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11. Gerard Manley Hopkins the Priest - Poet and His Archaically Original Modern Verse

11.1. Was Hopkins a Victorian?  Why Was He Modern?

As the lecture’s title seems to indicate, Gerard Manley Hopkins does not apparently function as a representative Victorian poet though he did live in the late Victorian age (he was born in 1844 and died in 1889, just like Mihai Eminescu). This is probably due to the fact that, judging by his poems, he does not share the Victorian public mentality in the least. He is an odd poet whom many consider to be a precursor of modernism, others a crypto-Pre-Raphaelite, while still more readers deem him simply too difficult to read, even by the standards of the Victorian poetic competence which by far exceeded that of the later ages. Before we can begin to decide where to place him, it is worth noting that he is in several paradoxical ways the product of the Victorian age whom he does not seem to address in the least: he was neither publically read as a poet in the 19th century nor a member of the spiritually alienated global village that had already come into existence together with mass culture itself. Hopkins does not address his fellow men but God Himself, in all the Trinitarian hyposthases that are universal and in the particular manifestations of God which can be sensed by man and which it is Hopkins’ sole aim to express in his poetry. That is why he is a devotional poet engaged in direct dialogue with God. And, like many a genuinely lyrical poet, in his poetic dialogue Hopkins also addresses just himself or he addresses nobody.a  This is by no means a Victorian feature. Still, this man obviously traversed and experienced the full range of Victorian cultural preoccupations, as his letters to his friends and family or his personal diary testify. Before becoming a disciplined, active priest, he had formed himself as a complete Victorian intellectual who, as a student at Oxford absorbed the influence of the Tractarian Movement which spelled religious revival, while also learning poetry with the Oxford professor of poetry, Matthew Arnold, whose obvious respect for the study of poetry he inherited. Hopkins also fell under the influence of Pater’s aesthetic education in his Oxford years and this made him develop a preoccupation for acquiring the discriminative aesthetic consciousness based on the constant exercise of sensibility. It is amazing to see how competent Hopkins’s judgments of taste about contemporary literature were, and how thorough and detailed was his knowledge of past literature, as resulting from his correspondence, diary and miscellaneous notes or from his Platonic dialogue in prose ”On the Origin of Beauty”. This means that his education was the typically encyclopaedic Victorian one, doubled by the latest developments in Victorian refinement such as the more philosophical Paterite Epicureanism predominant in the latter decades of the century. Probably, Hopkins’s very conversion to Catholicism and his militant Jesuit’s career as a priest is the outcome of the Oxford Movement revivalism especially as carried to its ultimate consequences by John Henry Newman. While activating  within the Jesuit Order, Hopkins’s scholarly preoccupations led him to what may also function as the Hopkinsian extreme case of Victorian medievalism: his manifest scholasticism. Even more advanced in scholastic thinking than Hardy whose symbolic vision was regarded as basically scholastic in the previous lecture paragraph dedicated to him, Hopkins literally followed – and, for us, he illustrated - in his poetry the doctrine of  Duns Scotus, an Oxford scholar of the 13th  century. This mediaeval thinker who opposed the Thomist learning held a conviction which resembled in an amazing way that of Hopkins’s contemporary Paterites. Duns Scotus held that the universal manifests itself in particulars and that the awakened intellect can point to essences thanks to the doors that individual perception opens on the realm of Grand Nature. By his individual sensations processed at the level of the awakened intellect, therefore, man can participate to substantial existence in the act of heightened perception which reveals essences