sigurd Burkhards: Spring and Fall

      Now it is not the “we” of common humanity that speaks to flowers, but the poet who speaks to a child. The child responds to the falling of leaves somewhat as Herrick, speaking for all of us, does to the withering of the daffodils; but the poet initiates her into the harsher varieties of human life and growth. He does not call Margaret’s grief pointless, on the contrary: he says that she is, by intuitive wisdom, grieving over the ineluctable future time when she will no longer grieve. Thus the poem translated into an adult sensibility the kind of correspondence which formed the already precarious base of Herrick’s poem. To put it somewhat baroquely, Hopkins goes about his work with a compassionate diverting destroying the faiiy-tale Goldengrove in which the child still finds the objective correlative of her sorrow, and leaving in its place worlds of wanwood, but on the other hand giving that sorrow a new dignity by showing it its true object: man’s-Margaret’s-self.

8. Frederick Page: Hopkins’s Fatherliness

      He seems to have had a special feeling for children; there are more than two or three poems evincing the same tenderness, which yearns for the consecration of their innocence. One little boy is exquisitely docile: and Father Hopkins is anxious that his docility should be perfected. Another boy is pathetically proud of his younger brother, and Father Hopkins is touched by this ‘radiance of Eden unquenched by the Fall’ (to use Patmore’s words.) He gives holy communion to a bugler boy, he administers Extreme Unction to a farrier, and it means as much to him as to them, their emotion is his, and is recollected in verse. His ‘passion for souls’ is the motive of many other poems. He notes a candle burning behind some window he passes, he watches a lantern moving through the dark, he remembers the hospitable cottages of Wales, in each case to yearn that the human actor may be worthy of the homely or mysterious or lovely scene. In ‘The Candle Indoors’ (and in another, unfinished, sonnet) he presses the point of his meditations home to his own bosom as who should say: “A passion for souls? What then of your own?” It is with something of this same pastoral character that he envisages ‘The Loss of the Eurydice’ (a poem that offers a curious parallel to Cowper’s “The Loss of the Royal George in that both seem intent to reproduce all the newspaper facts). There is pastoral responsibility here, but transferred to God.

9. Patricia A. Wolfe: Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark

      When Hopkins states, ‘Selfycast of spirit a dull dough sours’, he means that man’s preoccupation with his earthly selfhood, his constant increasing of his human escape, works on the dull dough of his material self and prepares it for the baking process, i.e, the struggle for unity with God. By asserting that human pride added to the material self forms sourdough, a kind of dough retained from one baking in order to state the next, Hopkins is suggesting that man’s in stressing of his own inscape is a developmental stage decreed by God. Man must be elevated by a sense of his own greatness before he can be humbled by a recognition of the greater selfhood of the Divinity. Boyle describes this state as ‘the self turning in on self instead of out toward God’. To reverse this process, man needs the help of divine, grace.

10. G. M. Hopkins: Nature in Hopkins

      The sun and the stars shining glorify God. They stand where he placed them, they move where he bid them. ‘The heavens declare the glory of God.’ They glorify God, but they do not know it. The birds sing to them, the thunder speaks of his terror, the lion is like his strength, the sea is like his greatness, the honey-like his sweetness, they are something him, they make him known, they tell of him, they give him glory, but they do not know him, they never can, they are brute things that only think of food or think of nothing. This then is poor praise, faint reverence, slight service, dull glory Nevertheless what they can, they always do.....

      ......But man can know God, can mean to give him glory. This then is why he was made, to give God glory and to mean to give it, to praise God freely. Willingly to reverence him, gladly to serve him. Man was made to give, and mean to give, God glory.

11. John Wain: Felix Randal

      Consider the “I”, for instance.....The “I” of the Hopkins’ poem is vividly reacting and participating. He is as much the subject as Felix Randal-they share the first line. Because Felix Randal is dead, the priest’s duty is all ended. Yet the relationship that came into being during those months of sickness cannot be canceled; it stays in the priest’s life as a permanent thing. Without any hint of egoism, the priest muses on the whole story as it affects him as well as the man under his spiritual care. For he, the comforter, was also comforted; the fact that he has been of some use to the dying man gives him renewed faith in himself. The quiet pride of “My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched
thy tears” has a beautifully delicate blend of pity and humility with pride in achievement. There is a sensitivity here that makes Bridges-and, to be fair, most other poets-seem crude and oversimplified. It is all done so lightly and with such stylistic modesty; the word ‘touch,’ for instance, in the line just quoted, is immediately echoed in the next line (“Thy tears that touched my heart”), carrying the idea of a mutual, two-way relationship delicately into the reader’s mind.

12. F. R. Leavis: Obscurity Defended

      But Hopkins is very unlike his contemporary, Swinburne. Hopkins is really difficult, and the difficulty is essential. If we could deceive ourselves into believing that we were reading easily, his purpose would be defeated; for every word in one of his important poems is doing a great deal more work than almost any word in a poem of Robert Bridges. If (as Mr. I. A. Richards pointed out in what appears to have been the first intelligent critique of Hopkins) we were allowed to slip easily over the page, the extremely complex response called for would not have a chance to develop.

