Skip to main content
Humanities LibreTexts

2.14: Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)

  • Page ID
    41787
  • Gerard Manley Hopkins, born to Manley and Catherine Smith in 1844, went to grammar school in Highgate then to Balliol College, Oxford. There, he won a poetry prize for “The Escorial,” a poem about a ruined palace built to St. Lawrence. His tutors at Oxford included Walter Pater and theologian Benjamin Jowett. Hopkins vacillated between his interest in aestheticism and religion, ultimately converting to Roman Catholicism through the influence of John Henry Newman. Like Wilde, Hopkins graduated with a double first in Classics. Before entering the Society of Jesus, Hopkins experimented with various styles of poetry, including the Romantics’ and D. G. Rossetti’s and Christina Rossetti’s.

    In 1862, when he entered training as a Jesuit, Hopkins burned his poems, considering poetry to be a distraction. As a priest, Hopkins held various posts in industrial cities. He taught at a seminary, eventually becoming a professor of Greek at a Catholic university in Dublin. He was uncertain whether or not this work was the right form of service to God, and he endured a tension between his religious and artistic desires.

    clipboard_e74cc88a78d80b1e3a9825e7fda92121b.pngIn 1875 occurred the wreck of the Deutschland in which five Franciscan nuns died. It moved Hopkins to write “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” the first of his major poems. Reading the works of Duns Scotus (1265-1308) helped Hopkins to reconcile his faith and art, particularly as Hopkins developed his concept of “inscape.” As with landscape, inscape draws relationships and patterns, connecting individual objects with their groups by their significant patterns.

    Through his study of Welsh, Hopkins developed another characteristic concept of his poetry, “sprung rhythm.” This unique, syncopated rhythm uses reversals of feet and is monosyllabic; the rhythm goes not by line but by stanza. Through it, Hopkins thought he could approximate ordinary speech in his poetry.

    Up until 1884, Hopkins wrote a burst of poems, many of which used brilliant nature imagery. In the few years remaining before his death in 1889, Hopkins felt an alienation from God that he expressed in what are called the “terrible sonnets.” Few of Hopkins’s poems were published in the nineteenth century. His friend Robert Bridges published a heavily annotated edition of Hopkins’s poems in 1918.

     

    2.14.1: “The Wreck of the Deutschland”

    To the happy memory of five Franciscan Nuns, exiles by the Falk Laws, drowned between midnight and morning of Dec. 7th, 1875

     

    I

    Thou mastering me

    God! giver of breath and bread;

    World’s strand, sway of the sea;

    Lord of living and dead;

        Thou hast bound bones & veins in me, fastened me flesh,

        And after it almost unmade, what with dread,

          Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?

    Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

     

    I did say yes

    O at lightning and lashed rod;

    Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess

    Thy terror, O Christ, 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.

     

    The frown of his face

    Before me, the hurtle of hell

    Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?

    I whirled out wings that spell

        And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the Host.

        My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,

          Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,

    To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to the grace.

     

    I am soft sift

    In an hourglass—at the wall

    Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,

    And it crowds and it combs to the fall;

        I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,

        But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall

          Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein

    Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

     

    I kiss my hand

    To the stars, lovely-asunder

    Starlight, wafting him out of it; and

    Glow, glory in thunder;

        Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:

        Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,

          His mystery must be instressed, stressed;

    For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

     

    Not out of his bliss

    Springs the stress felt

    Nor first from heaven (and few know this)

    Swings the stroke dealt—

        Stroke and a stress that stars and storms deliver,

        That guilt is hushed by, hearts are flushed by and melt—

          But it rides time like riding a river

    (And here the faithful waver, the faithless fable and miss).

     

    It dates from day

    Of his going in Galilee;

    Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;

    Manger, maiden’s knee;

        The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;

        Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,

          Though felt before, though in high flood yet—

    What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay,

     

    Is out with it! Oh,

    We lash with the best or worst

    Word last! How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe

    Will, mouthed to flesh-burst,

        Gush!—flush the man, the being with it, sour or sweet,

        Brim, in a flash, full!—Hither then, last or first,

          To hero of Calvary, Christ,’s feet—

    Never ask if meaning it, wanting it, warned of it—men go.

     

    Be adored among men,

    God, three-numberéd form;

    Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,

    Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.

        Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,

        Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;

         Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:

    Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

     

    With an anvil-ding

    And with fire in him forge thy will

    Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring

    Through him, melt him but master him still:

        Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,

        Or as Austin, a lingering-out swéet skíll,

          Make mercy in all of us, out of us all

    Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

     

    II

    “Some find me a sword; some

    The flange and the rail; flame,

    Fang, or flood” goes Death on drum,

    And storms bugle his fame.