in moments of vision or revelation. Sensations refined in the intellect, therefore, explain the world and it is individual experience that gives substance to existence. This is in keeping with the principle of individuation that vallidates or reveals essences in the lives of the individuals. This is also the belief underlying modern phenomenological thinking with its Heideggerian or Husserlian variations. It appears that for Hopkins, poetry was the privileged form of participation to the theological essence of the world in an act of  special individual perception  which the poet had the subsequent, lay and technical duty to put into words. Hopkins’s strife with recondite meanings that he did his best to trace as far away to their subliminal sources as words would permit it is a poetic, mystical and intellectual quest for essential meaning. Hopkins’s words for describing meaning are borrowed from the scholastic philosopher Duns Scotus and they complicate any theoretical understanding of meaning in the extreme, as they are not concepts with a positive, palpable content, but merely empty slots, deictic words containing an indication or, figuratively speaking, a peg marking the place where individual, local, particular meanings can be hung in actual life. Hopkins coins the English word ”thisness” for Scotus’ s ”haecceitas”, the impulse behind any individual and momentary materialization of essential existence. (Essential individual existence – in time, as Heidegger would put it! – is called by Duns Scotus in Latin, the Scholastic Language, ultima realitas. Meaning, then, obtains as a result of tracing the roots of this ultimate reality or individuality that man embodies. ) Hopkins also coins two theoretical literary terms meant to describe the dynamic of meaning creation in poetry as a phenomenal – we could even call it ”phenomenological” – manifestation of the world’s substance: ”inscape” and ”instress”. As inseparable parts of epiphanic meaning, the inscapes are sharply perceived actual or virtual landscapes which become thus internalized, individual ”scapes” and they are poetically predicated each by its own instress. In the guise of the subject of a sentence, the inscape is essentially expressed in action by the predication of the instress. Thus, a Hopkinsian poem is meant as a single great sentence or rather a single utterance endowed with extraordinary contextual power, a forceful saying, like an outburst of energy poetically voiced or traced. A Hopkins poem is, therefore, a moment of revelation, theologically speaking, a moment of revelation of God’s actual existence, while, poetically  speaking, it is a moment of  pure inspiration, when meaning is perceptually heightened, enriched so that it makes a difference. Each poem by Hopkins is such a verbal act of inspiration caught in action. It is easy to recover the stages of this inspiration, as Hopkins’s individualism almost clinically aims at committing to paper the whole moment, from its emergence, to its climactic momentum and through to its conclusion. In all this, Hopkins behaves both as a Pre-Raphaelite painter and as a stream-of-consciousness modernist writer. The Pre-Raphaelite artist is enamoured of the details of his perception which he paints in order to present them to the receiver of his art. The stream-of-consciousness craftsman similarly has the ambition of committing to paper the sensibility of the moment as it can be caught by the linguistic and psychological instruments of  consciousness. A common individualistic, perceptual, intellectual and aesthetic project underlies all these attempts at approximating life through the intellect or through consciousness as Pater, Duns Scotus,  Joyce, Faulkner or Woolf had the ambition to do. This is precisely the aim of Hopkins’s writing of poetic words meant to make a – theological, devotional, scholastic - difference, not meant to make his mark - as his detractors would have it or his own mixed feelings about the earthly fame the poet craves for would have it. The poet, Hopkins, is the hierophant of this ritual meant to capture the moment of inspiration in the wordy net, as is the case in the capturing of an attribute of the presence of Christ in the poem ”The Windhover”.