13. Patricia A. Wolfe: To Seem the Stranger Lies My Lot, My Life

      “To seem the Stranger” is less fervent than the emotionally turbulent “No worst, there is none.” It constitutes Hopkins’s last attempt to assert his earthly identity. In the first quatrain, the poet indulges in ‘3 degrees of selfishness-love of our goods, which are wholly outside ourselves; love of our good name...., which is ourself indeed, but in others minds; love of our own excellence, of our very selves, pride’ He laments his alienation from family and country; Yet, if we are to believe a statement in his spiritual Citings, he knows that these goods i.e. family and country, are merely superficial trappings of human nature, masking the essential self.

14. Robert Bridges: Obscurity

      Here, then, is another source of the poets’s obscurity; that in aiming at condensation he neglects the need that there is for care in the placing of words that are grammatically ambiguous. English swarms with words that have one identical form for substantive, adjective, and verb; and such a word should never be placed as to allow of any doubt as what part of speech it is used for; because such ambiguity or momentary uncertainty destroyers the force of the sentence. Now our author not only neglects this essential propriety but he would seem even to welcome and seek artistic effect in the consequent confusion; and he will sometimes so arrange such words that a reader looking for a verb may find that he has two or three ambiguous monosyllables from which to select, and must be in doubt as to which promises best to give any meaning that he can welcome; and then, after his choice is made, he may be left with some homeless monosyllable still on hands.

15. Patricia A. Wolfe: My Own Heart Let Me More Have Pity On

      My Own Heart Let Me Have Pity On is a companion piece to sonnet sixty-eight. It is a recognition that man, though he can actively seek patience, cannot actively seek solace. This must come unexpectedly after patience has taught man to accept his place in the divine scheme of things. In essence, then, the man who has achieved patience must strive for passivity if he is ever to receive comfort. 

      Because sonnet sixty-nine begins ‘My own heart let me more have pity on let me live to my sad sell hereafter kind’, one is immediately impressed by the seniority of the plea; for. to Hopkins, ‘the heart is of all members of the body the one which most strongly and most of its own accord sympathizes with and expresses in itself what goes on within the soul, fears arc sometimes forced, smiles may be put on. but the heating of the heart is the truth of nature,’ The poet has conic to understand that there is a place where self-torment ends and living begins. He admits that he must allow for his own human weakness, a weakness comes apparent when he likens himself, a comfort-seeking “Comforts” soul, to daylight-seeking blind eyes or a thirst searching for water - the one thing unalterably opposed to its essence.

16. Robert Bridges: Rhymes

      Finally, the rhymes where they are peculiar are often repellent, and so far from adding charm to the verse that appears as obstacles. This must not blind one from recognizing that Gerard Hopkins, where he is simple and straightforward in his rhyme is a master of it—there are many instances—but when he indulges in freaks, his childishness is incredible. His intention in such places is that the verses should be recited as running on without pause, and the rhyme occurring in their midst should be like a phonetic accident, merely satisfying the prescribed form. But his phonetic rhymes are often indefensible on his own principle. The rhyme to communion in...

      “The Bugler” is hideous, and the suspicion that the poet thought it ingenious is appalling: eternal, in “The Eurydice,” does not correspond with burn all, and “Felix Randal” and some and handsome is as truly an eye-rhymes as the love and prove which he despised and abjured—and it is more distressing, because the old-fashioned conventional eye-rhymes are accepted as such without speech adaptation, and to many ears are a pleasant relief from the fixed jingle of the perfect rhyme; whereas his false ear-rhymes ask to have their slight but indispensable differences obliterated in the reading, and thus they expose their defect, which is of a disagreeable and vulgar of even comic quality. He did not escape full criticism and ample ridicule for such things in his lifetime; and in ‘83 he wrote: “Some of my rhymes I regret, but they are past changing, grubs in amber: there are only a few of these; others are unassailable; some others again there are which malignity may munch at but the Muses love.”

17. Alison G. Sulloway Hurrahing is Harvest

      The sacrament of energy in nature, with its correspondences in the divine plan and in the human heart, was never stated more clearly than in ‘Hurrying in Harvest’. The opening stanza celebrates that moment toward the end of summer when time seems to stand still, just before the onset of the first frost and the first turn of the leaves.....

