G. M. Hopkins as A Nature Poet

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      Hopkins's poems 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. His poems reveal the presence of a God of infinite goodness and beauty in Nature and they are full of excited joy at the meaning and reality given to Nature by this religious concept. And it is this that chiefly distinguishes Hopkins’s treatment of Nature from that of the romantics. Wordsworth and Shelley perceived a divine spirit in all objects of Nature; Hopkins almost actually sees God and Christ in all Nature. Thus Hopkins’s poems can be read 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 daylight’s dauphin” and so on. In conveying his inscapes of natural objects Hopkins employs much subtlety and complexity. Shelley 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.


      Hopkins’s passion for Nature and his mastery over the resources of language enabled him to give us vivid and striking pictures of Nature. Rarely has a snowstorm with its force and ferocity and its impact upon a ship been so effectively described as by Hopkins in The Wreck of the Deutschland. The following lines are indeed remarkable:

Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swiveled snow

      The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock what could he do with the purl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the natural things.

And the inboard seas run swirling and howling;
The rash smart sloggering brine
Blinds her.....

      When we read the poem we are in a dynamic world where everything is moving, vital and urgent.

      In the poem The Windhover we get striking pictures of Nature at peace. 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.

      For Hopkins nature is Christ and Christ nature. Nature becomes a benign or wrathful picture, because Hopkins sees both these aspects of nature as manifestations of God. He even considers the wrath of God as a kind of mercy, as in The wreck of the Deutschland. Through this relationship between God and Nature, Hopkins understood both Nature and man. In the poem, Deutschland God’s presence in Nature is explicitly and clearly described. He says in this poem that God’s mystery must be “instressed, 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 Yore-flood, of the year’s fall”, etc. Also, Hopkins sees God in the snowstorm through the nun’s eyes: “There then ! the Master, the only one, Christ”. The snowstorm shows the wrathful aspect of God this aspect being also benevolent at bottom. 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. In the poem Hurrahing in Harvest Hopkins describes the azurous hills as the majestic and world-wielding shoulder of Christ. Hopkins then goes on to say:

These things, these things were here and but the beholder
Wanting; which two when they once meet,
The heart rears wings bold....

      In this poem we find an exquisite fusion of Hopkins’s view of Nature and his vision of Christ whom he sees around him:

I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour.

      In the poem The Windhover 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. In the last three lines of his sonnet, Hopkins suggests that even the humblest objects, events and actions can give off the radiance of the obviously beautiful falcon. In these last three lines Christ’s humility and suffering, rather than his princely glory, have been indicated. 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. The poem Pied Beauty ends with the words “Praise him” just as he began it with the words, “Glory be to God for dappled things”.


      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. In his word-painter’s eye for significant detail and overall patterns, he equals Ruskin himself In these descriptions of skies, cloud-formations, waves breaking, flowers opening and fading, and other phenomena, Hopkins 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. For this unified pattern of essential attributes be coined the word “inscape”, and to that energy or stress of being which holds the “inscape” together he gave the name “instress”. Hopkins primarily intended to make this coinage to describe his awareness of a divine power and pattern 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 in which Nature is a dominant theme.

      As we read Hopkins’s poetry we find that his poetry is a sensibility of minute and objective observation of Nature. Nature is for him the outlet for his loving and sensuous awareness of the physical world around him. His love for Nature was not only deep but wide-ranging. If, like Wordsworth and Coleridge he was fascinated by the static and every-day aspects of Nature, he was also, like Shelly and Byron, greatly attracted by high winds, stones and other dynamic aspects of Nature. If like Keats, he exculted in the sensuous beauty of Nature, he also like Wordsworth’s, found a mystical significance in Nature. However he went beyond even Wordsworth in so far as he actually saw God and Christ in Nature, though he did not hold any views regarding the possible education of man by Nature.


      Hopkins himself makes some pertinent comments on his treatment of Nature: “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 him, 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 like him, they make him known, they tell of him, they give him glory, but they do not know they do, 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”.


      Thus Nature appears to the poet in the fullness of its presence; a nature, however, in motion from within and which changes, even transforms, itself to become fully what it is: “The achievement of, the mastery of the thing!” in the observers cry on seeing it revealed and consummate. The neuter “of the thing” relieves the figure of the bird of any assumption of familiarity. The bird becomes something strange, a new encounter takes place, its archetype or inscape as Hopkins terms it—the inner form, the sense of a thing mediated by sensation — radiates from it toward the Platonist (for that essentially is what Hopkins was).

      Everything in reality brought to its highest pitch. The light drenched atmosphere of dawn, the powerful flight, the vigor of the bird’s circling— Nature verges on ecstatic self-transcendence. The Greeks said that whatever fulfills itself becomes divine its theion appears. Hopkins goes further. The ecstasy here described differs from mythical versions in that nature does not remain self-contained but answers a higher power that strives to reveal itself through nature. The observer’s feeling also responds to it: “My heart in hiding stirred for a bird. The deeply excited beating of his heart is itself a kind of ecstasy, a being caught up in the process of revelation. Yet what revelation specifically is?”

      First of all that of the essential, self-manifested Idea of a thing, to which a Platonist would tend to be sensitive. But within this Hopkins senses a further Idea which cannot be interpreted from the world as we know it. It stirs him to presentiments yet remains confined till God’s word should release and name it: The dedication suggests that after the “inscape” or eidos has, in nature’s perfection-ecstasy, made itself manifest to the Platonist, then is the Christian made aware of the fonn through which the ground of all eide is proclaimed, namely Christ, the Logos, “through whom all was made that was made,” so through the beauty of “daylight’s dauphin” the glory of the Sun.


      The chief characteristic feature of Hopkins’s poetry is his ‘inscaping’ or individuating the objects of nature; for instance his treatment of natural objects in The Windhover and Pied Beauty. Though Hopkins’s poem show his love and enthusiasm for nature, yet he is different from the romantic poets. He is attracted by the sensuous beauty of nature, and at the same time, he has a staunch faith in Catholic religion. When Wordsworth and Shelly are mystics who perceive a divine presence in the objects of nature, Hopkins is not a mystic in that sense; he naturally sees God and Christ in all nature.

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