11.2. The Analysis of ”The Windhover”

      The Windhover

                             To Christ our Lord      

     I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-

        dom of daylight 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!

     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.

Before proving with ”The Windhover” the point about the complete expression, description and evocation of experience in time that a Hopkins poem represents, an important observation is in order here. Precisely this is what distinguishes Hopkins in the entire horizon or landscape of post-Romantic literature, and in the landscape of modernist (and post-modernist literature which inaugurates the post-structuralist age too) : Hopkins’s poetry does not lament the loss of presence as Arnold explicitely does together with many a Victorian poet even if much more implicitly; neither does Hopkins substitute any surrogate show to/of presence. His poetry re-enacts the imminence of presence, even with him capital (letter) Presence, it makes devotional contact with it. From here the demiurgic posture of the poet and the cosmogonic vortex that his poems represent, just as if they were composed avant la lettre according to a programmatic vorticist score proposed by Ezra Pound  in the early 20th century.

The word ”catch” is thematic: any poem by Hopkins catches grace or, as in the terrible sonnets - so termed by Hopkins’s friends R.W. Dixon and Robert Bridges when editing them, catches the moment of  naked human anguish. Revelation should be caught, as a ghostly kind of presence and transformed into palpable presence by means of words. What  does Hopkins catch in the poem ”The Windhover” and how does he do this, exactly? An exceptional moment rising in the consciousness through the senses; this is why the word ”morning” gets repeated as in a kind of stuttering expression for the kind of beginning that the break of day represents. The more radical stutter, the stopping of the line in the middle of the word ”king”- postponed until the beginning of the next verse may mimetically evoke the breath-taking surprise at the beginning of the vision, but, strengthened by the subtler alliterations and assonances inaugurated by ”dom” and continued in the sequence of the repeated sounds ”d” followed by the sonorous diphtongs and long vowels in ”daylight”, ”dauphin”, then in the compound monosyllabic sequence of ”dapple-dawn-drawn” gracefully ending in ”riding” – it may equally strongly hit the ear and the conscience, thus breaking and transporting the reader into the poetic beyond, i.e., the space within the frame delimited via the suddenly motivated phonetic utterance. (The break at the end of the line may also serve for denoting two actually similar things at one stroke, in the synaesthetic modality of visionary perception: the king and his kingdom perceived together, as parts of the same inscape.) Next, the flow of associations occasioned by the visionary momentum begins its unstaveable motion: the minion (a mediaeval courtly page, servant, minstrel - as a lesser ministrant) becomes first a dauphin (the kingly prince), then a Falcon (a more adult and sublime mediaeval emblem of orderly, skilled, artful male power and grace, a way of proving man’s control over nature, like in the noble mediaeval art of falconry); the perfect flight of the bird is then made to connote mastery – several full lines before the word ”mastery” is uttered; its ”brute beauty” and ”valour” and ”act” are then directly praised by the spectator I present through the comment of ”My heart in hiding/Stirred for a bird”; in the climactic moment, the performative power of the act is demonstrated to unite in a palpable cosmos air, (human) pride and (the animal order) plume  ( where? – ”here”) and to make an angelic, epiphanic fire burst from within the flesh of the horizon which stands for the world but actually points towards the full sunrise - that seems, in its turn, to have been brought about by the windhover’s motion we have been following with the poet. But the windhover had been equated with Christ, too, from the very title, as there is no creature but bespeaks of God’s glory and especially here, where life is for a moment shown to be exceptional, improved in quality as it can only be when improved by the vicinity of man with Christ, thanks to Christ’s ”sheer plod” which makes the effort of living worthwhile (”makes plough down sillion shine”). Thus, archetypally, all the levels of existence are shown to cooperate and coexist in this moment of epiphany: God beyond the skies, Christ typified by the Windhover lording it over the human I who worships him with the cry ”O my chevalier! ”. Man can only be, must needs be like a vassal to the chevalier – the mediaeval French jargon crops up insistently in this poem by Hopkins whose odd English is not only odd because it is an extreme instance of the poet’s private use of public language, but it is odd also because it is Frenchified and  archaic in its use of the Middle Ages lingo. Further down and more concretely knit into the meshes of the chain of being: the windhover announces the sunrise, it thus stands for the sun itself, for the beginning of the day, therefore, for light itself, in both the physical and the metaphysical sense at the end of the poem, just as it stands for the heart of the human witness to the miracle which suddenly ”stirred for a bird”, is made rise, it is raised, elevated.  Similarly, the air levels stand or rather move or simply exist in mutual because necessary, natural friction ( when not ”steady”, they form a ”rolling level underneath him” they even ”rebuff” the windhover’s ”big wind”) so they make up a model in little, a replica of the hierarchy just pointed at in several ways: theologically, phenomenally, socially – as the chevalier and the dauphin and the Falcon belong to the lordly class, anyway. But the restoration of the world’s cosmic scale and just degree is due to the sacrificial efforts of the windhover to come into the world by ”sheer plod”, to ”plough [it]down”, to make ”sillion shine”, to ”fall” and ”gall” its light and to shed its blood-light or light-blood ”gash gold-vermillion”.