      Hopkins has endowed the whole scene with Ruskin’s ‘majesty of motion’ by a few subtle strokes. The ‘stooks’ or shooks of wheat or com do not simply stand braving the wind; they ‘rise around’, ‘almost as though they spring out of their fields. The clouds are in motion with constant shift of colors, shapes, lights, and shades; they are obeying the laws of sacramental energy and of nature’s infinite variety. These clouds represent two levels of clouds behaving in different ways. The ‘silk-sack’ clouds resemble Ruskin’s cloud ranks in the upper cirrus region made of ‘excessively fine, silky parallel fibers, drifting high overhead like a ‘swan’s bosom fretted by faint wind. Hopkins’s Meal-drift molded’ clouds, ‘wilder, wilful-wavier’ as they melt ‘across skies’, are similar to Ruskin’s Massy clouds of the central region, made into ‘solid molds’ by a process of ‘condensation’, even though ‘at sunset, the fall of dew enables the surrounding atmosphere to absorb and melt them away. Hopkins’s ‘Meal-drift molded’ clouds exemplify both the doctrine of general plenitude and the doctrine of specific creation: they are individuated, in fact wildly so—wilder, wilful-wavier—but the wind drives them in a recognizable pattern according to certain Ruskinsian laws of wind motion.

18. Norman H. Mackenzie: The Wreck of the Deutschland

      The poet’s concern was not with the degree of human fallibility uncovered by the Inquiry, which attributed the accident to the vessel having got ahead of her reckoning. Owing to the disregard by the master of the force and direction of the tide. Hopkins explores instead the interplay between the three parties in this tragic drama—the omnipotent but self-limiting God, the powerful but subordinate elements of Nature, and finally, the heterogeneous representatives of mankind, varying from the courageous to the terror-stricken. The sisters figure in the poem in various crucial roles: symbols of God’s servants rejected by dogged rebellious man, and yet simultaneously symbols of mankind purged and ennobled by God.

      As Hopkins approaches the Creator his exploration is neither relaxed nor conventional. Keating finely notes that the poet is ‘first of all concerned, and honestly. Tormentedly concerned, with what we may anthropomorphically call the character of God’ and His contradictory revelations ‘The waves and storm emerge in the poem as somewhat willful creatures of gigantic power, compelled at any rate when God intervenes - to direct their energies as the divine will requires; yet they also figure as devil-possessed, endragoned (Stanza....8), the embodiment of the great dragon of the Apocalypse. One moment the element of air in the chilling wind is viewed from man’s side as unkind, horrible (Stanzas 13 and 15), but almost immediately the cold is described as God’s (Stanza 17), and the wild waters are recognized as used and therefore, presumably, partly tamed by the Lord of Creation as though the/North Sea was a baptismal font (Stanza 3). God’s imposition of Himself on Nature is seen as self-restrained, just as He avoids complete domination of the unwilling will of men... If men do not respond to the gentle warmth of His love as plants do in spring, then the Father has recourse to more violent wintry approaches. It is the Lord Who fills the sea with storms and wrecks because men refuse to make their destination ‘the heaven-haven of the reward ‘(Stanzas....and 35), Hopkins therefore, views God as ultimately responsible for the wreck of the Deutschland; yet if the purpose behind this ‘duster’ was achieved, those listed as lost in the official statistics might in a truer sense be among the ‘saved’ (Stanza 31).

19. Norman H. Mackenzie: Penmen Pool

      The reflections of the surrounding hills in the tranquil waters figure in stanza 4, where the reversed (trochaic )rhythm of line 3 is contrived to match the inverted (topsy-turvy) images in the Pool. But a slight shimmer on the surface adds brilliance to the reflections of fleecy clouds and the seven bright stars of the plow, or Charles Wain (Stanza 5).

      Two stanzas (6 and 8) show cunning rhythmic manipulation to echo the sense. Notice the choking effect of ‘throttled’, which dams the flow of the lines just as the in-pressing tide holds back the tripping N, awddach. Another slowed line mirrors the snow-clogged landscape at Christmas:

‘Furred snows, charged tuft above tuft, tower...’ (Stanza 8)

      The ninth stanza originally had a ‘false’ rhyme to which his father objected. Renewal, pool, and was, therefore, later completely rewritten...

      Although this was one of Hopkins’s ‘popular’ poems, such as he sometimes wrote for public occasions and showed to friends, its range of words and technical proficiency is considerable.

20. Bernard Bergonzi: Spring

      That lost innocence is momentarily reflected in the carefree state of singing thrush and racing lambs. Yet true innocence can not be attributed to mere creatures; it is better to turn to those, young people in the springtime of life, who are still comparatively innocent in a human way, not yet tainted by the world, even if marked by original sin. The loss of innocence is indicated by Hopkins in a simple but effective metaphor, where the spirituals is precisely equivalent to the physical: innocence like fruit juice or wine, is sweet in the beginning but can cloy or cloud or sour. It was a theme to which Hopkins returned in an impressive though unfinished late poem, “On the portrait of Two Beautiful Young people”. The sestet concludes with a sudden shift to the imperative in mid-line urging Christ to take the innocent young to Himself:

Have, get, before it cloy,
Before it cloud, Christ, lord and sour with sinning,
Innocent mind and May day in girl and boy,
Most, O maid’s child, thy choice and worthy the winning.

