Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems
Poetry of Protest: An Exploration of Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins
It is not difficult to see the parallels in the lives and works of Christina Rossetti and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Both poets suffered bouts of depression, both were involved in the Tractarian movement – with Hopkins converting to Roman Catholicism and Rossetti remaining High Anglican – and both used their medium to fuse religiosity with personal struggles. Nevertheless, these similarities within a shared poetic genre, which is often considered to uphold “a uniform world-view or ideological focus”[i], make potential differences between the poets all the more distinct. While Rossetti favours protest through subtext and silence, Hopkins externalises his fiery emotions onto a poetic landscape. The extent to which both poets display protest in their works can be explored through how their poetry challenges gender norms of the era, the poetic form itself, and how this interacted with their religious convictions. While Rossetti was certainly ambivalence towards contemporary issues such as women’s rights, her religious vocabulary acts as a tool for agency, particularly in critiquing the dynamics of male female relations. Likewise, although Hopkins protests against established poetic rules in his experimentation with form and metre, his poetry conforms to rigid structures arguably for an almost curative effect. An initial way of assessing the extent to which Rossetti and Hopkins write poems of protest, is through exploring how their work responds to societal norms, in particular gender roles. While she claimed to not be one for “politics and philanthropy”[ii] and her views on issues such as female suffrage were conflicted, Rossetti’s poetry excels at is the critique of power dynamics in personal relationships between men and women, often through reference to religion. The narrator of “Twice”, for example, is shown to find agency from her unrequited lover through newfound faith. The poem demonstrates one of Rossetti’s common motifs of hearts acting as almost literalised metaphors, with second stanza beginning “you took my heart in your hand”. This display of vulnerability makes the line “as you set it down it broke” all the more vivid. The first few stanzas imply that the narrator’s sense of sense is intrinsically tied with how her potential lover views her, as she is dependent on his attention and continues to “smile” in spite of her emotional turmoil. This turmoil and anger is only hinted at (“Broke, but I did not wince”), and is ultimately left unexpressed within the poem – Rossetti restricts the reader mainly to visual metaphor. Rather, the narrator gains agency over the situation through appeal to God who is shown to take her heart and “refine with fire its gold”, giving her the willpower to “live”: the shift from romantic to spiritual reflected in a shift from past to present tense. Rossetti shows that through devotion it is possible to gain a sense of self separate from the male gaze. Nevertheless, the question remains as to whether the narrator of “Twice” has simply moved from one patriarchal male figure to another in the form of God, as the poem arguably ends on a tone of repression: “but shall not question much”. This was a concern that plagued a lot of early feminist critique of her works that stressed that her faith restricted her artistic potential; Virginia Woolf went as far to say that “if I were to bring a case against God, she would be one of the first witnesses I should call.”[iii] Yet the poem is indicative of two common messages within Rossetti’s poetry, firstly that defiance against controlling male figures can be achieved through devotion to God, and secondly that this defiance can be shown best in what is left unspoken or is hinted at. Silence as a form of protest may appear contradictory but pervades much of her poetry, including her non-devotional works. For example, in her seminal piece “Goblin Market” the character Lizzie survives the wrath of Goblin Men through her closed lips: “Lizzie utter’d not a word”. Within many of the poems themselves there is an unspoken subtext, as is evident in her famous work “Remember” with the line “you told me of our future that you planned”, hinting at an unequal power dynamic between men and women through the use of the second person pronoun “you” dominating the first person “our” suggesting the narrator’s future is constricted and defined by her male lover, ironic for a poem that is often read at funerals for its reflections on romantic love. To criticise Rossetti’s poetry for its silence and ambiguity is to misunderstand her philosophy, her critiques may be hidden within the language – or lack of it – of the poem itself. Indeed, the final line of Twice is qualified with the adverb “much”, suggesting the narrator has not completely committed herself to a life without questions. In contrast to Rossetti’s protestation through silence, Hopkins’s inner turmoil explodes onto the pages of his poetry, for example in his piece “Carrion Comfort”, “Despair” actually becomes a source of meagre sustenance as the title suggests. Here the narrator externalises his emotions onto the world around him helping him to deal with a crisis of faith. He laments “cry I can no more, I can; can something, hope, wish day to come, not choose not to be.” The repetition of the word “can” in different contexts, being used in a negative, positive and hypothetical way, suggests the fluctuating nature of language resembles his fluctuating emotions. Perhaps through the process of writing the poem itself, Hopkins is able to process his internal conflict through language and build some sort of resilience to it. Unlike Rossetti who is inclined to silence, Hopkins articulately and protests against his own thought processes. Akin to the healing of the narrator of Twice, this is achieved through relationship with God but unlike Rossetti’s poem this relationship is in a state of conflict, as the narrator claims “I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my god”. This conflict is also reflected in Hopkins’ use of sprung rhythm, contrasting with the typically rigid metric rules of the Petrarchan sonnet. The breaking of metric norms has been linked by some critics to Hopkins’s own biography including his conversion to Roman Catholicism – an act which in itself was a form of protest at a time when “Catholic ritual and devotions were treated as strange practices, but also bad art”[iv]. By putting himself in a marginalised position Hopkins’s