        But wé dréam we are rooted in earth—Dust!

        Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,

          Wave with the meadow, forget that there must

    The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

     

    On Saturday sailed from Bremen,

    American-outward-bound,

    Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,

    Two hundred souls in the round—

        O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing

        The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;

          Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing

    Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

     

    Into the snows she sweeps,

    Hurling the haven behind,

    The Deutschland, on Sunday; and so the sky keeps,

    For the infinite air is unkind,

        And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,

        Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;

          Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivellèd snow

    Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.

     

    She drove in the dark to leeward,

    She struck—not a reef or a rock

    But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her

    Dead to the Kentish Knock;

        And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:

        The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;

           And canvass and compass, the whorl and the wheel

    Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

     

    Hope had grown grey hairs,

    Hope had mourning on,

    Trenched with tears, carved with cares,

    Hope was twelve hours gone;

        And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day

        Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,

          And lives at last were washing away:

    To the shrouds they took,—they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.

     

    One stirred from the rigging to save

    The wild woman-kind below,

    With a rope’s end round the man, handy and brave—

    He was pitched to his death at a blow,

        For all his dreadnought breast and braids of thew:

        They could tell him for hours, dandled the to and fro

          Through the cobbled foam-fleece, what could he do

    With the burl of the fountains of air, buck and the flood of the wave?

     

    They fought with God’s cold—

    And they could not and fell to the deck

    (Crushed them) or water (and drowned them) or rolled

    With the sea-romp over the wreck.

        Night roared, with the heart-break hearing a heart-broke rabble,

        The woman’s wailing, the crying of child without check—

          Till a lioness arose breasting the babble,

    A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.

     

    Ah, touched in your bower of bone

    Are you! turned for an exquisite smart,

    Have you! make words break from me here all alone,

    Do you!—mother of being in me, heart.

        O unteachably after evil, but uttering truth,

        Why, tears! is it? tears; such a melting, a madrigal start!

          Never-eldering revel and river of youth,

    What can it be, this glee? the good you have there of your own?

     

    Sister, a sister calling

    A master, her master and mine!—

    And the inboard seas run swirling and hawling;

    The rash smart sloggering brine

        Blinds her; but she that weather sees one thing, one;

        Has one fetch in her: she rears herself to divine

          Ears, and the call of the tall nun

    To the men in the tops and the tackle rode over the storm’s brawling.

     

    She was first of a five and came

    Of a coifèd sisterhood.

    (O Deutschland, double a desperate name!

    O world wide of its good!

        But Gertrude, lily, and Luther, are two of a town,

        Christ’s lily and beast of the waste wood:

          From life’s dawn it is drawn down,

    Abel is Cain’s brother and breasts they have sucked the same.)

     

    Loathed for a love men knew in them,

    Banned by the land of their birth,

    Rhine refused them, Thames would ruin them;

    Surf, snow, river and earth

        Gnashed: but thou art above, thou Orion of light;

        Thy unchancelling poising palms were weighing the worth,

          Thou martyr-master: in thy sight

    Storm flakes were scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers—sweet heaven was astrew in them.

     

    Five! the finding and sake

    And cipher of suffering Christ.

    Mark, the mark is of man’s make

    And the word of it Sacrificed.

        But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,

        Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd and priced—

          Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token

    For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

     

    Joy fall to thee, father Francis,

    Drawn to the Life that died;

    With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his

    Lovescape crucified

        And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters

        And five-livèd and leavèd favour and pride,

          Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,

    To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

     

    Away in the loveable west,

    On a pastoral forehead of Wales,

    I was under a roof here, I was at rest,

    And they the prey of the gales;

        She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly

        Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails

          Was calling “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”:

    The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wildworst Best.

     

    The majesty! what did she mean?

    Breathe, arch and original Breath.

    Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?

    Breathe, body of lovely Death.

        They were else-minded then, altogether, the men

        Woke thee with a we are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth.

          Or ís it that she cried for the crown then,

    The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen?

     

    For how to the heart’s cheering

    The down-dugged ground-hugged grey

    Hovers off, the jay-blue heavens appearing

    Of pied and peeled May!

        Blue-beating and hoary-glow height; or night, still higher,

        With belled fire and the moth-soft Milky way,

          What by your measure is the heaven of desire,

    The treasure never eyesight got, nor was ever guessed what for the hearing?

     

    No, but it was not these.

    The jading and jar of the cart,

    Time’s tasking, it is fathers that asking for ease

    Of the sodden-with-its-sorrowing heart,

        Not danger, electrical horror; then further it finds

        The appealing of the Passion is tenderer in prayer apart:

          Other, I gather, in measure her mind’s

    Burden, in wind’s burly and beat of endragonèd seas.