      In the urgent commands, “Have, get, before it cloy,” Hopkins seems to be reversing the familiar convention of the carpe diem, “gather ye rosebuds: directing it towards the preservation rather than the loss of innocence.

21. Robert Bridges: Obscurity

      As regards Oddity then, it is plain that the poet was himself fully alive to it, but he was not understand why his friends found his sentences so difficult: he would never have believed that, among all the ellipses and liberties of his grammar, the one chief cause is his habitual omission of the relative pronoun....

      But it was not careless in Gerard Hopkins: he had full skill and practice and scholarship in conventional forms, and it is easy to see that he banished these purely constructional syllables from his verse because they took up room which he thought he could not afford them: he needed in his scheme all space for his poetical words, and he wished those to crowd out every merely grammatical colorless or toneless element; and so when he had gone into the habit of doing without these relative pronouns—though he must, I suppose, have supplied them in his thought—he abuses the license beyond precedent as when he writes “O Hero savest!” for “O Hero that savest.”

22. Bernard Bergonzi: The Loss of the Eurydice

      Hopkins’s poem is much simpler in fact and appearance than “The Wreck of the Deutschland. But it is certainly not a straightforward commemoration of the tragedy; as the poem develops, Hopkins uses the loss of the ship as a figure for the loss of England to the true faith at the Reformation. Finally, too, it is intricate and experimental; if in a less startling way than the earlier poem. Hopkins wrote it at a time when he was still much influenced by the devices of Welsh cynghanedd, and this led to some very eccentric rhymes. There is, in fact, an intermittent effect of over-ingenuity and even frigidity, though this is offset by the power and beauty of parts of the poem.

23. I. A. Richards: The Windhover

      The dedication (to ‘Christ our Lord’) at first sight is puzzling. Hopkins said of this poem that it was the best thing ever written, 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!” has reference to Christ.

      Some further suggestions towards elucidation may save the reader trouble .... 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 manage, ringing a horse causing it to circle round one on a long rein. My heart in hiding - as with other good poes 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.

24. Robert Bridges: Oddity and Obscurity

      .....there are definite faults of style which a reader must have courage to face, and must in some measure condone before he can discover the great beauties .... They may be called Oddity and Obscurity; and since the first may provoke laughter when a writer is serious (and this writer is always serious, while the latter must prevent him from being understood (and this poet has always something to say), it may be assumed that they were not a part of his intention. Something of what he thought on this subject may be seen in the following extracts from his letters. In February 1879, he wrote:

“All therefore that I think of doing is to keep my verses together in one place - at present I have not even correct copies—that, if anyone should like, they might be published after death. And that again is unlikely as well as remote.....No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness. I hope in time to have a more balanced and Miltonic style. But as air, melody, is what strikes me most of all in music and design in painting, so design, pattern or inscape to be distinctive and it is the vice of distinctiveness to become queer. This vice I cannot have escaped.”

And again two months a later:

“Moreover the oddness may make them repulsive at first and yet Lang might have liked them on a second reading. Indeed when, on somebody 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.”

25. Geoffrey Grigson: God’s Grandeur

      Nature and glory in nature must be grasped by reaching to nature’s qualities and selfhoods. The God of Gerard Hopkins is not inside nature - ‘he is under the world’s splendor and wonder’—but one thing he does: through the nature he has made he passes the voltage of the current of his love, his grandeur. That current, in the words of one of the comments of Hopkins on the Ignatian Exercises, is ‘the Holy Ghost sent to us through creatures.’ So one penetrates to the full meaning of his sonnet on ‘God’s Grandeur’.... And so his parallel statement that all things ‘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.’ This current runs through Hopkins as creature, through the stooks barbarous in beauty, through skies, clouds, star; and he hoped, if he was a true poet, that the great voltage of love and grandeur would run through the best of his poems in their hammer-roared equivalence of words, object, and purpose, in their close structure, in the roll, the rise, the carol, the creation of ‘The Starlight Night’ for example.

26. J. Hillis Miller: Pied Beauty

      Piedness, like beauty and like rhyme, is a relation between things which are similar without being identical. This relation organizes ‘Pied Beauty’ at every level. Each individual thing, the poem says, is pied or dappled. Though it is all one thing, it is different from one place to another. A dappled or brined cow is all the same cow, but in one place it is one color, in another. This difference may exist in time or in space. A thing may be pied by having rose-moles, or by changing from swift to slow, from adazzle to dim.

      Hopkins does not speak of individuals in ‘Pied Beauty’. Each thing is given in the plural: skies, trout, chest-falls, finches’ wings, fields, and trades. Only in the line: “All things counter, original, spare strange” does Hopkins make explicit the notion that there is a ‘pied’ relation among members of the same species. No two brinded cows are exactly alike, though they are all cows. So the rhyme like relation of pied beauty holds between all cows, skies, trout, and so on. But only groups of dappled things have visibly the relation of likeness indifference which makes them echo and chime, and therefore the poet says: “Glory be to God for dappled things.”