What matters in this poem is not that it adds itself up to the New Testament parable of salvation. To simply translate its parabolic images would mean to commit Wimsatt’s ”heresy of paraphrase”, transforming it into a mere priest’s sermon so as to lose contact with the poem’s body which is an aural-oral event occurring in time. The development of the poem is what arrests our attention several times over before we get or…”catch” its theological or anecdotal meaning. In his poems the poet Hopkins made us participate in the birth of a verbal event occasioned by his sensory activity poetically and intellectually managed and he made us remember that the purpose of a poem is not to transmit a meaning but to enact it, to make it happen, as it were. Each of his poems raises for contemplation a stage, a plot of sensibility made up of its own unrepeatable moments, it confines the readers for a space of time in a labyrinth of words and rhythms that represent his own stream of consciousness, a stream occasioned by and addressed to or simply tending towards God. In the next part of the lecture, the individual poems are going to be grouped ac>The second question  in connection to ”The Windhover” regarded the means by which Hopkins achieved his own ”mastery” of the visionary ”thing”, to paraphrase him. This question is tantamount to wondering about the instress of the poem, because, in Hopkins’s theory, the inscape itself moves the perceiver or arrests the contemplator by a kind of energy which it emits; so that the analytical task of the poet – which should be recoverable by the skilled reader of Hopkins’s poetry – is to discover the most performative linguistic devices capable of communicating the instress  of  the inscape. We have already mentioned the vision-inaugurating effect of the poem’s opening lines, the development towards a cosmic order explicable by Christ-the Windhover’s masterful and painful flight from the beyond into the visible sky. We still need to point out the dialectical sonnet structure of  ”The Windhover”, containing in an approximate first octave the struggle of the vision and the windhover to appear, then  moving towards achievement in a second part, the sextet. This movement towards order and harmony is mirrored by the more complicated, seeming disorderly fabric of the octave – more dramatic in effect - as compared to the elegantly indented, already ordered tercets that make up the sextet whose two parts are only identically indented with a variation. (The more indented lines which contain the harmonious, clearly manifested meanings predominate in the last tercet, just as the non-indented lines had been predominant in the body of ”the octave” and of the first ”tercet”). By its aspect on the printed page, ”The Windhover” clearly moves towards effective order and elegance, being a poem about the effect of Christ’s saving, controlling, loving appearance into the world. But, when looking at the printing characters of the poem and as the technical notes to the poem indicate, there is more to this poem. There are some printed stresses and , in some editions some nether loops connecting the individual parts of words, as in musical scores and there are some strangely spelled: strangely syllabicated or capitalised words, such as the AND spelled in capitals after ”Buckle!” in the first tercet. Also, there are words whose morphological class is unclear and open to as much commentary as this or that (linking) word in Shakespeare. All these devices that pertain to the… ”stream-of-Hopkinsian-poetic-consciousness” technique have been explained at length in various editions of Hopkins’s poems in the 20th century, when he was published (posthumously by Robert Bridges, his Oxford friend, the Poet Laureate of 1914, the date of the publication) (We have used here the Penguin Classics 1985 edition, first  prepared by W. H. Gardner in 1953). Whether they point to the ”sprung rhythm”, in this case the sprung paeonic rhythm, with outriding feet usually indicated by the loops and nether-written brackets, or to double rhythms in the same poem, in other instances, which double rhythms Hopkins calls counterpointed rhythms – one thing is sure, namely that he intends his poems to be read as if they were musical scores, by professsional readers. And this is only one ”difficulty” or ingredient of Hopkins’s complicated prosody. Actually, Hopkins is trying to imitate also the rhythm of the early medieval, Old English prose conventionally cast into the mold of accentual rhythm that made it function auditively as poetry (together with some internal rhymes and assonance/alliteration patterns). Thus, Hopkins distributes a more or less regular number of stresses per line over an entire poem, usually four or five stresses per line, five in the case of ”The Windhover”. These stresses are meant to correspond to the most meaningful words, the words that function as ”heads of the poem’s local inspiration or head of the poetic phrase” – to continue the linguistic allegory already introduced when the inscape was considered to function as a subject and the instress as a predicate. The most important observation about Hopkins’s complicated rhythms is probably that he intends the poem to imitate the peaks of inspiration, its rises and falls in a kind of mimic diagram, or rather in an intended recording, as on a phonograph, of the instress emitted by an inscape. It goes without saying that behind this clinical, technological recording of something supposedly objective there still lies the sensibility, imagination, inspiration of the odd, unrepeatable poet, in Romantic terms, the poem-writing genius striving to voice his extraordinary insights by using the words of the barely common language. Call them instress or inscape as he may, Hopkins was actually describing the processes of his own stream-of-consciousness that he tried to objectify. The practical advice for the student is to make sure he understands the words and their morphological roles in a particular Hopkins poem, the phrases and their functionality in the economy of the wider semiotic units, and then, without exaggerating, to read out the poem by stressing the most meaningful words, so as to observe the rule that they should amount to the same total number of stresses in each line. Also, the student is invited to assume that in any obscure poem by Hopkins, there is a skeleton of conventional meaning, a trace of ordinary communication which should be discovered during the decoding process. For ”The Windhover”, as for many other devotional poems which assume that the basic theological knowledge is shared by the reader and the writer, this ordinary communication skeleton/standard is provided by the knowledge of Christ the Word as a token of the Great Beginning of Being, in the guise of a proof of His Divinity, as it is intended by the first chapter of the Gospel according to St. John.