     

    But how shall I . . . make me room there:

    Reach me a . . . Fancy, come faster—

    Strike you the sight of it? look at it loom there,

    Thing that she . . . there then! the Master,

        Ipse, the only one, Christ, King, Head:

        He was to cure the extremity where he had cast her;

          Do, deal, lord it with living and dead;

    Let him ride, her pride, in his triumph, despatch and have done with his doom there.

     

    Ah! there was a heart right

    There was single eye!

    Read the unshapeable shock night

    And knew the who and the why;

        Wording it how but by him that present and past,

        Heaven and earth are word of, worded by?—

          The Simon Peter of a soul! to the blast

    Tarpeian-fast, but a blown beacon of light.

     

    Jesu, heart’s light,

    Jesu, maid’s son,

    What was the feast followed the night

    Thou hadst glory of this nun?—

        Feast of the one woman without stain.

        For so conceivèd, so to conceive thee is done;

          But here was heart-throe, birth of a brain,

    Word, that heard and kept thee and uttered thee outright.

     

    Well, she has thee for the pain, for the

    Patience; but pity of the rest of them!

    Heart, go and bleed at a bitterer vein for the

    Comfortless unconfessed of them—

        No not uncomforted: lovely-felicitous Providence

        Finger of a tender of, O of a feathery delicacy, the breast of the

          Maiden could obey so, be a bell to, ring of it, and

    Startle the poor sheep back! is the shipwrack then a harvest, does tempest carry the grain for thee?

     

    I admire thee, master of the tides,

    Of the Yore-flood, of the year’s fall;

    The recurb and the recovery of the gulf’s sides,

    The girth of it and the wharf of it and the wall;

        Staunching, quenching ocean of a motionable mind;

        Ground of being, and granite of it: past all

          Grasp God, throned behind

    Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides;

     

    With a mercy that outrides

    The all of water, an ark

    For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides

    Lower than death and the dark;

        A vein for the visiting of the past-prayer, pent in prison,

        The-last-breath penitent spirits—the uttermost mark

          Our passion-plungèd giant risen,

    The Christ of the Father compassionate, fetched in the storm of his strides.

     

    Now burn, new born to the world,

    Doubled-naturèd name,

    The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled

    Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame,

        Mid-numbered he in three of the thunder-throne!

        Not a dooms-day dazzle in his coming nor dark as he came;

          Kind, but royally reclaiming his own;

    A released shower, let flash to the shire, not a lightning of fíre hard-hurled.

     

    Dame, at our door

    Drowned, and among our shoals,

    Remember us in the roads, the heaven-haven of the Reward:

    Our Kíng back, Oh, upon énglish sóuls!

        Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us, be a crimson-cresseted east,

        More brightening her, rare-dear Britain, as his reign rolls,

          Pride, rose, prince, hero of us, high-priest,

    Our hearts’ charity’s hearth’s fire, our thoughts’ chivalry’s throng’s Lord.

     

    2.14.2: “The Windhover”

    To Christ our Lord

    I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

    dom 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 ecstacy! 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 of the thing!

     

    Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

    Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

     

    No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

    Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.

     

    2.14.3: “Pied Beauty”

    Glory be to God for dappled things—

       For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

    For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim:

    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

       Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;

    And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

     

    All things counter, original, spare, strange;

       Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

    With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

          Praise him.

     

    2.14.4: “God’s Grandeur”

    The world is charged with the grandeur of God.

    It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;

    It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil

    Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?

    Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;

    And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;

    And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil

    Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

     

    And for all this, nature is never spent;

    There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;

    And though the last lights off the black West went

    Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—

    Because the Holy Ghost over the bent

    World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

     

    2.14.5: “No Worst, There is None”

    No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,

    More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.

    Comforter, where, where is your comforting?

    Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

    My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief

    Woe, world-sorrow; on an age-old anvil wince and sing—

    Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-

    ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief’.

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

    Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap

    May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small

    Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,

    Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all

    Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

     

    2.14.6: “Carrion Comfort”

    Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

    Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man

    In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;

    Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

    But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me

    Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan

    With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,

    O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

     

    Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.

    Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,

    Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.

    Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród

    Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year

    Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.

     

    2.14.7: Reading and Review Questions

    1. Because the majority of his poems were published in the twentieth century, Hopkins’s work sometimes is characterized as modern rather than Victorian. What Victorian features, if any, do Hopkins’s poems possess?
    2. How organic, if at all, are his images to their respective poems, and why?
    3. What is the effect, if any, of Hopkins’s unusual diction in his poems, including his use of archaic and compound words and dialect?
    4. How does his concept of inscape shape the meaning and effect of these poems?
    • Was this article helpful?