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Thread: Gerald Manley Hopkins discussion

  1. #1
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    Gerald Manley Hopkins discussion

    Andrew Sullivan, whose blog I occasionally follow, was recently sick, his recovery complicated to some degree. He posted a Gerald Manley Hopkins devotional piece to the Virgin that struck a hard chord in me, as when I was a saintly good little disabled Roman Catholic who obeyed The Church I very nearly worshipped Mary, which in itself is a technical no no, but I decided I needed to own a Hopkins collection despite that his work is freely available online.

    You cannot go back the way you came, but even an atheist can recall the virtue of solace in her quest for faith, so I will be exploring Hopkins in this thread.

    It took nerve, even in the late 19th century, to be a hard Catholic, and this impresses me about Hopkins.

    I'll post the free access links for those of you who might join me in relative short order, but I will in the main be using this edition.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    I read this novel about Hopkins fairly recently:
    http://www.mostlyfiction.com/history/hansen.htm
    It's about Hopkins' return to writing poetry in response to a maritime disaster in which several nuns were drowned.


    I also wrote a short critique of "Dappled Things" recently, in another discussion. Here it is:

    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; 5
    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: 10
    Praise him.



    Free advice for Hopkins: Lay off the "dappled things", Gerard. What's wrong with plain, unvariegated colour? Also, why compare the spots on a trout to a technique in painting, if we want to wonder at God's beauty? Shouldn't the comparison be made the other way around? Isn’t the artist’s brush a poor imitation of God’s handiwork?

    Hopkins had a brilliant talent with sound. And I love "Spring and Fall", although when I read it as a young boy I had no idea what it meant, and didn't even have the slightest notion what "unleaving" referred to. In fact, I thought that “unleaving” meant “staying”, instead of the shedding of leaves. I liked the sounds, though. But "Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)" seems to me to be the worst of Hopkins - cloying, cute (who knows how), and worshipping diversity and dappling just because they can be sentimentally admired in alliterative, clever lines.

    Let’s look at another Hopkins poem:

    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.

    Hopkins’ talent -- the skill with words, the alliteration -- is used to better effect here. The startling image of the sunrise as reminiscent of a bright winged bird keeping her nest warm is visually beautiful, metaphorically sound, and emotionally evocative. Compare that to the line in "Pied Beauty" also about the sky: "...For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow..." I suppose one can picture this image, if one tries hard enough, but it is forced. I can't imagine myself looking at the sky and saying, "Hmmm, looks like a brinded cow." Or if I did say that, it would be a bit like seeing "duckies" or "horsies" in the clouds.

    On the other hand, the dawn DOES look like the bright, spotted wings of a bird. Even without the metaphor, the image is sound and stunningly beautiful. Yet "Pied Beauty" is in all the anthologies, and “God’s Grandeur” in very few.

    Wallace Stevens once said that, “sentimentality is a failure of feeling.” I like dappled things as much as the next person, but it seems mere sentimentality to glorify the strange over the ordinary, the fickle over the constant, and stippling over a strong, steady stroke of the brush.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    So much for Gerard Manley, I guess. Aren't there any "Glory be to God for Dappled Things" fans out there that want to defend the poem?

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    I neglected to mention in my starter thread that I am new to Hopkins' work. I may have known his name, but little else in terms of biography, influences, or what is worth liking about him, as more modern religious poets tend to alienate me from whatever their spiritual tropes are doing, and here I am thinking of a Canadian poet JBI exposed me to some years ago. On the macro level, whatever her skill, I felt excluded from her passion behind the dynamic of Christ's sacrifice.

    Here is the bartleby link to Hopkins at Harvard.

    I plead patience while I look for biographical information here and introduce myself to the early poems, but assure all that I will be at this for the duration.

    I have heard of his *sprung rhythm* before, curiously enough.
    Last edited by Jozanny; 04-01-2011 at 01:05 PM. Reason: biographical detail

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    And perhaps a younger and fresher mind might remind me of a few basic differences between the Romantic and Victorian poets? I have studied Browning in recent years, and rank him highly in his maturity. Can't say whether either man knew of the other, but I intuit a family resemblance between Browning's dramatic monologue and Hopkins' sharp edges in the deployment of his tersa rima.

    I'd appreciate further elucidation from someone more familiar with the period.

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    Artist and Bibliophile stlukesguild's Avatar
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    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.



