Speaking of Hopkins

By John Hertz:  In a note celebrating the 40th anniversary of File 770 (January 6th) and 10th of File770.com (January 15th), I mentioned Gerard Manley Hopkins and even quoted him, but I didn’t bring him to you (or should that be the other way around?)

Since then he’s been on my mind. Did I do him a disservice?  Or you?

My mother introduced me to a New York cousin, Selma Jeanne Cohen (1920-2005; we were thus also related to SJC’s uncle Benjamin V. Cohen), whom I met while living there, and knew as the editor of Dance Perspectives; at length she found a publisher for her International Encyclopedia of Dance (Oxford Univ. Press, 6 vols. 1998), I even helping with a few articles.  I never knew, I stupidly never learned, she too had been enkindled by Hopkins.  He was the subject of her doctoral dissertation.

Hopkins, a superb poet and one of the most original, was a Jesuit priest, in whose devotion poetry and religion were mutually illuminating, I think I may say inseparable; which SJC, no more a Christian than I am, indeed just as little, found no more daunting than I (nor maybe you, I dare hope, if you happen not to share Hopkins’ faith; if you do share it, may such conjoined inspiration never fail you).

As SJC says beginning “Hopkins’ ’As Kingfishers Catch Fire’” (1877; superb poem, and superbly Christian), a 1950 Modern Language Quarterly piece (v. 11 p. 197), “to consider Hopkins’ lyrics only as restatements of doctrine is to neglect a part of the art [surely an intended chime; see her article] of poetry as he conceived it,” going on to alliteration, internal rhyme, and his coruscations of sound and sense, not neglecting to quote Duns Scotus (MLQ v. 11 at p. 201 n. 17).

Earlier, in the lead article of the January 1947 Philological Quarterly (v. 26 p. 1), “The Poetic Theory of Gerard Manley Hopkins”, she quotes his “Poetry is speech framed for the contemplation of the mind by way of hearing or speech framed to be heard for its own sake and interest even above meaning” (PQ v. 26 at pp. 18-19), going on to sprung rhythm (as he called it).

In case you don’t know Hopkins here’s the start of another fine poem, “The Windhover” (also 1877).  Marking each metrical foot and accent would illustrate what he meant by sprung rhythm, and its extra unstressed syllables he called outriders; even without, by the second line you’ll see.  These eight lines are the octet of a sonnet: but what a sonnet!

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 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 of the thing!

I once told a friend The greater the reality, the better the fantasy.  Or should that be the other way around?


Much of this material appeared in Vanamonde 1284.

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7 thoughts on “Speaking of Hopkins

  1. Manley-Hopkins is one of my favorite poets and a definite inspiration. He may be one of the hidden masters who helped create fantastic prose. I bet that Dunsany knew who Manley-Hopkins was.

  2. When I worked as an adjunct at the University of Vechta, my boss was another Gerard Manley-Hopkins specialist and wrote a noted paper about how Manley-Hopkins’ work was influenced by traditional Welsh verse.

  3. I remember reading “The Windhover” many decades ago in college, and have always liked GMH’s verse. I note that previous commenters give his name as Gerard Manley-Hopkins (with a hyphen). This appears to be incorrect: Manley was his middle name–his father’s given name, actually–and his surname was Hopkins, so there should be no hyphen. (In this regard he is like the American writer Emerson, who is almost always referred to by his first and middle names as Ralph Waldo Emerson; and contrasts with Ralph Vaughan Williams, whose surname is Vaughan Williams and is never referred to as simply Williams.)

  4. If they weren’t just making it up in “The Night Thoreau Spent in Jail,” then Emerson was known to his friends as Waldo. (I played the sheriff in that. Had a good time.)

  5. In general I Do Not Get poetry, but GMH is one of the poets who have managed to communicate with me. My favorite of his poems is Spring and Fall.

    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you wíll weep and know why.

  6. Kip, Emerson did go by the name Waldo during at least part of his life, according to the Wikipedia article about him. My father went by his middle name throughout his life, but I, who have the same name, have always gone by my first name.

  7. Pingback: A Place, a World | File 770

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