27. Elizabeth Jennings: The Wreck of the Deutschland

     In Hopkins’s poem, ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland; there is a remarkable example of this kind of power carried to the point where prayer and poetry meet. The poem’s subject is only a jumping-off ground for a complete vision of creation held in the hands of God. The poem is a celebration of the glory of human and divine life, of both the physical and the spiritual world. It is also pervaded with a humble and intelligent charity; all things are seen in the light of God.

      The first eleven stanzas of the poem are an astonishingly well-sustained expression of Hopkins’s knowledge and love of God; in the lines of the first stanza, there is an unmistakable description of a mystical experience.

      Hopkins’s world is a dynamic world; all is moving, vital, urgent. The poem goes on to give a portrait of the leader of the group of nuns, and this portrait presents Hopkins with an opportunity to examine the meaning of the life of prayer. God is shown not simply as ‘master of the tides’ and ‘of the year’s fall’ but also as ‘ground of being and granite of it’. Immanent and transcendent, ‘past all’, says Hopkins, we can ‘grasp God, throned behind Death’. The God of ‘the Wreck of the Deutschland’ is a being who can be refused, wrestled with or surrendered to. There is nothing passive about man’s approach to Him. He is terrible but also merciful and to be found, not simply through our sorrow for sin, but also through our insatiable desire for beauty.

28. Alison G. Sulloway: The Wreck of the Deutschland

      The Wreck of the Deutschland bears the marks both of its Biblical and its contemporary origins. From the newspaper reports of the Deutschland’s misadventure, Hopkins incorporated many factual details of the shipwreck, such as the weather conditions, the number of passengers on board, various nautical phenomens, and the time scheme, from the first hint of danger to the final swamping of the Deutschland in the wind-whipped seas. But Hookins’s purposes were clearly allegorical from the first stanza; and as the ode proceeds, his concatenation of reds, whites, and golds emerges as a carefully designed syr bolic color pageantry. The sun piefeing the drifting snowflakes and lighting up the grim events of the shipwreck with its ‘all-fire glances’ and ‘fiall-gold mercies ‘(Stanza 2..) is an emblem both of the admonitory wrath and the benevolence of God.

      The three emblematic colors most often described in the Apocalypse are red, white, and gold. Whenever an angel appears before St. John in his dream, to announce destruction at sea, the prophecy is accompanied by the fire-blood-water imagery of red and white. When gold is combined with the red and white, St. John is indicating the devolved element present in the destructive plan... This was the way Hopkins interpreted the Deutschlard’s ordeal, as an opportunity for the confessed souls on board to show their spiritual mettle and to reap thereby eternal glory and eternal bliss. The comprehensive Christ of The Wreck of the Deutschland is the Christ of Revelation, a didactic Ayenger of sin, the Son of man, the slain Lamb, and the Bridegroom of the new Jerusalem, awaiting the Church and her zealous penitents as His bride.

29. Norman H. Mackenzie: The Windhover

      The octave presents the windhover as the favorite bird of the daylight, Perhaps in contrast with the nightingale, which successions of poets had panegyrized as ‘sweet queen of night’ and in similar misleading terms. But this piece is not an ‘Ode to a Windhover’; it is a poem to Christ. The windhover in his mastery of the element of air (1.8) seems a representative of Christ, whose, mastery of the tides and the storms and of men themselves Hopkins had celebrated in ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ (e.g. Stanzas 1,10,19,32).

      The poem’s opening lines crowd in suggestions about the bird’s appearance, the circumstance under which Hopkins caught him, and the metaphorical role, he will play in the sonnet. Dr. Geoffrey Hartman remarks on Hopkins’s unusual word-consciousness here: ‘the poem’s very continuity seems to derive from an on the wing multiplication of the sound of one word in the next, like a series of accelerating explanation morning to morning's minion and the intricate contrasting and echoing assonances and consonant chimes which follow. The idea of an affectionate bond with the royal sun but subordination to him is deducible from the rich word which follows, dapple-dawn-drawn. The down leads to sunrise and is out none by it, as the falcon here leads to Christ, Who is a billion times lovelier.

30. Patricia A. Wolfe: I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark

      I Wake and feel the Fill of Dark: describes one episode in God’s relentless quest for human self-sacrifice. The poet awakens to the surrounding darkness, a darkness which is ‘primitive, care, and thick’ as it covers his sensitized soul. He recalls the hours of suffering which he had endured before his brief period of rest and understands that he must yet sustain more ‘in .... longer light’s delay. ‘With witness’, i.e. having experienced this moment, he can describe this ordeal, but is not simply the ordeal of a few hours; it is the ordeal of a lifetime. The poet realizes that his protests to God are at this point like ‘dead letters sent/To dearest him who lives alas! away. He must wait until the fulfillment of his sacrifice to achieve happiness with God, and even then it will be an entirely different kind from that which he expected as a self-concerned being.

