The Imagery Used by Hopkins in His Poems

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      Hopkins, one of the major poets of his age, was a great technical inventor. His genius is proved by the strength and subtlety of his imagery of which Victorian critics were not familiar with. Hopkins delighted in the observation and grasping of nature. With the greatest delicacy, strength and intelligence he possessed his environment making it the intimate vehicle for the passionate praises of his belief. Hopkins is likely to prove, for our time and the future, the only influential poet of the Victorian age.

      Imagery is used, more narrowly, to signify only descriptions of visible objects and scenes, especially if the description is vivid and particularised. Most commonly imagery is used to signify figurative language, especially the vehicles of metaphors and similies.

What is Imagery

      The term ‘imagery’ is one of the most common in modern criticism. An image is “a picture made out of words”. Collective images are called imagery which is used to signify all the objects and qualities of sense perception referred to in a poem or other work of literature, whether by literal description, by allusion, or in the analogs (vehicles) used in its similes and metaphors. In ‘Wordsworth’s “She Dwelt Among the Untrodden Ways,” the imagery in this broad sense includes the literal objects the poem refers to (“ways”, “maid”, “grave”), as well as the ‘violet’ and ‘stone’ of the metaphor and the ‘star’ and ‘sky’ of the simile in the second stanza. The term ‘image’ should not be taken to imply a visual reproduction of the object referred to. Imagery includes auditory, tactile, Olfactory (smell), gustatory (taste), or Kinesthetic (sensations of movement) as well as visual qualities.

Complex Imagery of Hopkins

      The imagery of Hopkins is complex, intertwined, paradoxical and unconventional. Examples of complex imagery can be found in The Sea and the Skylark. For instance, as the skylark climbs, the poet imagines that its musical score of song like the skeins of a ribbon creased through having been wrapped tightly round a flat border is unlapped from its reel or winch and falls to the ground, zigzagging downwards. We might compare this description with the print-out emerging from a computer. Hopkins imagines crisp folds or curls of song, as they fall into its nest, being there rewound on yet another wild flat-spindled winch until all of it future song flight’. What a complex imagery!

      Similarly intertwined images are scattered everywhere in Hopkins’s poems. Hopkins like Shakespeare, while pursuing one metaphor excites several more into motion. In the Windhover the kestrel is primarily a knight on horseback, corresponding to Christ the Chavalier of line 11. But just as any good rider learns to move with his mount, leaning and disturbing his weight to ease its every leap so here the knight and his horse coalesce in lines 3 and 4 when he is described as ‘striding/High there’. He comes to an abrupt halt, like a steed ‘wrung’ to a stop by the rein this homonym of ‘rung’ seems to contribute to the intended meaning. Ringing ‘upon the rein of a wimpling wing’ is an allusion to the ripple effect of the briskly beating wing tips, like little waves sent down shaken straps of a rein. Similarly, examples can be quoted from The Wreck of the Deutschland, and The Loss of the Eurydice where images are intertwined: in fact, one image gives rise to another image.

      Hopkins uses images like broth, water, riles and riles of a ship, barrelled, steered, crew, liquid waste, wallowing, furls, fountain.

The Sea and the Skylark: Imagery

      Again in The Sea and the Skylark as the poet approaches the straggling town, on his right is the sea, which at high tide rushes towards the ramps of the protective sea-wall, rearing up like a lion—rampant and roaring. The sea noise is too old to end unchanging down the centuries. The powerful and impetuous quality of the sound from the skylark is emphasized by its being classed with the noise of the sea: both trench (furrow) his hearing. It is also rash-fresh and is said to ‘whirl and pour/And pelt’. He imagines the wash of the sea waves and the thin water-fall of singing poured from above as sweeping away the sordid turbid marsh of the present age.

      In Hopkins’s poetry, we also come across images drawn from the rivers and streams. In Penmaen Pool, the Penmaen Pool is presented as a drinking bowl lying between two old mountains (mountain Dyphwys to the north and volcanic ridge Cader Indris to the south), from which in turn drinks the health of the other, hobnobbing together. The reflections of the surrounding hills and landscape in the tranquil waters of the Penmaen Pool look like reversed or topsy-turvy images. But a slight shimmer on the surface adds brilliance to the reflections of fleecy clouds and the seven bright stars of Charles’.