writes from a minority viewpoint, constructing a poetic identity through his metric non-conventionality; arguably it is this rejection of poetic practices that saw the revival of interest in his poetry during the experimentation of early modernism. However perhaps it is paradoxical to call Hopkins’s poetry which is so often self-deprecating, a form of protest: in many ways, he conforms to strict religious orthodoxy and obedience through his asceticism. For example, even a poem that acts mainly as an appraisal of God such as “Thee God, I Come From” references are made to repentance such as “spare thou me” and “I sinned / I repent of what I did”. Some critics such as Julia F Saville argue that Hopkins’s asceticism is an outlet for his struggles with his sexuality, using his relationship with young poet Digby Mackworth Dolben as distinct evidence of his love for men. After a meeting with Digby, Hopkins’s diary follows: “No pudding on Sundays. No tea except if to keep me awake and then without sugar. Meat only once a day.”[v] This homoerotic subtext is displayed in the poem “I wake and feel” whereby the lamentation of letters meant for “dearest him” is merged alongside a perversion of the Eucharist imagery: “bitter would have me taste: my taste was me”. Taking this approach, the link between the self-flagellating aesthetic of Hopkins’s poetry and his homosexual desires cannot be overstated. Saville goes as far as to argue that sprung rhythm itself “is an effect of “Hopkins poetics of homoerotic asceticism.”[vi] In this context Hopkins’s defies the societal roles of an anti-Catholic, heteronormative society, forming a minority identity in his religion and queerness that is expressed in the language and rhythm of his poems, writing before a concept of gay identity had even been formed. Arguably the rejection of norms by Rossetti and Hopkins is reflected in the form of their poetry itself, in particular their use of the sonnet. This is seen most clearly by Rossetti in Monna Innominata which deals with the relationship between artist and muse through exploring the dynamic between Dante and Beatrice and Petrarch and Laura. The structure of the individual sonnets remains regular, strictly following Petrarchan form, however taken together as a “macro sonnet” the fourteen poems work as a parody of the tradition. The effect of this parody is what critic Anthony Harrison calls “liberating the muse”[vii]. This is shown through the provision of a voice to Beatrice and Laura, challenging the typical subject matter of sonnets written for centuries – mainly – by men. In the final stanza, the muse is laments that with her“youth and beauty gone” all that remains is
“A silent heart whose silence loves and longs; The silence of a heart which sang its songs”
Again, Rossetti uses the motif of silence to protest ideas of male female relations, here the treatment of the muse is challenged for its superficiality which results in a heart that “sang its songs”. Ironically, while much of her work thrives off of a musical aesthetic, perhaps the reason Rossetti uses silence so frequently is to protest against the limitations of the poetic form. This is seen in works such as “Echo”, where the narrator attempts to recreate her lover through poetic memory. These attempts prove to be futile resulting in only “the speaking silence of a dream”; the oxymoronic suggestion being that while poetic form can imitate it is unable to fully replicate. Likewise, in “Memory” the narrator claims life “centres” around “a blessed memory on a throne” – an imitation of reality which remains insufficient until the prospect of actual Paradise occurs. To Rossetti, Paradise is ultimately only achievable after a period of “Soul-sleep”, an Adventist doctrine that argued that upon death the soul enters a period of rest until The Last Judgement; arguably her poems are not solely of protest but represent what Jerome McGann calls a “strategic withdrawal”[viii] from the world. Indeed in a poem such as “From The Antique” seasons become repetitive and cyclical, “still the seasons come and go”, yet rather than obtaining agency the disengaged female narrator simply laments “I wish and I wish I were a man”. While her poetry does challenge societal norms, the pervading sense of melancholy and weariness within much of her work arguably centres on a view of the material world as superficial in the face of the afterlife. Despite her experiments with form, Rossetti was seen by many writers of the early 20th century as a poet who lacked intellectual rigour, with critic Stuart Curran arguing that she “falls back on pretty language, the bane of so many female poets.”[ix] In rejection of this simplistic assessment, arguably Rossetti exhibits experimentation not only with her language but with the limitations of the ‘poem’ itself. In contrast to her reception, Hopkin’s experimentation with sonnet form was considered revolutionary by many modernists, for example F.R. Leavis proclaimed he was “one of the most remarkable technical innovators who ever wrote”[x]. Perhaps most notable is his invention of the curtal sonnet which attempts to make the form even more succinct. This is evidenced in Pied Beauty, a poem that through its form attempts to muster the “glory” of God, through an almost pantheistic approach to the natural world, within a neat package of 11 lines. Nevertheless, for a poet that was hailed by some modernists as a “contemporary”[xi] born into the wrong era, arguably the choice of sonnet form has a restrictive effect on his poetry, indeed the curtal sonnet has been noticed for its interest in precise mathematical proportions[xii]. Arguably the use of such rigid forms allows Hopkins to construct meaning onto to a world plagued by his own depression, arguably using poetic form for its curative properties rather than an attempt to protest the nature of poetry itself. Even in his poems that do not adhere to sonnet form such as “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire” and of the Resurrection, the use of such specific rhythms and metric beats highlights a search for order within a firey world of “torn tufts” and “tossed pillows”. This is not to suggest that Hopkins’ was not an innovator, but rather that his work did not exist on a plane that was epochs ahead of Rossetti – both tested the boundaries of poetry albeit through alternative means. As critic Jill Muller argues, Hopkins was a “conservative revolutionary”[xiii] and arguably the same can be said for Rossetti. Hopkins and Rossetti use poetry as a way to fuse their alienation from societal expectations with their devout religiosity, in the