Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems
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.
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