Nature Elements in G. M. Hopkins Romantic Poetry

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Introduction

      Hopkins almost actually sees God and Christ in all Nature. Thus we can read Hopkins’s Nature poetry on two different levels: (1) We can read it for its delight in natural phenomena so exactly caught in language structures of superb energy. (2) And we can read it for its religious appeal, as the poetry of a man created to praise, reverence, adore, and serve God. Another distinguishing feature of Hopkins’s Nature poetry is his “inscaping” or individuating the objects of Nature as in the case of the falcon, for instance. The falcon is described by the use of such phrases as “morning’s minion”, “Kingdom of daylights dauphin” and so on. In conveying his inscapes of natural objects Hopkins employs much subtlety and complexity. Shelly too had individualized the objects and forces of Nature, but Hopkins went much further in that direction in an effort to seize the very essence of things. Almost all the poems of Hopkins are characterized by a unity which includes the artist who is concerned with the sensuous beauty of Nature and the ardent believer in Catholic Christianity. These poems reveal the presence of a God of infinite goodness and beauty in Nature and they are full of excited view at the meaning and reality given to nature by this religious concept. And it is this that chiefly distinguishes Hopkins’ treatment of Nature from that of the Romantics.

      Hopkins’s nature poetry reminds us of the great Romantics of the early 19th century, though with a marked difference. His sensuous love of Nature, reminiscent of Keats, is seen in his early poem, A vision of the Mermaids. There is in this poem a vivid picture of the sunset and rich colored pictures of flowers, waters and other natural objects. All his life Hopkins remained a fond observer of nature—plants, trees, clouds, birds, waters, hills, etc.—and his journals are full of vivid accounts of landscape, seascape, and skyscape. Hopkins equals Ruskin himself in his word-painter’s eye for significant detail and overall pattern. In these descriptions of skies, cloud-formations, waves breaking, flowers opening and fading, and other phenomenal, he was mainly fascinated by those aspects of a thing, or a group of things, which constitute its individual and “especial” unity of being, its “individually-distinctive beauty”, or the very essence of its nature. Hopkins coined the word “inscape” for this unified pattern of essential attributes he coined the word “inscape”; and to that energy
or stress of being which holds the “inscape” together he gave the name “instress”. These two coinages were primarily intended by Hopkins to describe his awareness of a divine pattern and power at work in Nature. We see his inscaping of natural objects and forces in The Wreck of the Deutschland as well as in many of his sonnets. Hopkins opened himself to Nature with a joyous confidence. “There lives the dearest freshness deep down things,” he observes gleefully in God’s Grandeur. “Look at the stars! Book, look up at the skies!” he says delightedly in The Starlight Night. “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring” being another sonnet. In Heraclitean Fire we have such splendid pictures as that of the clouds which are “heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs”. In short praising, hurrahing, glorying, and exclamation—these explain Hopkins’s attitude to Nature. Hopkins’s passion for Nature and his mastery over the resources of language enabled him to give us vivid and striking pictures of Nature. A snowstorm with its force and ferocity and its impact upon a ship has been effectively described in The Wreck of the Deutschland. The following lines of this poem are remarkable:

Wiry and White-fiery and whirlwind swivelled snow
Spins....
The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock
What could he do
With the hurl of the fountains of air, buck and the food of the wave? And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;
The rash smart sloggering brine
Blinds her.

The Windhover

      The flight of the “dapple-dawn-drawn falcon” in The Windhover, the catalog of dappled things in Pied Beauty, the pictures of the waves and bird song in The Sea and the Skylark the “silk sack clouds” and “the azurous hung hills” in Hurrahing in Harvest are all memorable. Hopkins goes to the length of doing violence to the language in order to seize what he called the “inscape” of each individual object of Nature which he tries to depict before us. Hopkins is fascinated by Nature not only because of its sensuous appeal, its grandeur, its many splendors and wonders, its superb beauty, its infinite variety, its tremendous power and force, but also because it mirrors God and reveals Him to us in all its manifestations. Nor is it correct to say that Hopkins forces his theological ideas upon his pictures of Nature, or tags a moral to a nature poem as a matter of priestly duty, or thrusts Christ on to a scene of Nature to satisfy his Jesuit's conscience. It would be a complete misreading of the man’s character and of his poetry to adopt that line of argument. Hopkins’s vision of God is integral to his vision of Nature. He simply cannot help seeing God or Christ in Nature. No sooner does he set his eyes upon a scene of Nature than he finds himself face to face with God, benign or wrathful.

Deutschland

      In the Deutschland God's presence is explicitly and clearly described where Iiopkins kisses his hands to the stars and starlight and to the dapped-with-damson west, seeing God “under the world’s splendor and wonder” and saying that God's mystery must be “unstressed stressed”, that is, perceived and proclaimed. Hopkins writes at the end of this stanza: ‘For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.” God’s all-pervasive presence is also implied in the stanza where the poet calls God ‘master of the tides, of the Yoreflood. of the year’s fall”, etc. Also, Hopkins sees Christ in the snowstorm through the nun's eyes: “There then! the Master the only one, Christ”. The snowstorm shows, of course, the wrathful aspect of God, this aspect being also benevolent at bottom. In short, this poem shows a rich interpenetration of changing natural phenomena and permanent spiritual realities. The physical Nature which the poet evokes is harmonious and radiant, and the organizing principle behind it is glorious and beneficent: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God.” Christ’s living presence is here declared by Nature in an expansive, unproblematic way. In these sonnets, Hopkins employs no complex reasoning to move from the physical dimension to the spiritual, which he employed in The Wreck of the Deutschland. The moral and spiritual perfection of Christ is represented by the physically perfect creatures and scenes of Nature, and only a recognition of this fact is needed on the part of the beholder. Hopkins describes the azurous hills in Hurrahing in Harvest as the majestic and world-wielding shoulder of Christ. The poet then goes on to say:

These lines, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bod....
In this poem we find an exquisite fusion of Hopkins’ view of Nature and his vision of Christ whom he sees around him:
I walk, I lilt up, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heaves to glean our Saviour.

The Windhover

      In the poem The Windhover the same idea is to be found. Here the falcon serves as a direct symbol of Christ. The perfect self-control and the poised daring of the falcon bring home to the poet the spiritual riches of Christ. Here again, Hopkins does not begin with the thought of Christ and then fit his thought to the pattern of the falcon’s flight. On the other hand, his conclusion results directly from his enraptured observation of the falcon and his precise description of it. The very words are here infused with the rhythmic energy and poise of the bird.

      In the last three lines of the sonnet Hopkins suggests that even the humblest objects, events, and actions can give off the radiance of the obviously beautiful falcon. In this way the step of the poem is widened, and in these last three lines Christ’s humility and suffering, rather than his princely glory, have been indicted. Hopkins’s terms “inscape” and “instress” were meant of express conceptually this sense of the spiritual infusing the physical, of perfect natural form signifying deeper harmony. Hopkins’s natural asceticism and the teaching of St. Ignatius coincided in this belief that the praise of natural beauty was necessary and desirable so long as it constituted only a stage towards the comprehension of moral and spiritual beauty. Thus Nature in Hopkins’s poetry has a religious appeal, though he does not ignore the physical and sensuous aspects of nature also. The chief characteristic feature of his poetry is his ‘inscaping’ or individuating the objects of nature; for instance his treatment of natural objects in The Windhover and Pied Beauty.

      His sonnets and other poems reveal the presence of God in nature, and this imparts a sense of reality to his religious concept. Wordsworth and Shelley are mystics; they perceive a divine presence in the objects of nature. Hopkins is not mystic in that sense; he actually sees God and Christ in all nature.

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