      In Morning, Midday, and Evening Sacrifice water is ‘by a divine doom Channelled, i.e. drifting down a natural river-bed on its way to the sea. The water is certain to find its way home in the end.

Duns Scotus, Oxford: Imagery

      In Duns Scotus’ Oxford, the city of Oxford offers a Silhouette of towers and trees: man and nature in superb conjunction. On all four sides, Oxford included meadows belonging to the city or colleges, where flocks and herds grazed, where corn and hay were harvested, where cuckoo-echoing were pleasurable, and where church bells had sounded musical to him. In As kingfishers Catch Fire the ‘bow’ of the bell is the ‘sound-bow’, a thicked part of the rein which strikes against the loosely hanging tongue or clapper as the bell is swung into chime. The bow may, be said, literally, to ‘find longue’ as well as figuratively, finding her own true voice. Images of dragons can be found in The Wreck of the Deutschland, The Windhover etc. The image foam fleece in the ‘wreck’ is suggestive of the soft warmth the nuns and other pilgrims needed that wintry night, but here combined with cobbled to accentuate the difference between its appearance and feel; it looks like tufts of lamb’s wool but if fallen upon it strikes as hard and cold as the water-rounded cobbles of a road.

      As for imagery, Hopkins insisted on the exact truth. He could not tolerate false perspective in an image because this in his opinion could come only from a frigid fancy. He did not look upon imagery as something imposed upon the poetry. It follows therefore that imagery as mere ornament or as superfluous illustration was not at all acceptable to him. To him imagery was inseparable from the true poetic experience; every image in a poem was a vital part of the poem’ images are intertwined: in fact one image gives rise to another image.

Thou Art Indeed Just Lord: Imagery

      In his sonnet Thou art indeed just, Lord we have images juxtaposed. They convey frustrations in Hopkins’ spiritual, professional and literary life. The poet asks as to why the sinners prosper, and why does he face disappointment in life? Those who serve their own pleasures are successful where as the toiling may does not enjoy any such success.

God’s Grandeur: Imagery

      In God’s Grandeur, for instance, we have two similies intended to convey (1) the sudden revelation of God and (2) the gradual manifestation of God. The two similes are images—“Shining from shook foil” and “the ooze of the oil crushed”—which we feel are indispensable to express the thought. The repetition of “have trod, have trod, have trod”, serves to convey the weary routine of life, like Macbeth’s “Tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow”. The Onomatopoeic words “seared, bleared, meared” with their internal rhyming vividly express the effects of the toil and trade of human beings on Nature. The alliteration in the phrases containing the two similes and in the last line is also noteworthy:

      “World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings”. The use of the exclamatory “ah!” is another of Hopkins’s ways of “heightening the current language.”

      The imagery and the diction in Pied Beauty seem almost inseparable. A number of “dappled things” are mentioned in the octave in phrases characterized by a repetition of consonantal sounds: “Fresh-fire coal Chestnut-falls”; “fold, fallow and plough”. In the sestet the attributes of these things are indicated with single words: “fickle”, “freckled”, “swift”, “slow”, etc. And the conclusion is naturally drawn at the end. There is nothing contrived in the close of this sonnet:

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

      The transition of thought is not sudden in view of the way the poem opens: “Glory be to God”.

      In the poem Hurrahing in Harvest the movement of the clouds is described by means of a question the phrasing of which needs attention:

...has wilder wilful-wavier
Meal-drift molded ever and melted across skies?

      Clouds drift over the sky like white meal or flour, successively molding and melting, forming and dissolving. The image is indeed vivid and realistic provided the reader understands the meaning of “meal-drift”, a compound word in which the sense has been condensed and packed. Then we have such adjectives as “azurous hung” hills, “world-wielding” shoulders, and “very violet-sweet”. The usual alliteration is there of course “barbarous in beauty”; “wind-walk”; “Stallion stalwart”. The last line contains a bold image of the poet pushing off or thrusting away the earth from under his feet and leaping up to heaven: “O half hurls earth for him off under his feet”. The exclamatory “O’ serves its function of conveying the poet’s feeling of enthusiasm and elation.

