> WHO WAS, WHO IS, GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS ?

WHO WAS, WHO IS, GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS ?

Par | 2018-06-25T02:01:49+00:00 22 décembre 2012|Catégories : Essais|

How do you intro­duce a poet you love ?  “Dear new French friends, this is my old friend Gerard?”  No — too arti­fi­cial.  Perhaps, “Meet my friend Gerard : he wrote exhi­la­ra­ting poems.”  Or, “My friend Gerard wrote the most ter­ri­fying poem I know.”  Possibly bet­ter ?  In any case, let me intro­duce Hopkins in all his exhi­la­ra­tion and ter­ror.  First, exhi­la­ra­tion :

 

      Look at the stars ! look, look up at the skies !
         O look at all the fire-folk sit­ting in the air !
         The bright bóroughs, the circle-cita­dels there
      Down in dim woods the dia­mond delves ! the elves’ eyes !

 

Or,

 

      Summer énds now ; now, bár­ba­rous in béau­ty, the stóoks ríse
      Around ; up above, what wind-walks ! What love­ly beha­viour
      Of sílk-sack clóuds ! has wil­der, wil­ful-wávier
      Méal-drift moul­ded ever and mel­ted acróss skíes ?
      I wálk, I líft up, Í lift úp heart, éyes,
      Down all that glo­ry in the hea­vens to glean our Savior….

 

Or consi­der his ter­ror, when Hopkins fears he’s losing his mind :

 

      …My cries heave, herds-long ; huddle in a main, a chief-
      Woe, wórld-sor­row ; on an áge-old ánvil wínce and síng—
      Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrie­ked ‘No ling-
      Ering ! Let me be fell : force I must be brief’.
      O the mind, mind has moun­tains, cliffs of fall
      Frightful, sheer, no-man-fatho­med. Hold them cleap
      May who ne’er hung there….

 

Now you know him a bit, through his exhi­la­ra­tion and his ter­ror.  Now, may I intro­duce my poet-friend as he was and as he is : first, as he was in his life, then as he is, in his poems and his fame.

      First, his life.  Son of Manley and Kate Hopkins, Gerard was born in 1844 in a London sub­urb, the oldest of nine in a com­for­table Victorian fami­ly, and he grew up in London’s cozy, lea­fy Hampstead.  At Oxford, he was brilliant in Classics, became a Roman Catholic in 1866, and won a “first” — the highest degree — in 1867.  For a year he taught school in Birmingham, then ente­red the Jesuit order in 1868.  He lear­ned Jesuit spi­ri­tua­li­ty as a novice in London, stu­died phi­lo­so­phy in Lancashire, and theo­lo­gy in Wales.  Ordained a priest in 1877 at the age of 33, he wor­ked for seven years in Jesuit schools and parishes in England and Scotland, then went to Dublin in 1884 as Professor of Greek in the new University College.  Five years later he contrac­ted typhoid fever just as an epi­de­mic was ending, and died in 1889 at the age of 44, seven weeks before his 45th bir­th­day.  He was buried in the Jesuit plot at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery, and died almost unk­nown : his book Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins was not publi­shed until 1918, 29 years after his death.

      Such are the facts.  But who was Gerard Hopkins as a per­son ?  A short fel­low of 5’2 or 3”, he was enthu­sias­tic, had a high-pit­ched voice, loved to sketch and write poems, was close to his fami­ly, and had warm, life­long friends from Oxford, fel­low Jesuits, and Irish fami­lies.  For recrea­tion he visi­ted art exhi­bi­tions and old churches, and enjoyed holi­days with his fami­ly, friends, and fel­low Jesuits in Switzerland, Holland, the Isle of Wight, the Isle of Man, Whitby on the North Sea, Wales, Scotland, and the West of Ireland.  During these holi­days, he loved to hike and swim.  His pas­sions were nature (espe­cial­ly trees), eco­lo­gy, beau­ty, poe­try, art, his fami­ly and friends, his coun­try, his reli­gion, and his God.  His curse was a life­long “melan­cho­ly” (his word) which in 1885 in Dublin became deep depres­sion and a sense of lost contact with God. In life and poe­try he was serious and play­ful – even whim­si­cal.  Spiritually, des­pite an ear­ly scru­pu­lo­si­ty which he never ful­ly lost, he fol­lo­wed the Jesuit way of fin­ding God in all things, and rejoi­ced in “God in the world”: “The world is char­ged wíth the grán­deur of God.”  He was very, very bright, with an exten­sive know­ledge of words and lan­guages — he knew so many words !  His intel­lec­tual hero was the medie­val phi­lo­so­pher Duns Scotus, whose phi­lo­so­phy of self­hood he held dear.  Hopkins him­self had a strong sense of self, appre­cia­ted his own indi­vi­dua­li­ty, and was immen­se­ly self-confi­dent.