    Free advice for Hopkins: Lay off the "dappled things", Gerard. What's wrong with plain, unvariegated colour? Also, why compare the spots on a trout to a technique in painting, if we want to wonder at God's beauty? Shouldn't the comparison be made the other way around? Isn’t the artist’s brush a poor imitation of God’s handiwork?

    I'm not certain what the problem is. The poem simply offers up a notion of recognizing... valuing that which is dappled, mottled, or might perhaps be seen as less than perfect. In no way does it seem to suggest that there is something "wrong" with the plain, unvariegated color... If anything, it simply raises the notion that neither is there something inherently wrong with the mottled and dappled. Taking the poet to task for the analogy of the effects of nature to those employed by the painter seems but a desperate search for something to strengthen your point.

    The startling image of the sunrise as reminiscent of a bright winged bird keeping her nest warm is visually beautiful, metaphorically sound, and emotionally evocative. Compare that to the line in "Pied Beauty" also about the sky: "...For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow..." I suppose one can picture this image, if one tries hard enough, but it is forced. I can't imagine myself looking at the sky and saying, "Hmmm, looks like a brinded cow."

    The fact that a poet uses a metaphor or an analogy that is surprising or unexpected to you, doesn't really seem to make it seem forced to me. I imagine Hopkins, living in a time in which there was a far greater relationship with nature, may easily have seen spotted cows against the horizon and been struck at how their hide was not unlike the cloud-spotted sky.

    Wallace Stevens once said that, “sentimentality is a failure of feeling.”

    Of course he did... he was a Modernist and no self-respecting Modernist would dare touch upon sentimentality. Modernism had an ingrained fear of sentiment, beauty, femininity, nature, domesticity... anything that suggested the values of the "bourgeois" or of women. Hopkins is still rooted in Romanticism.

    I like dappled things as much as the next person, but it seems mere sentimentality to glorify the strange over the ordinary, the fickle over the constant, and stippling over a strong, steady stroke of the brush.

    Again, I don't think Hopkins is suggesting that the "strange" is greater than the ordinary. Rather he seems to be simply offering up thanks for that which is often imagined as "imperfect". Perhaps he recognizes that the stippled and mottled can be just as beautiful in nature as it is in art:

    Last edited by stlukesguild; 04-02-2011 at 11:39 AM.
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    Quote Originally Posted by stlukesguild View Post
    Of course he did... he was a Modernist and no self-respecting Modernist would dare touch upon sentimentality. Modernism had an ingrained fear of sentiment, beauty, femininity, nature, domesticity... anything that suggested the values of the "bourgeois" or of women. Hopkins is still rooted in Romanticism.
    I take a huge leap of faith to suggest that the best Victorian poets still have a dialectic with the Modernists. You noted Yeats transition yourself from late Romantic to early Modernism in the past, and I think Hopkins too is transitional in this sense.

    Let's look at "The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe" which chastened me somewhat about not bestowing brotherly love on Andrew Sullivan

    WILD air, world-mothering air,
    Nestling me everywhere,
    That each eyelash or hair
    Girdles; goes home betwixt
    The fleeciest, frailest-flixed 5
    Snowflake; that ’s fairly mixed
    With, riddles, and is rife
    In every least thing’s life;
    This needful, never spent,
    And nursing element; 10
    My more than meat and drink,
    My meal at every wink;
    This air, which, by life’s law,
    My lung must draw and draw
    Now but to breathe its praise, 15
    Minds me in many ways
    Of her who not only
    Gave God’s infinity
    Dwindled to infancy
    Welcome in womb and breast, 20
    Birth, milk, and all the rest
    But mothers each new grace
    That does now reach our race—
    Mary Immaculate,
    Merely a woman, yet 25
    Whose presence, power is
    Great as no goddess’s
    Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
    This one work has to do—
    Let all God’s glory through, 30
    God’s glory which would go
    Through her and from her flow
    Off, and no way but so.

    http://www.bartleby.com/122/37.html

    The wonder of this poem is the freedom we find in such a rigid rhyme scheme, that evokes Renaissance classicism, elucidates the best of Romantic recognition, prefigures Auden, and declares fidelity to Mary as the catechism demands. A rather amazing boast, if whetted down to scale from the ancient epic boast. I envy the conviction entangled in the beauty.
    Last edited by Jozanny; 04-02-2011 at 12:53 PM. Reason: past tense