11.3. Classifications of Hopkins’s Poems

Hopkins was allowed by his confessor to break the vow of silence to which a Jesuit priest was bound for nine years two years before the due term, namely in 1875. An extremely sensitive nature, he had become worn out by the strictures of the spiritual exercises to which the Jesuit’s body and soul were subjected on their way to perfection. Then he wrote his longest extant lyric, an occasional poem, ”The Wreck of the Deutschland” dedicated to five Franciscan nuns who had drowned on board of a floundering ship, ”The Deutschland”, between midnight and morning ”Of Dec. 7th, 1875”. As in many a later poem of his, the underlying theological plot for this occasional poem is provided by that passage in the New Testament which describes Jesus’s power to keep the men from drowning during a storm at sea, through His faith. Similarly, Hopkins imagines in ”The Wreck of the Deutschland” the perfecting thoughts and sermons of the five Franciscan nuns whom he describes in the poem at work for preaching God’s grace to the population of this ship about to drown. As a result of their preaching, Hopkins implies, the people on board the ship are gained for God in their deaths which are turned into a public miracle rather than a public tragedy. The multiple martyrdom at sea served the cause of God’s meaning

                            19 (Part II)

                 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.



                 Loathed for a love men kenw 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.

In the second stanza quoted, the synechdochic fractions of the universe, whether bearing precise geographical names to describe the parts of the earth the passengers came from or  the whereabouts of their death at sea: Rhine, Thames – surf, snow, river and earth, these parts and the constellations of heaven are shown to be clutched in confrontation over these human beings’s souls just like the archangels with the ancient demons lurking in palpable matter, in a kind of local Apocalypse which represents the inscape of the poem, and the essence of human life as it can only appear clearly on the threshold of death itself. The instress, however, is divine: the energy that the poem communicates already contains the defeat of the forces of darkenss and death by the power that transforms ”storm flakes” into ”scroll-leaved flowers, lily showers – sweet heaven [….] astrew in them”. Thus, ”The Wreck of the Deutschland” contains and transcends the powers of anguish at work in Hopkins’s terrible sonnets ”Carrion Comfort” and ”No Worst, There Is None” where man is shown to be like a compass needle crazily oscillating between the poles of divinity and carrion, with little comfort and where the power of the poetic demonstration is derived from parables taken from the Bible to describe the prestigious antecedents of everyman’s cry of despair ”Comforter, where, where is your comforting?”, addressed to the Holy Ghost in ”No Worst, There Is None”. (Cf. Jacob’s wrestling with the angel, with God’s emissary in The Book of Genesis, chapter 32). Because this poet transcribes and re-ascribes whole parables and passages from the Bible, he is a commentator, a priest whose purpose and knowledge are tied to the Trinity. This is why, his poems can be classified into: poems primarily addressed to or allegorically describing God the Father (e.g., ”Pied Beauty”, ”God’s Grandeur”, ”Carrion Comfort”), Christ, man’s Saviour (e.g., ”The Windhover”. ”Hurrahing in Harvest”, ”The Soldier”), the Holy Ghost (e.g., ”God’s Grandeur”, ”The Golden Echo” part of the poem ”The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo”, and