31. Bernard Bergonzi: Duns Scotus’s Oxford

      Scotus was a Franciscan philosopher of the early fourteenth century, born in Scotland or northern England, who originated a minority tradition in Scholastic thought, different from the dominant one of Acquinas. Scotus was known as the ‘Subtle Doctor’ and his ideas are not easy to unravel, even for those trained in Scholastic philosophy.... What is important is the appeal of certain ideas of Scotus for Hopkins, primarily, it seems, because they gave a venerable philosophical authentication to some of his own insights. Scotus made much of the distinction between general nature and the particular, unique individuality of a person or thing. The uniqueness he expressed in the word haecceities, or ‘thisness’ which seemed to Hopkins to correspond to ‘his own word ‘inscape’. Again, there was Scotus’s emphasis on the Incarnation of Christ as lying at the heart of creation, and his devotion to the Blessed Virgin. Hopkins took from Scotus what he needed, and henceforth had a particular affection for the Franciscan which he later expressed in his sonnet ‘Duns Scotus’s Oxford’: “who of all men most sways my spirits to peace.” Hopkins’s predilection for Scotism rather than the dominant Thomist Scholastic tradition deepened his reputation for eccentricity and may even have attracted suspicions of doctrinal heterodoxy.

32. Alison G. Sulloway: Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord

      So unstrung is Hopkins by his sufferings that he forgets the dangers of ‘Brute beauty’, and once again turns his face toward nature, now no longer ‘framed in fault’. By one of those paradoxical inversions that Hopkins often used when he was most committed to the poem in the making. Hopkins now sees Christ, the erestwhile friend, almost as a present enemy, while he now looks upon the fresh, teeming world before him as a vision of innocent joy from which he is shut out. The Ruskinsian passages that follow the abrupt caesura in the ninth line are intensely moving because they are so unexpected. Hopkins has been delivering nothing but condemnation of nature for some while, and one suspects Sonnet 74 (‘Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord’) to be one of the poems that came to him, as he said of others, ‘like inspiration unbidden and against my will’. Although he had deserted nature and condemned her, she is still there before him, lovely and offering comfort as always; but now her presence does not heal him, for her own gracious fertility seems to mock his desolation.

33. Alison G. Sulloway: As Kingfishers Catch Fire

      In the sonnet on mortal beauty, Hopkins progressed through the same pattern of reconciliation. Specific mortal beauty is first described as full of energy: it sets the blood to dancing, it flings out proud forms, it is the originator of the arts: it even appears to be benevolent, for ‘See: it does this: keeps warm/Mens wits to the things that are’ and ‘what good means, yet it is ‘dangerous. The specific ‘feature’ of a Purcell tune pays homage to specific creation in the arts, while the handsome Anglo-Saxon slaves, ‘Those lovely lads once, wet-fresh windfalls of war’s storm’ are types of human beauty whose unwitting glory it was to play a part in the conversion of England to Christianity.

      In the octave, we have seen the dance of nature and the dance of art, all beautiful, all containing good, but not right. By a familiar set of values, the sestet moves from a world of generically and specifically created things, to man, that needs would worship block or barren stone, to ‘World’s loveliest-men’s selves’, to the principle of beauty itself, admittedly ‘heaven’s sweet gift’, and finally, to man’s only safe resting place, ‘God’s better beauty, grace’.

34. Yvor Winters: The Starlight Night

      The Starlight Night devotes the octet to ecstatic description of a natural scene. In the first line of the sestet, we have the interjection:

Buy then ! Bid them ! What ?—prayer, patience, alms, vows.

      Then we have two more lines of description, and in the last three lines a statement to the effect that the universe described is the home of “Christ and his mother and all his hallows.” It is a curious poem. The description is sometimes extremely brilliant and interesting everywhere save in the sestet. Yet the real theme of the poem is to be found in the first line of the sestet, and nothing is done with it. A devotional poet of the Renaissance, dealing with “prayer, patience, alms vows”, would have had a good deal to say of each and of what each meant in terms of daily life and toward salvation. In no other literary period, I think, save our own, would a poet who was both a priest and a genuinely devout man have thought that he had dealt seriously with his love for Christ and his duty toward him by writing an excited description of a landscape: this kind of a think belongs to the nineteenth and twentieth centuries, to the period of self-expression and the abnegation of reason. The impressiveness of the landscape described in this poem provides a more nearly adequate motivation for the feeling asserted than one can find in many other poems similarly constructed. Hopkins’s method in general is to employ the landscape as the immediate motive for fueling which is too great for if and then to append the perfunctory moral as a kind of theoretic justification.