former this results in a form of homoerotic asceticism while the latter critiques the power dynamics between men and women. In Rossetti’s works, language, and crucially the absence of language, is used as a way of experimenting with established forms such as the Petrarchan sonnet, advocating a form of protestation through silence. In contrast Hopkins experiments with the alteration of these forms themselves, to project structure onto a world plagued by his emotional turmoil. While Rossetti can be accused of withdrawing from the world due to her faith, Hopkins arguably creates his own solipsistic world. Nevertheless, both poets illustrate how religious poetry is not inherently static but rather provides a viable outlet for subverting both societal expectations and the poetic form itself. Endnotes [i] J. McGann “The Religious Poetry of Christina Rossetti” Critical Inquiry Vol. 10, Chicago Press, 1983, p126 [ii] J Marsh, Christina Rossetti: A Literary Biography. Jonathon Cape ltd. 1994, p432 [iii] V Woolf, The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume 5: 1929 – 1932, Mariner Books, 2010. p313 [iv] M. Moran, Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature. Liverpool University Press, 2007. P205 [v] R Martin, Gerald Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life. Faber and Faber 2011. p113 [vi] J. Saville A Queer Chivalry: The Homoerotic Asceticism of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Virginia Press. 2009 p5 [vii] A. Harrison Christina Rossetti in Context, North Carolina Press 1988, p101 [viii] J. McGann “The Religious Poetry of Christina Rossetti” Critical Inquiry Vol. 10, Chicago Press, 1983, p127 [ix] S. Curran, “The Lyric Voice of Christina Rossetti” Victorian Poetry Vol 9. 1971 [x] J. Muller, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Victorian Catholicism: A Heart in Hiding, Taylor & Francis 2003, p1 [xi] J. Muller, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Victorian Catholicism: A Heart in Hiding, Taylor & Francis 2003, p3 [xii] E. Schneider, “The Wreck of the Deutschland: A New Reading,” PMLA, Vol. 81, No. 1. (Mar., 1966), pp. 110-122. [xiii] J. Muller, Gerard Manley Hopkins and Victorian Catholicism: A Heart in Hiding, Taylor & Francis 2003, p4 Bibliography Curran S. (1971) “The Lyric Voice of Christina Rossetti” Victorian Poetry Vol 9. Harrison A. (1988) Christina Rossetti in Context, North Carolina Press p101 Marsh J. (1994) Christina Rossetti: A Literary Biography. Jonathon Cape ltd, p432 Martin R. (2011), Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life. Faber and Faber. p113 McGann J. (1983) “The Religious Poetry of Christina Rossetti” Critical Inquiry Vol. 10, Chicago Press, p127 Moran M. (2007) Catholic Sensationalism and Victorian Literature. Liverpool University Press, P205 Muller J (2003) Gerard Manley Hopkins and Victorian Catholicism: A Heart in Hiding, Taylor & Francis 2003, p1 Saville J. (2009) A Queer Chivalry: The Homoerotic Asceticism of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Virginia Press. p5 Schneider E. (1966), The Wreck of the Deutschland: A New Reading, PMLA, Vol. 81, pp. 110-111 Woolf V. (2010) The Essays of Virginia Woolf, Volume 5: 1929 – 1932, Mariner Books. p313
Theme of Nature in the Poetry of Gerald Manley Hopkins
During the Victorian Era, most poets did not focus on nature and the divine world, but instead on cultural and societal issues occurring in England during that time. But Gerard Manley Hopkins chose to not pursue the path of his fellow poets, and took more of a romanticism-inspired route while writing his poetic masterpieces. Gerard Manley Hopkins chose to write about nature and Christianity, much like the romantic poets Lord Byron, Percy Shelley, and John Keats. Most of his poems were written when he was a Christian priest, which is why his poems had several traces of Christian theology and communicate the beauty of nature. He also created the idea of poetic originality, which involves a poem using puns, unusual rhymes, omission of certain words, use of interjections, and unusual compounded words. All of Hopkins’s work had most of these traits which make it easy to identify his poetry. Two of his poems “Spring” and “Pied Beauty” have strong themes of nature, God, and poetic originality, all of which were favorite themes of Hopkins.
“Spring”, written in 1880 focused mainly on how it is ultimately up to God to protect the beauty and innocence of nature from sin. Many lines throughout this poem have strong connections to nature. The poem opens up with “Nothing is as beautiful as spring” (line 1), Hopkins is saying spring is beautiful and nothing can compare to its beauty. Spring is often associated with the meaning of renewal and rebirth that correlates to God and his creations. The poem goes on to say, “When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush” (line 2); this line can be translated as the weeds and regrowth that starts to sprout in the beginning of spring. A main trait of Hopkins’ poetic originality is use of puns. In line 2 the word ‘shoot’ can be interpreted with two meanings. ‘Shoot’ along with the image of wheels, provides a sense of motion and moving forward very much like the season of spring feels at the end of a long winter. The word ‘shoot’ can also refer to the sprouts of weeds and new growth springing up from the ground.
There are large elements of nature in every line of “Spring,” as in the description “with richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling” (line 8). This line is a combination of the theme of nature and the theme of innocence. This line has a connotation of innocence because of the inclusion of lambs, which are often associated with Christianity and innocence. There is also an internal rhyme, which is another trait of Hopkins’ poetic originality. The internal rhyme is between ‘fair’ and ‘their’ and an alliteration of ‘richness’ and ‘racing’ along with ‘fair’ and ‘fling’. Line 3 is also very important in the theme of nature in this poem, “thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush”. In this line the speaker is comparing eggs of thrush (which is a bird) to the heavens. This line depicts the “heaven on earth” feel that spring brings when it first arrives. By introducing the heavens he starts a religious tone to the poem. Some critics also believe that Hopkins purposely left out “like” to draw attention of how close of a connection the eggs and the heavens actually are. This poem was strongly based off of Hopkins’ occupation and love of nature as a priest. It also has heavy traces of poetic originality that Hopkins was known for.
