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.
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