35. Margaret Bottrall: The Critic's Poet

      The most intractable difficulty in the poetry of Hopkins is not so much a matter of language as of unfamiliar ideas, presented with an intense concentration of feeling and intellectual passion. Hopkins admitted to Bridges that sometimes he was endeavoring “to express a subtle and recondite thought on a subtle and recondite subject in a subtle and recondite way, and with great felicity and perfection”; and expressed his realization that “something must be sacrificed, with so trying a task, in the process”; that something being immediate intelligibility. The intricacy of his poetry remains a challenge to interpreters. He could be called the critic’s poet, was it not the impassioned beauty of his language can affect us powerfully even before we can construe its full meaning.

36. Bernard Bergonzi: Spring

      If the confessional sonnets represent a new maturity of the plain style, “Spelt From Sybil’s Leaves,” is a fresh and astonishing triumph of the baroque. This, the “longest sonnet ever written,” containing fourteen very long lines, each with eight stresses, shares a mood of bleakness and bear-despair with the “shorter” sonnets. It was clearly written out of a preoccupation with death and judgment; in the sestet, Hopkins evokes his familiar “piedness,” but now as the occasion of a stark “either/or,” not a “both/and”: “black, white; right, wrong”—man must choose between salvation or damnation. Yet the total effect of the poem is somehow other; to quote professor Schooners again:

“The statement of the poem, then, is about choice, but its spirit is not of choice but of doom.”

      In this poem, Hopkins abandons his familiar two-part structure and, in imaginative terms, unfolds a single mood of doom, finality, death. Yet whatever its origins in actual and painful experience, this poem seems to me a product of the “Mallarmean”. Hopkins; as we read it, the world seems to melt into language. Semantically, the word are not empty, nor there just for musical effect; but in their interactions, their meanings fade and they exist as a strange unearthly music. The lines become pure poverty in a symbolist sense, or pure “textuality” in a Structuralist one.

37. Bernard Bergonzi: Spring

      Spring is perhaps the most evidently beautiful of the 1877 sonnets; this poem and “Pied Beauty” provide a good place to begin the reading of Hopkins for those who are daunted by the North Face of “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The octet celebrates spring in rhapsodic language and precise Pre-Raphaelite observation. The sestet turns from celebration to a prayer that is almost a vehement injunction; the syntax is complex but quite readable. The central idea is that of innocence, which rapidly moves innocence of Eden:

What is all this juice and all this joy?
A strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning
In Eden garden.

38. Norman H. Mackenzie: The Handsome Heart

      The image of the first quatrain is of a magnetic needle on a mount which allows it to swing and dip freely: no matter how it is twisted or pressed down, it swings back to its original direction and balance. The poet could scarcely have guessed how this metaphor harmonized with the imagery in the second quatrain: birds are now known to have a built-in sensitivity to magnetic forces, their skill in homing and migration depending partly upon their capacity to guide themselves instinctively as though by compass. When Hopkins was writing, carriers, line 5, i.e. carrier pigeons or doves, were thought to steer entirely by sight. The encyclopedias of his day recommend that they should be kept in darkness for six to eight hours prior to being released: hence the doff darkness of line 6. Once they are let out into the light, their instinct takes command. The Christian parallel is obvious: once we have ‘stripped off the works of darkness’ (Romans 13: 2) like soiled clothes, nature will be free to direct us. In line 8, Falls light marvelous special function, namely finding its way home (as in Stanza 3 of The Wreck of the Deutschland). No doubt there is some play on the two homophones in light.

39. Charles Williams: Felix Randal

      His poetic trick, his mannerisms, his explorations in the technique of verse, are not in the earlier poems and they are disappearing from the later. Had he lived, those tricks might have seemed to us no more than the incidental excitements of a developing genius. Since he did not live they will probably always occupy a disproportionate part of the attention given him. But that attention must increase is already certain: poets will return to him as to a source not a channel of poetry; he is one who revivifies, not merely delights, equivalent genius. Much of his verse is described in that last line which in 'Felix Randal' brings in the outer world with such an overmastering noise of triumph over the spiritual meditation of the other lines; he himself at his poetry’s ‘grim forge, powerful amidst peers’, fettled for the great gray drayhorse of the world ‘his bright and battering sandal’. Some of his poems are precisely bright and battering sandals.