However, “Spring” was not the only poem Hopkins filled with symbols, imagery, Christianity, and the beauty of nature. Another one of these poems was “Pied Beauty” written in 1877 and was actually a sonnet. Hopkins starts off the poem by introducing a religious tone yet again “Glory be to God for dappled thing” (line 1). ‘Dappled’ in this context means things with multiple colors, just like ‘pied’. In the next line “For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow” (line 2), Hopkins is describing how both the sky and brinded cows have a multitude of colors. The sky color can range from blue and white to pink and purple, and brinded cows have hair with brownish or blackish spots or streaks. This strong presence of admiration for the multiple colors that nature provides continues into “Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)” (line 8). This line gives two more adjectives ‘fickle’ and ‘freckled’ that add to ‘pied’ and ‘dapple’. There is also alliteration in this line with ‘fickle’ and ‘freckled’. The two terms also mean the new creations nature brings about that can be marveled at. Throughout the poem Hopkins is praising God’s creation in nature and how he was able to create a multitude of colors throughout nature and the divine beauty of it.
In all of his poetry, Hopkins mainly concentrates on nature and the beauty of it that God has blessed society with. Hopkins was known for his poetry that focused on the beauty of nature and how he connected it to Christianity. His poems had a substantial amount of all the different aspects in nature that are beautiful, like the season of spring and the various colors that can be seen throughout nature, and believes God is the one to thank for this gift. “Spring” and “Pied Beauty” are also the epitome of poetic originality with many uses of puns, internal rhymes, and omission of certain words. Gerard Manly Hopkins was yet another poet during the Victorian Era that developed a form of poetry distinct to himself and did not follow the direction that most of the other poets did during his time. By writing more as a Romantic poet instead of a Victorian poet he created a whole new kind of poetry that is still present in today’s literatures.
Inscape, Echo, and Elegy in “Binsey Poplars”
Elegy is a poetic form to which Hopkins continually returns. In one of his most famous poems about death, “Spring and Fall,” Hopkins’s speaker uses the occasion of “Goldengrove unleaving” to teach a child about her own mortality (2). In an earlier poem, “Binsey Poplars,” Hopkins also writes about trees to reflect on the nature of loss. This poem features a tension between humans and the natural world: it mourns humanity’s destructive influence on nature in its description of a group of trees that have been “all felled” (3). Indeed, the poem’s primary focus is to recover the lost sense of inscape surrounding the trees’ destruction. In order to rectify the violence of mankind toward the natural world and thereby reconcile the poem’s conflict, Hopkins writes “Binsey Poplars” as an elegy that seeks to reconstruct an echo of the trees both in his memory and in the poem.The idea of inscape permeates “Binsey Poplars,” as well as a number of Hopkins’s other poems. Catherine Philips defines inscape both as “the characteristic shape of a thing or species,” and, “more importantly,” as “the crucial features that form or communicate the inner character, essence, or ‘personality’ of something” (“Introduction” xx). In addition, Paul Mariani defines inscape as “the underlying energy force and deep form holding things like trees and bluebells and concertos and paintings together” (19). Both definitions focus on an object’s inner nature as reflected in its visible, outer form and identity. Another idea relating to the concept of inscape might be found in the writing of Duns Scotus, from whom Hopkins drew the idea of haeceittas: “thisness, individuation—that which makes this oak tree this oak tree only…something unique and separate” (Mariani 110). The notion that, for Scotus, individuation applies only to living things is especially relevant in examining an elegy like “Binsey Poplars.” In his journals, Hopkins specifically remarks on the lost sense of inscape or ‘thisness’ that he feels in connection with the felled trees of the poem: upon seeing a tree being cut down, he writes, “I wished to die and not to see the inscapes of the world destroyed any more” (“Notes” 359).The stanza divisions in “Binsey Poplars” reflect the tension that arises out of this loss of inscape. The poem progresses from recreating the trees’ outer characteristics through imagery in the first stanza to focusing almost exclusively on Hopkins’s critique of humanity in the second. The first stanza presents different aspects of nature as in tandem with each other: the “leaves” interact with the “leaping sun,” while the trees’ “shadows” interact with the “river” (2, 7, 8). Furthermore, the phrase “Meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank,” through its amalgamation of several different elements of nature (such as wind and weeds) to describe the riverbank, certainly represents nature as a unified force (8). Additionally, the scene is peaceful and almost Edenic. With the beginning of the second stanza, which introduces the human presence in the poem with the pronoun “we,” the more specific representations of nature that are present in stanza one disappear; rather, nature is presented vaguely as the “country” and the “growing green” (12, 11).The implied result of this division, according the Hopkins, is that humanity is ignorant of the “havoc” it wreaks on nature (21). This is most evident at the beginning of the second stanza in the line “O if we but knew what we do” (9). Later in the stanza, he similarly states that “after-comers cannot guess” at the trees’ inscapes, which places a focus on humanity’s limited understanding of the significance and beauty of each fallen tree (19). Furthermore, these two statements are the shortest free-standing sentences in the poem, making them stand out for their directness and simplicity; this perhaps indicates that, ironically, the only concepts that the poet represents and grasps clearly are his own human shortcomings. The simile in the second stanza, as well, points to human ignorance or misunderstanding in its implications of blindness: “like this sleek and seeing ball / But a prick will make no eye at all” (14-5). Because he groups himself with the rest of humanity with the word “we” in line 9, Hopkins must therefore contend with the difficulties associated with successfully reimagining the poplars’ uniqueness in writing his elegy.It is through his personal, elegiac concern for the lost inscapes of nature that Hopkins effectively reconciles the tension of the poem’s subject matter. His connection with the trees, exemplified in the way he refers to them in the first line as “my aspens” and as “dear” to him, provides an alternative, positive