The Windhover

      The poem The Windhover illustrates Hopkins’s daring use of language. He describes the bird as “Kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” and as “dapple-dawn drawn” using in the first case three words as a single adjective, and coining a compound adjective in the second case. Both these phrases could have been used only by Hopkins, and they would surely startle the reader who has not previously read The Wreck of Deutschland and become acquainted with “past all grasp God” and sodden-with-its sorrowing heart”. The alliterative repetition of the sound “d” in these phrases lends them a greater force. Furthermore, Hopkins speaks of the bird in terms of medieval chivalry and French royalty, and spells “Falcon” with a capital “F” as though to indicate a personal and even divine, significance developing the metaphor of Chivalry, he sees the bird as bestriding the air beneath him like a skillful horseman controlling his horse. Then come the comparisons with, an images of, a trainer “ringing on the rein” of a wild horse and a skater cutting a figure of eight on the ice. The words “hurl” and “gliding” the are next used to indicate respectively strong self-propulsion and full utilization of the wind’s force. The skill of the bird thus seems to “rebuff the big wind” as in a triumph of mind over matter. It is this which inwardly stirs the heart of the poet. The manner in which the falcon, its majesty, its skill, its triumphant flight, its feeling of ecstasy are imaged in this sonnet. It is the supreme illustration of Hopkins’s poetic theory with its characteristic emphasis on the inscape of Nature and the “instress” of things. And the poet’s own reaction to the bird’s flight is depicted with an equally striking success: “the achieve of, the mastery of the thing’’. The two images in the closing lines—the shining of the plough, and the inner fire in the blue break embers—are by themselves outstanding. There are no doubt, difficulties and ambiguities but that was an inevitable consequence of Hopkins's emphasis on truth and exactness. The ambiguities could even be deliberate as a means of widening the scope and significance of what is said. Nor is it necessary here to dwell upon the symbolic significance of the falcon who represents Christ.

Hopkins’s Exceptionality

      Hopkins is not a nature mystic at all, nor a religious mystic, either, but an analogist. By stress and instress, by intensity and precision of perception, by analogical analysis and meditation he achieves all his effects. Hopkins deals sensitively with the common-paces of Catholic dogma in the order of Faith, and he records a vigorous sensuous life in the order of nature. Since for the agonistic no precision is possible in these matters, and all distinctions are nugatory, he will continue to call both Blake and Hopkins “mystical”.

      Hopkins looks at external nature as a Scripture exactly as Philo Judaeus, St. Paul and the Church Fathers had done. Their views, which have never ceased to be current, though their prevalence has fluctuated, are summarily expressed by the conventional patristic divine, Jeremy Taylor: ‘Thus when (God) made the beauteous frame of heaven and earth he rejoiced in it, and glorified himself because it was the glasses in which he beheld his wisdom, and Almighty power....For if God is glorified in Sunne and Moon, in the rare fabric of the honeycombs, in the discipline of Bees, in the economy of Pismires, in the little houses of birds, in the curiosity of an eye, God being pleased to delight in those little images and reflexes of himself from those pretty mirrors, which like a crevice in a wall throw a narrow perspective transmit the species of a vast excellency: much rather shall God be pleased to behold himself in the glasses of our obedience.

      Hopkins habitually shifts his gaze from the order and perspectives of nature to the analogs but grandeur scenery of the moral and intellectual order. And he does this methodically:

...O the mind, has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed.
or the book of nature provides parallel passages with the supernatural revelations of Scripture:
...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.

      As the microcosm of man is a nobler, a more perfect mirror of God’s beauty  grandeur, so Christ, as Taylor goes on to say in the same place, “was the image of the Divinity.....designed from eternal ages to represent as in a double Mirror, not only the glories of God to himself, but also to all the world; and he glorified God by the instrument of obedience, in which God beheld his own dominion...” Hopkins freely employs these three traditional mirrors (physical, moral, divine) of God’s beauty and grandeur, using them sometimes simply, doubly or triply. Naturally, these combinations, admit of infinite variations since the particulars reflected in each “mirror” can be chosen from a great store.

“The Windhover” exploits all three mirrors of God’s grandeur.
I caught this morning mornings’
Minion kingdom 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 o the thing!
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
Buckle! And the fire breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.”

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