40. Norman H. Mackenzie: The Handsome Heart

      The poet’s problem is not which gift to buy him with money but what gift he does not already possess to buy him with prayer. He is already mannerly iri heart, an adjective which means doing the right thing, morally and/or not, his heart certainly was, and (though the syntax leaves room for guessing) he seems to have had a fine bearing, a grace of movement, a soaring poetic spirit. To these natural graces had been added divine grace: together they were responsible for the ‘Gracious Answer’ of the title. What more could the priest ask on his behalf? The answer rushes out suddenly-the gift of perseverance, to keep on to the end in the same track along which he is pacing, but with the added strength to break into a run, exerting himself more strenuously than before. In October Hopkins was able to tell Bridges the first results of his prayerful interest: ‘The little hero of the Handsome Heart has gone to school at Boulogne to be bred for priest and he is bent on being a Jesuit,’

41. Norman H. Mackenzie: Silver Jubilee

      The poet regrets the lack of popular and State cognition of the Catholic bishop’s jubilee. The allusion in ‘high-hung bells’ is to the great cathedrals, no longer Catholic. In pre-Reformation times the mere arrival of a bishop, abbot or emperor at a place under his jurisdiction was heralded by the ringing of cathedral and church bells, but such audible Catholic celebrations aroused resentment in Victorian England. In 1870, for instance, when the large Jesuit Church of St. Francis Xavier, Liverpool, began using its newly acquired bells merely to announce the Sunday evening service the minister of a neighboring Presbyterian church threatened legal action. But Hopkins declares that Nature herself seems to be welcoming the anniversary and offering to senses other than the ear a fine substitute for pealing bells and deafening military bugles. ‘Nature’s round’ (Stanza 1) serves as a reminder of New man’s famous sermon of 1852 in which he had described the return of the hierarchy as a ‘Second Spring.’

42. Norman H. Mackenzie: Peace

      Hopkins, imagining himself a tree, finds no such satisfaction. He produces no fruit, and the birds distrust him. Round and round, afraid to return to her nest, circles a wild wood dove. Though the turtle dove is a symbol of peace, the wary wood-pigeon or-dove is startled from its hiding place by the least hint of disturbance. During no stage in his life did Hopkins lose the tension which led him to strenuous exertion, though at the cost of serenity and health. As an earnest Anglican, in a poem he first called ‘Rest’, he had fancied that a nun taking the veil was entering a haven of peace (No. 9, ‘Heaven-Haven: A nun takes the veil’). After he entered strict religious order himself he discovered that he was still within reach of storms. It is true that when he decided to become a Jesuit, he could report that he had ‘enjoyed the first complete peace of mind I have ever had.’ But he found the life of a religious, like any other, ‘liable to many mortifications’ During his years of training he, fortunately, discovered Duns Scotus, whom only a few months before this poem he had described as the one ‘who of all men most sways my spirits to peace.’

43. Bernard Bergonzi: Spring

      Barbara Hardy, in a sensitive discussion of Hopkins’s sonnet, regrets what she call’s the reduction to allegory, dogma or message at the end of “Spring”. I would prefer to say that Hopkins drew a conclusion which he regarded as implicit in what went before. The observation and celebration of the octet might have been sufficient for a journal entry by not for a poem; even the almost wholly celebratory “Pied Beauty” ends with a firm theological injunction:

      “Praise Him.” Hopkins does at least cleanly separate description from conclusion: he does not moralize his observation, like Words worth, or eroticize it, like Rossetti.

44. Bernard Bergonzi: The Windhover

      Professor Schneider gives very convincing reasons for reading Buckle, as ‘collapse’ or ‘give way under pressure.’ In her reading the sense of the sestet is that all the natural qualities associated with Falcon (Brute beauty and velour and act....), splendid and praiseworthy though they are, must give way (’buckle’) in the face of the far lovelier fire that breaks from “my chevalier”, Christ our Lord, who is directly addressed in line 11. Professor Schneider also persuades me to read ‘plough’ as ‘plough-land’, the sense in which it is used in ‘pied Beauty’, which clears up the other troublesome crux of the poem. One then reads the words, “sheer plod makes plough down sillion. Shine,” as referring to in which the earth gleams when broken open in the act of ploughing, a phenomenon noticed in Hopkins’s journal. In short, humble actions can produce a sudden unexpected beauty, just as dull embers can break open to reveal ‘gold-vermilion’ fire. Such lowly achievements are characteristics of human endeavor in contrast to the spectacular freedom of the brute creation exemplified by the bird.

45. Geoffrey H. Hariman: Hopkins Language

      I. A. Richards, William Empson, and F. R. Leavis championed Hopkins as the classic example of the modern poet, they agreed that his strength was bound up with the immediacy of his relation to words. Yeats challenged their estimate: he suggested that Hopkins was to be counted among the decadents rather than the innovators, that in curious way his strong new style was the sweet old style brought to a terminal contortion. This is not unlike the feeling of Bridges, who published the poems of Hopkins in 1918 with strictures on their “luxurious experiments”.

      Yeats’ minority opinion has been refined by Giorgio Melchiori, but it has not been cast out. After almost fifty years of close reading and superb editing, Hopkins's verse remains something of a scandal. For we continue to be uncertain as to whether Hopkins, like Spencer “writ no language,” or whether he coins a radically new idiom. The basic questions about his greatness, direction and even plain sense are not yet answered. Almost every one of his poems has cruxes (like ‘Buckle’ in The windhover that defeat exegetical activity. There is a strange absence, among so many books and articles, of any that can be called definitive-definitive on some aspects of interpretation.

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