representation of the relationship between humanity and nature. Hopkins also personifies the trees throughout the first stanza, further bridging the gap between mankind and the natural. He describes the “shadow [of a tree] that swam or sank / On meadow and river,” which suggests that the shadows are playfully and purposefully interacting with the landscape as people would (7-8). The use of the word “dandled,” as well, refers both to the movement of the branches and the act of “bouncing a child up and down” on one’s knee, injecting a definite human element into the natural scene (6, “Notes” 359). The internal rhyme in this line, “sandalled,” also perhaps vaguely connotes that the trees or shadows might somehow appear to be wearing sandals (6). The simile of the second stanza, as well, suggests the delicacy of nature and brings humanity and the natural together through the evocation of a human eyeball.Through these elegiac lines, Hopkins attempts to undo the damage that humanity has done to the trees’ inscapes by temporarily capturing the inner uniqueness of the felled poplars. At the beginning of the poem, Hopkins uses repetition to show that each now-“unselved” tree once had a unique inscape in life (21). He writes that the trees are “All felled, felled, are all felled” (3); in repeating and metrically stressing the word “felled” three times, the poem reenacts the individual fall of each tree and indicates their haeciettas. This constant repetition, exemplified in the poem’s last four lines describing the “sweet especial rural scene,” also creates an echoing effect and suggests that, though the trees’ physical forms are gone, their inscapes still reverberate in Hopkins’s memory (24).According to Philips’s understanding, inscape is always “the result of mental analysis and perception” and can be considered “an artist’s analysis” (“Introduction” xx); as a result, viewing, analyzing, and writing about the trees allows Hopkins to better comprehend and make sense of their inscapes in his mind. Indeed, several puns in the second stanza show Hopkins to be conscious that the act of writing his elegy is a way to assuage his grief. The most noticeable of these puns is on the word “stroke” in the phrase, “ten or twelve / Strokes of havoc” (20-1). While “stroke” here refers, on the literal level, to strokes from an axe, the word might also refer to the “movement of a pen” (OED). The phrase “hew or delve” contains a similar secondary meaning; the word “delve” means not only to dig but metaphorically to “make laborious search for facts” (OED). Finally, the verb “hack,” up until 1884, meant “to stammer,” which perhaps accurately describes another effect of the poem’s repeating lines (OED). The presence of these puns, two of which signify a kind of “laborious” struggle or difficulty with the writing process, allude to the limited ability of any poet to fully reanimate a lost person or object in an elegy.One reason why the elegy will only ever have limited success in fully evoking the lost trees’ inscapes is the nature of inscape itself: Mariani characterizes inscape as “evanescent” and claims that “one can catch it, [but] only for an instant” (12). Hopkins alludes to the impossibility of fully remembering the lost trees’ uniqueness through the poem with the line “after-comers cannot guess the beauty been” (19). The “after-comer” that this line references may be any reader of “Binsey Poplars”; the reason that the reader “cannot guess” at the trees’ inscapes is because he or she has only experienced suggestions of them through the filter of the poem, rather than personally observing and “analyzing” them. “Binsey Poplars,” like many elegies, succeeds in reminding the reader of the “transience of the things of this world” and the delicacy of their inscapes (Mikics 100). By reconciling humanity and nature through his own deep grief, Hopkins successfully resolves the tension introduced in the destruction of the trees. Due to the fleeting nature of inscape itself, however, each tree’s uniqueness ultimately seems irrevocably lost. Indeed, reading this elegy against Hopkins’s idea of inscape reveals that the only place in which the poplars still truly exist is in the poet’s memory. As a result, readers are left with the poem’s last, sad, echoing lines as a reminder that the “Binsey Poplars” they have experienced through reading the poem are not the actual trees, but only echoes of their former, living, inscaped selves. Works CitedHopkins, Gerard Manley. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works. Ed. Catherine Philips. Oxford: Oxford U P, 2002.Mariani, Paul. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life. New York: Viking, 2008.Mikacs, David. A New Handbook of Literary Terms. New Haven: Yale U P, 2007.Philips, Catherine. “Introduction.” Hopkins xv-xxxv.—. “Notes.” Hopkins 307-399.
Religious Doubt and Faith in Hopkins’ Later Poetry
The central role of religion in Hopkins’ life gives it a similar significance in his poetry. The later poems by Hopkins, collectively generalised as the ‘Terrible Sonnets’, emphasise how religious doubt and faith, affected largely by personal circumstance, formed the foundation of Hopkins’ late work. As the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ were mostly written at a time where Hopkins was in ill health, physically and mentally, from the stress of living in Dublin after 1884, his personal conflict with religion undoubtedly underpins these poems. Most of the later poems clearly present elements of doubt and despair as shown in ‘No worst, there is none’ and ‘Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves’. However, some of these later poems can also be interpreted as containing hope, most notably in ‘That Nature is a Heracltiean Fire and the Comfort of Resurrection’ and even ‘Carrion Comfort’. The significance of religion is seen in the intense personal struggle that Hopkins endures as he questions his own faith. His lamentation in ‘My own heart let me have more pity on’ that “not live this tormented mind / With this tormented mind tormenting yet” encapsulates the distress of his situation in Dublin. The repetition of torment has many moving connotations of an endless and consuming frustration. The lines produce a sense of madness which has an almost schizophrenic quality. The use of “this” twice makes the article uncertain, which could also reflect the loss of certainty of identity endured by Hopkins as he questions his own faith. The contrast in the devices used by Hopkins between his earlier poems and the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ emphasises the significance of religion in his later poetry. In poems such as ‘God’s Granduer’ Hopkins expresses powerfully that “the world is charged with the grandeur of God”. The use of light and ‘electric’ image of “charged” is a typical feature of the earlier poems which reflect Hopkins’ perception of God as a saviour and as guide. By contrast