by extension, ”No Worst, There Is None”, in which man is presented in his anguished search for the consolation of the Comforter). Whether or not theologians would agree with this classification, especially as one Biblical fragment underwrites the next in every poem, one thing is sure:  with the devotional poet Hopkins one has to know his Bible and his theology or else be left to simply experience the vortex or the flow of the poem’s dynamics, which is still spectacular enough to deserve the painful reading that it requires. But luckily for the layman, in the two senses of the word, Hopkins also has clearer poems whose instress is less personal and rough than in the terrible sonnets and less theological than in some of the poems dedicated to God. Hopkins wrote some most beautiful poems dedicated to nature such as ”Binsey Poplars”, a mystical poem about the life sap that flows in the veins of  the trees and the mystical fluid hovering on/between the river waters and the shadows. In the poem ”Pied Beauty”, the plurality of beauty is Hopkins’s theme, which carries him through all the orders of existence, from the ”skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow”, to the ”rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim”, to the landscape plotted by the gears and trades of man, to the abstract notions denoted by the series of adjectives; original, spare, strange, fickle, freckled, swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim. All that is required in such poems is that the reader be mobile enough, playful or freely associative to participate in Hopkins’s ’conscience-catching game’ of words. Otherwise, the reader should assume that the complexity of a Hopkins word-labyrinth is grafted on some intuitively palpable feeling or image which is complicated for reasons of instress at the expressive level of the words and rhythms. An important reading rule is, therefore, that each apparently opaque phrase stands for a cluster of minute associations of otherwise very obvious descriptive qualities of the inscape. In ”Binsey Poplars”, thus, ”the airy cages” of these trees felled as if they had been innocent victims (or martyrs of modernity) sentenced to death after having been previously imprisoned are also simply the branch-houses which guarded the leaping sun from its complete leap beyond the horizon, just as the poplars, addressed as ”aspens dear” had been transported beyond the horizon of nature in so far as they had been felled – in 1879. So, every adjective or lengthy predication can be justified or explained through a train of analogies and associations by either contiguity or comparison and substitution, which are motivated within the semiotic density of the complex sign that one particular poem represents. 

11.4. Hopkins the Critic and Art Theorist

The diary, letters, notes and prose dialogues indicate Hopkins as a sure craftsman, possibly as valuable a theorist of literary creation as Coleridge in his ”Biographia Litteraria”. As W.H. Gardner indicates in his Introduction to the Penguin edition of Hopkins’s Poems and Prose: ”he succeeded in breaking up, by a kind of creative violence” (Gardner obviously here refers to Hopkins’s new rhythm, new words and new notions of the inscape and instress) ”an outworn convention. He led poetry forward by taking it back – to its primal linguistic origins: he showed how poetry could gain in resourcefulness and power by incorporating in its own artistic processes those natural principles of growth and adaptation which govern our everyday speech – which give to a living, developing language its peculiar tang, colour, range and expressiveness”.