Such was the Hopkins of the past.  But he also lives today, alive in his poems and in his fame.  As a poet, his pas­sion for strength and fre­sh­ness made him remake English poe­try.  To for­mal Victorian tastes, he brought power­ful words, sounds, and rhythms, retur­ning to Anglo-Saxon roots, inven­ting new word-com­pounds, and at once loo­se­ning and streng­the­ning poe­tic rhythm with his “sprung rhythm.”  He fre­she­ned poe­tic forms, too : usual­ly wri­ting Miltonic son­nets of 14 lines, he expe­ri­men­ted suc­cess­ful­ly with such unu­sual forms as a “cur­tal” son­net of 10 2/​5 lines (“Pied Beauty”) and a “cau­dal” son­net of 24 lines (“That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire”).  As an expe­ri­men­ter, he was a modern poet before “modern” poe­try exis­ted.  That’s who Hopkins is today : a com­pel­ling, path-brea­king poet brin­ging vivid word-life to nature, eco­lo­gy, God, and men­tal anguish, and wri­ting one of the three or four finest odes in English, “The Wreck of the Deutschland.”  Hopkins is now consi­de­red a major English wri­ter.

He also lives today in his fame.  He influen­ced such poets as W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Theodore Roethke, Elizabeth Bishop, John Berryman, Robert Lowell, Ted Hughes, Sylvia Plath, Denise Levertov, and the Nobel Laureate Seamus Heaney.  In the 1920s and 30s, he was a dar­ling of the British and American “New Critics” who pri­zed and pro­bed his poems’ rich “tex­ture.”  In the 50 years bet­ween then and the cen­ten­nial of his death in 1989, Hopkins accrued many books – bio­gra­phies, cri­ti­cal stu­dies, concor­dances, and a biblio­gra­phy – plus count­less articles, a jour­nal devo­ted to his work (The Hopkins Quarterly, foun­ded in 1974 and now in its 39th volume), and quite won­der­ful­ly, a poli­shed, grey memo­rial stone in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, dedi­ca­ted in 1975.  Finally, in the United Nations’  Palais des Nations in Geneva, an enor­mous marble bas-relief above the entrance to The Council Chamber has car­ved into it the ope­ning words of Hopkins’ ode “The Wreck of the Deutschland.”

In 1989 the cen­ten­nial of Hopkins’ death brought him new, inter­na­tio­nal fame.  The day itself, June 8, was com­me­mo­ra­ted in London, Oxford, Loch Lomond (Scotland), Dublin, and Washington.  Major exhi­bi­tions were moun­ted by Oxford University, University College Dublin, and The University of Texas at Austin, with smal­ler exhi­bi­tions in Spokane (Washington State), North Wales, and his bir­th­place of Stratford (Essex).  Conferences and schools cele­bra­ted him in Italy, England, Wales, Ireland, and the United States.  Festive lec­tures fes­too­ned France, England, Wales, Canada, the U.S., Paraguay, the Philippines, and Japan.

Today, twen­ty years later, Hopkins’ work still ins­pires music, new books still pro­li­fe­rate, and scho­lars of many reli­gions (or none) teach, trans­late, and write about Hopkins in Israel, Russia, Poland, Italy, France, Holland, England, Scotland, Wales, Ireland, Canada, the United States, Mexico, New Zealand, Korea, and Japan.  Perhaps the most unex­pec­ted are two Israeli women, Rachel Salmon and Eynel Wardi, both scho­lars and pro­fes­sors, who have spo­ken and writ­ten about why Hopkins appeals to Jewish women.  Every year, the Hopkins Society of Ireland has a fes­ti­val of poe­try in Co. Kildare, and Regis University, in Denver, Colorado, holds a inter­na­tio­nal aca­de­mic confe­rence.  Finally, in 2014 Oxford University Press will com­plete the publi­ca­tion of a new scho­lar­ly edi­tion of eve­ry­thing Hopkins wrote, in eight volumes.

As I end, I note two recent fes­ti­vi­ties.  In 2008 in Dublin, a play about Hopkins was pre­sen­ted as a walk-around dra­ma in the very house where he lived and died, and sold out eve­ry ticket !  And in 2009, sin­gers, poets, and dan­cers in Santa Fe, New Mexico, memo­ra­li­zed Gerard Hopkins in their own crea­tive for­ma.  Amazing Hopkins !  Amazing people !

This is the Hopkins I intro­duce to you : born in 1844, died in 1889, still living in 2014 – a Hopkins who was and still is.  Today, he shines in glo­ry and is fre­sh­ly cele­bra­ted in France.

 

                                                         Saint Joseph’s University Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

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