the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ are characterised by darkness. The loss of light, which was previously embodied in religious faith and belief in God, implies that Hopkins endures religious doubt. ‘Spelt From Sybil’s Leaves’ has been seen as the transitory poem between Hopkins’ hope and “Despair” as he describes the coming of the night as “Her fond yellow hornlight wound to the west”. Hopkins sees darkness in this poem, and others, with a similar perspective. In ‘Spelt From Sybil’s Leaves’ he sees darkness as showing “For earth her being has been unbound, her dapple is at an end”. Hopkins interprets the coming of the night as an end to the ‘dapple’ and uniqueness that evokes such passion in his earlier poems. ‘Spelt From Sybil’s Leaves’ has many ambiguities in the octet, in particular in his juxtaposition of “womb-of-all, home-of-all, hearse-of-all” to describe the night. “Womb” and “home” have immediately positive connotations of security and comfort and is powerfully contrasted by “hearse” which creates a morbid shift in tone. Although the lines could be interpreted as reflecting the peaceful night, the later line, “Our evening is over us; our night whelms, whelms and will end us” emphasises the view that Hopkins regards the darkness as a form of death. The association of darkness to ‘death’ can be interpreted as literal death and possibly reflecting Hopkins’ greater consciousness of his morbidity with his ill health and isolation. However, a biographical interpretation is difficult as the date of the poem is not precisely known. Darkness seems more appropriately related to the beginnings of religious doubt and used in similar style to Blake’s ‘A Little Boy Lost’ in which the boy is lost in darkness and searches for direction in God. Hopkins’ sense of being in darkness is characterised in ‘I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day”. The religious meaning is also visible in this poem as Hopkins laments that “God’s most deep decree / Bitter would have me taste”. Hopkins reflects “But where I say / Hours, I mean years, mean life” which suggests that his sense of Despair has consumed him to undo the foundations of his entire existence – therefore being a significant influence on his poetry. As Hopkins laments the loss of the earth’s “skeined stained, veined variety” the religious tone of the poem is emphasised as it leads to the poignant image of “all on two spools; part, pen pack”. The alliterative pairs of “skeined stained, veined variety” also resonate with the image of division with two “spools”. The remainder of the poem has further religious imagery such as the separation of ‘good and evil’ emphasised by biblical connotations of “two flocks, two folds – black, white; right wrong”. Religion appears to be divisive for Hopkins, causing a personal conflict similar to torture as emphasised by the most poignant image of the poem – “of a rack, / where selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe – and shelterless, thoughts against thoughts in groans grind.” As religious faith was so central to Hopkins, it seems most appropriate to interpret his sense of torture and darkness as a consequence of his conflict with the concept of God. Hopkins seems disturbed by an expectation of torture in death as emphasised by the image of “a rack.” This could reflect an element of religious doubt or fear of the eventual outcome of his existence. His coinage of the words “selfwrung, selfstrung” has immediate connotations of a personal conflict which, from the preceding religious imagery, is likely to reflect Hopkins’ struggles with religious faith in Dublin. The images resonate with the descriptions of Dante’s Inferno and the expression by Dante that the worst torture endured by humans is to act-out their sins for eternity; this is also implied by Hopkins’ image of “selfwrung, selfstrung”. Hopkins final words of “thoughts against thoughts in groans grind” can link to the same image but also emphasise his fears about his conflict with religion. Just as in ‘Carrion Comfort’ Hopkins seems horrified that “I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God”, in ‘Spelt From Sybil’s Leaves’ as the darkness falls literally in the poem and metaphorically on Hopkins’ tone, he seems to be most concerned with religion. Hopkins emphasises the role of religion in his later poems most clearly in ‘No worst there is none’. His demanding questions – “Comforter, where, where, is your comforting?” and “Mary, mother of us, where is your relief” – show the direct concern with religion. The repetition of “where” can be seen as forming the Sprung Rhythm. However, it seems to have more rhetorical importance as the line is sharp and powerful which is salient amid the general rhythm in showing the intensity of Hopkins’ emotions towards God (almost certainly represent by the metaphor of “comforter”). The anguish of the repetition only emphasises the sense of despair. Hopkins’ direct address to God is rarely seen in his earlier poetry, which may emphasise his personal turmoil at the time of writing. Just as he addresses the “comforter” and “Mary, mother of us” in ‘No worst there is none’, in ‘Carrion Comfort’ Hopkins is directly critical towards God: “O though terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me / Thy ring-world right foot rock?” The image of Hopkins being a “rock” and ‘kicked’ by God is emphasised by “my bruised bones” and “the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod.” Hopkins appears to lament his suffering despite him having “kissed the rod, / Hand rather” of God. God is likened to a “tempest” and the combination of different images used encapsulates the torment felt by Hopkins as his religious faith became shaken. His emotion, poetic expression and passion all appear to be driven by religious faith. There are, however, examples of Hopkins later poems which are not centred on God. ‘To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life’ emphasises the distress of Hopkins as he is “in Ireland now” and “at a third / Remove”. This poem is important in examining the causes of the despairing tone presented by Hopkins consistently throughout his later poems. The isolation from his family while in Dublin and the extraordinary emotional pressure it placed on Hopkins is shown poignantly in this poem as he even feels distanced from “Father and mother dear, / Brothers and sisters” because they are “in Christ not near”. This line exemplifies religion as an important concern of Hopkins’ poetry as again shows how his choice of religion distanced him from his family. However, the religious aspect is not central to this particular poem as it seems more to embody Hopkins’ lament at his distance from his family and isolation. The distance that Hopkins seems to feel from himself and his expectations of his character appears to be equally important. The central notion of ‘To seem the stranger lies my lot, my life’ appears to be in the