Poet Divine: Gerard Manley Hopkins

GerardManleyHopkinsToday is the birthday of Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of the most beloved Christian poets of all time and the poet whose work has spoken to me most personally. Hopkins was a Victorian Era poet, educated at Balliol College, Oxford, and influenced by the Oxford Movement led by John Henry Newman, John Keble, and Edward Pusey. This movement, sometimes known as Tractarianism because of the tracts written by the leaders, was focused on a renewal of the church through recovery of historic thought and practice. Hopkins eventually converted to Roman Catholicism, becoming a priest and a university professor.

Hopkins’ poetry is unique because of his distinct approach to rhythm (‘sprung rhythm‘) and sense of description linked to deeper realities (‘inscape’ and ‘instress’), the latter of which partially reflects Hopkins’ view of God’s presence in human realities reaching its zenith in the sacramental presence of Christ in the Lord’s Supper. He died relatively early and his poetry never became widely known until much later thanks to the tireless efforts of his good friend, the Poet Laureate Robert Bridges.

Here are two of his most well-known poems, “God’s Grandeur,” “Pied Beauty,” and “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend with Thee”:

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.
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.
‘Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend with thee’

Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
    Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

[Stop over to the Poetry Foundation’s biography for a deeper look at Gerard Manley Hopkins.]

3 thoughts on “Poet Divine: Gerard Manley Hopkins

  1. how interesting dear Brother.. that hopkins pondering and poetry took him …to the place of living in life …embracing and investing in the system of jesuit prof priests and pope…? so glad …for 1 Mediator✝ yer Sis a d e

    Sent from my iPhone


    • Yes, that is interesting, Ade. His journey was in some parts a reaction to the church experience of his youth that lacked full-bodied worship and in other parts the influence of his mentors. Of course there are poets who are followers of Christ of all sorts of denominational backgrounds, just as there are bricklayers, professors, mayors and nurses of all sorts of denominational backgrounds.

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