We can affirm that Hopkins was a poet’s poet. For him poetry was a discipline that he took very seriously, as only poets definitely do. And were it not for the other, higher and more powerful vocation that he had, a fervent believer’s vocation to profess his faith and work by it, that made him choose a priest’s career, Hopkins’s beliefs about poetry would recommend him as one of the greatest poets of the latter part of the 19th century. It is also obvious that he had the consciousness of a poet doubled by the theologian’s beliefs:

”I would have you and Canon Dixon and all true poets remember”, he wrote to Robert Bridges, ”that fame, the being known, though one of the most dangerous things to man, is nevertheless the true and appointed air, element and setting of genius and its works”. (quoted by W.H. Gardner in the Penguin edition’s Introduction, p. xxviii)

The fact that he breathed the air of the men of genius and their works is proved by the kind of learned poet he was, as W.H. Gardner puts it, the poet ”who knew how to make full use of all that seemed to him good in the whole European poetic tradition” (the Introduction, p.xiv). In addition to reading regularly  the Victorian magazines and reviews, Hopkins participated to an Oxford paper reading or essay club, the ”Hexameron” mentioned in a letter to A. W. M. Baille, a graduate of Oxford. It was for this essay club that he prepared a personal system or classification of poetry or ”the language of verse”  into ”poetry proper, the language of inspiration”, a second order poetry, ”Parnassian”, that ”does not require the mood of mind in which the poetry of inspiration is written” being spoken ”on and from the level of a poet’s mind, not as in the other case, when the inspiration, which is the gift of genius, raises him above himself’ (And he adds, in the same letter, ”Great men, poets I mean, have each their own dialect, as it were, of Parnassian, formed generally as they go on writing, and at last, -this is the point to be marked, - they can see things in this Parnassian way and describe them in this Parnassian tongue, without further effort of inspiration.”). Hopkins also mentions a poetry of the third kind which is ”merely the language of verse as distinct from that of prose, Delphic, the tongue of the Sacred Plain (…) used in common by poet and poetaster”. Hopkins’s classification has the shortcoming of very much theoretical systematic Victorian thinking, it is liberal only in intention and form, not discriminative enough, as will be proved in the last lecture to have been the case with Ruskin and Arnold. But what matters when reading this letter, anthologised by W.H. Gardner on pp.153-159 of his Penguin edition is how acribious Hopkins was in his noting and reviewing the literature published during his day in the September and August Cornhills, namely his review of  Dickens’s ”Our Mutual Friend” and  of Arnold’s  ”Literary Influence of Academies” or of Tennyson’s ”Enoch Arden”: Hopkins was a connoisseur, a sure critic of the literature of his day, in so far as his judgments, e.g., his ”doubting” judgments about Tennyson, went ahead of the orthodox opinion of his day and might still be considered valid by today’s standards. Similarly, Hopkins wrote verse intended, just like Browning’s not only for his own age, he was a great writer, and as we have already seen, he was also a man of universal taste. Living and breathing between the ages and between the earth and the sky, too, it is therefore normal that he should be a man of all ages. In this respect, also, he would have functioned as an ideal Victorian artist, capable of genuinely transcending in his art the alienation of the spiritually frightened 19th materialist century, had he accepted to be published and in this way had he been appropriated by what he considered to be the worldly order of fame. It was quite ironical that , being published only in 1918, he should be integrated rather in the 20th century modernist tradition, as one of its precursors, for reasons which are obvious when thinking of his stream-of-consciousness-and-sensibility techniques instead of being let to crown the Victorian age whose product he obviously was in his learning, revivalist and mediaevalist craving for faith which he also asymptotically managed to achieve by the disciplined  personal revival and return to God, thanks to the Jesuit practice of his scholastic and virginal life. This would actually have been the ultimate model for any Victorian puritan had his/her busy urban life allowed them to withdraw from the social fold as Hopkins so radically did.   

a See the first sentence of T. S. Eliot’s ”The Three Voices of Poetry”, in ”The Quicksands of Criticism”, edited by Lidia Vianu, Universitatea din Bucuresti, 1980. Cf. p. 293.

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