lines “Only what word / Wisest my heart breeds dark heaven’s baffling ban / Bars or hell’s spell thwarts.” In addition to religious doubt and faith, Hopkins also struggles with his own character as he finds his passion of writing beginning to fade. Even until his final poem, ‘To R.B.’, this concern consumes Hopkins – “I want the one rupture of an inspiration”. Therefore, in Hopkins’ later poetry, his religious doubt seems to emerge due to his intense struggles with being unable to write and feelings of isolation. The one exception of religious doubt being significant among the later poems is in ‘That Nature is a Heracltiean Fire and the Comfort of Resurrection,’ which also shows the strength of faith. The poem contains a rare image of light for the ‘Terrible Sonnets’ in the lines, “Across my foundering deck shone / A beacon, an eternal beam” which could represents the hope that Hopkins may have seen in the transience of existence and suffering in anticipation of an afterlife with salvation. This transience is reflected by the image of “Heracltiean fire” in its association with the philosophy of Heraclites on the cyclical nature of existence. His regaining of hope in this poem as he suggests “I am all at once what Christ is” and “This Jack, joke, poor postherd, patch matchwood, immortal diamond / Is immortal diamond” reflects the strength of Hopkins’ religious sentiments to influence his poetry. The sprung rhythm of the penultimate rhyme with the euphony of the ‘dappled’ alliteration and contrasts of images between “matchwood” and “immortal diamond” reflect the power of faith to inspire Hopkins. The return of more coloured language and further light, implied by the diamond imagery, suggests Hopkins found momentary relief amidst his despair. The separation of the final “immortal diamond” on the last line reflects the confidence in his conclusion. The line is presented firmly and individually showing no expression of doubt and a finality that is embodied in being “immortal”. Hopkins is unable to break from his religious faith and even expresses this in ‘Carrion Comfort’, one of his most despairing poems, that he will “not choose not to be.” Since Hopkins returns to religion in the time of his greatest tribulation, despite the sometimes accusing tone, it is possible to suggest that religion is central to his life and poetry. The foundation of his religious faith seems to be the very cause of his greatest sorrow in suffering. It is only because of religious belief and faith that Hopkins is troubled by his suffering and questions the central foundation of his existence. Before the ‘Terrible Sonnets’, Hopkins was consistently positive and passionate towards nature and God’s creation. The exhortations of instress and inscape seen in poems such as ‘The Windhover’ and ‘Pied Beauty’ is absent from the later poems. Although it can be dubious to examine what is not there, with such a central feature of almost every poem written by Hopkins, the absence of this highest passion shows the great religious turmoil that he endured. The fear, uncertainty and devastation of having doubts about such fundamental faith are the underpinnings of the emotions in Hopkins’ later poetry.
Anguish in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poetry
In much of the poetry of Gerard Manly Hopkins it is his mental anguish and suffering that strikes a chord with the reader. The extreme nature of his suffering can be seen most clearly in two of his terrible sonnets, “No worst, there is none” and “I wake and feel the fell of dark”, which were written towards the end of his life. In his poem “Felix Randal” we see Hopkins first begin to doubt Gods goodness, a theme that is carried through to the terrible sonnets. Even in Hopkins’ more light and joyous poetry, such as “Spring” and “The Windhover”, there is an underlying theme of redemption, hinting at the questions of sin and forgiveness that torment the poet. However, not all of Hopkins’ poetry is defined by despair and anguish. Many of his earlier poems such as “Pied Beauty” focus on the beauty and wonder of nature.
While reading Hopkins’ poetry, it is evident to me that he was keenly aware that mankind was sinful. In “Spring”, Hopkins takes a more positive view of the theme of redemption, asking Jesus to preserve the innocence of children “before it cloy, / Before it cloud”. Although masked by the light verbal music of the poem, it is clear that Hopkins is highly conscious of sin, suggesting the unease and torment that fills his mind. A similar obsession with sin and redemption is evident in “The Windhover”, in which Hopkins uses the metaphor of Christ as a “chevalier” battling against sin, to express his feelings. Hopkins describes the effect the bird had on his harassed mind, “My heart in hiding / Stirred for a bird”. The use of sprung rhythm particularly emphasizes the contrast between the poet’s current state of joyous appreciation, and his previous feelings of doubt and torment. Hopkins generates a powerful, unpredictable music as he describes the gruesome death of Christ as “a billion / Times told lovelier”, once again showing how his restless mind continued to return to thoughts of sin and redemption.
We first encounter the theme of religious doubt in the poem “Felix Randal”. In a moving portrayal of mental and physical suffering Hopkins describes how the “big-boned and hardy-handsome” Felix Randal was broken by sickness. Felix curses God, and though Hopkins, a young priest, comforts him, it is clear that the poet is also beginning to doubt God’s fundamental mercy. His inner monologue runs between the octet and the sestet, and his personal cry of anguish is evident in his conclusion that “This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.” “I wake and feel the fell of dark” explores intense states of religious doubt. Hopkins is in a terrible state and calls out to God for help. He uses the metaphor of his prayers as “dead letters” that are sent to “dearest him that lives alas! Away”. There is even a sense in which the poet thinks that God wants him to suffer. He writes, “I am gall, I am heartburn.” He resents God for trapping him in his body, which he sees as a burden, or a cage in which his tormented soul is encased.
Two of Hopkins’ terrible sonnets describe his descent into mental torment. “No worst, there is none” could be described as a howl of mental torment. Hopkins creates an unpleasant verbal music with the line “Pitched past pitch of grief”. This jarring cacophony reflects his suffering. His mind is being “wrung” like a dishcloth, while his psyche is mangled and choked by the torment that afflicts him. “I wake and feel the fell of dark” captures the poets terrible insomnia when the night seems to stretch on and on. He compares his mental anguish to a terrible unending journey of dark “ways” and awful “sights”. It is clear from both the language and the metaphors used that the poet is gripped by doubt, confusion and despair.
While much of Hopkins’ later poetry is characterized by feelings of misery and hopelessness, his earlier poetry is largely an inspired and ecstatic response to nature’s beauty. In “Spring”, Hophins uses inscape to capture the unique essence and individuality of all that resides in “Eden garden”. He describes thrush’s eggs as “little low heavens”, marveling in their unique nature and energy, while also connecting them with the beauty and grandeur of heaven. There is a similar atmosphere of joyous celebration in “Pied Beauty”. Hopkins uses instress to highlight the divine energy that runs through all of nature. The use of sibilance in the line “swift, slow; sweet, sour” captures the diversity and beauty of nature. There is no evidence of mental anguish or suffering in “Peed Beauty”. Hopkins even reduces the typical Petrarchan sonnet to a curtail sonnet to further highlight the originality and differences in nature that he is celebrating.
While examining six of Hopkins’ poems, it becomes obvious that from his earliest days as a priest, he experienced underlying feelings of doubt and misery. While these feelings were often healed and diverted by an appreciation of nature, it is clear from Hopkins’ later poetry that his feelings of anguish and mental torment eventually overtook him, and his unwavering faith in God faded.
The Fall of Innocence in Hopkins’s “Spring and Fall”
Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poem, “Spring and Fall: To a Young Child,” is a beautiful poem written to a young girl. The narrator of the poem notices the girl’s youthful innocence, and cannot help but think of the future pains and heartaches she will face. Hopkins uses imagery of the spring and fall seasons to illustrate these themes of life and loss. The poem addresses a child’s impending loss of innocence, as she will one day understand the pain that comes with being human.
“Spring and Fall” is a short lyric poem of one stanza and fifteen lines. Hopkins uses a rhyme scheme that forms seven pairs of couplets, with the exception of lines seven through nine, which all rhyme. Therefore, the exact rhyme scheme is AABBCCDDDEEFFGG. One will notice that the three rhyming lines fall exactly in the middle of the poem, making it symmetrical. These three lines also contain the climax of the poem, “And yet you will weep and know why” (1.9). Breaking the otherwise steady rhyme scheme with these lines helps to emphasize the climax. Unlike the rhyme scheme, the poem’s meter is not as predictable. Each line has between six and eight syllables with four stresses per line, except for line fifteen, which has only three stresses. Hopkins uses a meter called sprung rhythm, where each metrical foot begins with a stressed syllable that may either stand alone or be followed by up to three light syllables (Abrams 222). Most of the metrical feet in “Spring and Fall” are composed of one light syllable following a stressed syllable, but there are several instances of stressed clusters, like “fresh thoughts” (1.4) and “heart heard” (1.13).
What is especially interesting about Hopkins’s use of meter is where he writes in the exact stresses. Most notably, the “Márgarét” of line one is given two stresses, whereas “Margaret” in line fifteen does not have any stresses. Because the poem is addressed to Margaret, the first mention of her name speaks directly to her. When her name appears again, she is not being spoken to; Hopkins speaks of Margaret as a separate entity, something that no longer exists. Perhaps the discrepancy in stressed syllables is supposed to highlight the differences between the Margaret of the present and the Margaret of the past.
The poem opens as Margaret, a little girl who may be the narrator’s daughter or young relative, is “grieving over Goldengrove unleaving” (1.1-2). Taken literally, she is crying as the leaves are falling off of the trees in autumn (“unleaving”). In a more figurative manner, the first two lines can be seen as the beginning of Margaret growing up and losing her innocence. The fictional name “Goldengrove” calls to mind a childhood fantasy land, with images of sun shining through golden leaves. Unfortunately, Goldengrove is dying as is unleaves; it is becoming darker and less colorful, which breaks Margaret’s heart. To the reader’s knowledge, this is the first real pain she has known. Because she is young with “fresh thoughts,” Margaret cares about the leaves “like the things of man” (1.3)–she treats leaves and nature as she would treat people. To Margaret, a forest dying is no different than a loved one dying.
The narrator sees Margaret’s sadness, and knows that as she grows up, she will have to face things more painful than falling leaves:”As the heart grows older, it will come to such sights colder” (1.5-6). Here the poem is nearing its climax at lines eight and nine: “Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie: and yet you will weep and know why” (1.8-9). “Wanwood leafmeal,” also a made-up term, literally means the wet leaf remains lying on the ground. In relation to the theme of future suffering, the wanwood leafmeal can also represent a darker, sadder world that Margaret will soon be part of. Currently, she is crying only for these dead leaves. In the poem, “will” is italicized, guaranteeing the onset of future sadness for Margaret. Although the narrator assures Margaret she will know worse pain in her life than falling leaves, he at least tells her that she will understand her sadness.
The narrator goes on to say that no matter what the sources of Margaret’s sorrows may be, they will all hurt in the same way. However, no one other than Margaret can truly understand what she is going through, he or she can only guess: “nor mouth had, no nor mind expressed, what heart heard of, ghost guessed” (1.12-13). In other words, no person could be capable of articulating Margaret’s inner torment, as it is personal and unique to her. Finally, just as the unleaving trees in autumn are unavoidable, so too is the human struggle, “the blight man was born for” (1.14). The poem closes as the narrator tells Margaret that it is really her childhood self she is mourning for–the young girl who sees so much beauty in the world that she cannot handle a tree losing its leaves. Someday, such a sight will not affect her.
Beginning even in the title, “Spring and Fall” foretells the coming of a darker time in not just Margaret’s, but every child’s life. Readers will notice the subtitle, “To A Young Child,” specifically addresses a child and excludes adults. Hopkins makes this distinction because children like Margaret are blissfully unaware of what sorrow awaits them as they grow older. Adults, on the other hand, have grown up, and therefore have already experienced some form of suffering. They don’t need to be given a lesson on what they understand all too well.
Abrams, Meyer H., and Geoffrey Galt. Harpham. “Meter.” A Glossary of Literary Terms. Boston: Wadsworth, 2012. 217-23. Print.
Hopkins, Gerard M. “Spring and Fall.” Selected Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Dover, 2011. 43. Print