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    aspiring Arthurianist Wilde woman's Avatar
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    Hopkins is totally out of my specialty/comfort zone, but that's what draws me to his poetry so much. My favorite of his poems is "Carrion Comfort":

    Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
    Not untwist - slack they may be - these last strands of man
    In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
    Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

    But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
    Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
    With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
    O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

    Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
    Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
    Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
    Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
    Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
    Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
    Ecce quam bonum et jocundum, habitares libros in unum!
    ~Robert Greene, Friar Bacon and Friar Bungay

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    Could it be that, in Pied Beauty, Hopkins is making a reference to the Old Testament injunction that only the unflawed, perfect animal was suitable as an offering to God? He may be pointing out that God has made everything, the unmarked and the dappled, and as such, all things are worthy of being a stimulus for the praise of Him.

    I believe at one time Hopkins had an interest in being an artist and though it was one of the things he renounced as being 'unworthy' of a life of devotion, he could not ignore his eye for colour and detail. The early influences of Ruskin and Pater, especially the habit of close observation that they advocated, never left him, emerging in his poetry rather than in painting.

  10. #10
    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Good points, StLukes. However, I stand by my argument. Hopkins weakness as a poet is his overly sentimental message, and his (at times) overly cute and cloying wordings. Chesterton once wrote (in response to modernism): "He who fears bombast will never rise to eloquence." The same could be said about sentimenality. However, when the sentimentality is overly cute or cloying, it is like overly sweetened tea. You can't taste the tea for the sugar.

    I actually like Hopkins. His rhythms, his rhymes and his skill with sounds are unique and resonant. I just think that Pied Beauty (which is perhaps his most widely anthologized poem) is not one of his best, and emphasizes his weaknesses rather than his strengths. The "(who knows how?)" and the "brinded cow" are cute, rather than beautiful. And I imagine He who fathers forth beauty past change can do better than cute.

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by kasie View Post
    Could it be that, in Pied Beauty, Hopkins is making a reference to the Old Testament injunction that only the unflawed, perfect animal was suitable as an offering to God? He may be pointing out that God has made everything, the unmarked and the dappled, and as such, all things are worthy of being a stimulus for the praise of Him.

    I believe at one time Hopkins had an interest in being an artist and though it was one of the things he renounced as being 'unworthy' of a life of devotion, he could not ignore his eye for colour and detail. The early influences of Ruskin and Pater, especially the habit of close observation that they advocated, never left him, emerging in his poetry rather than in painting.
    I think you are exactly correct in Hopkins motives. It's the execution that I'm criticizing, not the motive.

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    I am not particularly worried about his sentimentality, as if it is a flaw at all it's relatively minor thus far. (I have not had the time yet to really mediate and absorb even the early pieces yet.) But, aside from what we believe, and I believe the Immaculate Conception is stuff and nonsense, a political calculation on the part of early Roman clerics to deal with human binary projections onto divinity, Mary is, nevertheless, a powerful metaphoric figure, and my preliminary contention: Hopkins does not posit the Immaculate Conception has a historical event. He sees it as a living process that is as necessary to him as oxygen, and also as an internal event that he himself is birthed in daily, a testament of and party to his faith in a living theology.

    Why I can't absorb this from Protestant poets but can feel the force of it in Hopkins, I cannot parse today, but will add what Andy offered his readers. Hopkins may lay it on thick, knocking us all out of Wilde woman's comfort zone, but if we lay down our defenses, one can see why he is second to Browning. He realizes his passionate zeal is dangerous, both lover of the Incarnate and as newborn as the Christ.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Jozanny View Post
    Let's look at "The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe"
    ...
    This needful, never spent,
    And nursing element; 10
    My more than meat and drink,
    My meal at every wink;
    ...
    I liked all the alliteration in the above lines and the idea that oxygen is nursing us is unusual. The nursing idea, however, is what drives this to the mothering activity of Mary. I guess that nursing idea would have been condemned by Ruskin as some sort of pathetic fallacy, but I'm no expert on any of this.

    I've also heard that "sprung rhythm" might be related to the Old English alliterative meter which didn't rhyme. I don't know, however, I find that both alliteration and rhyme can keep me focused on a poem.

    At the moment, I'm reading Ramesh Menon's translation of the Ramayana, another story about a divine incarnation. Rama's mother Kausalya was also praised. She was radiant and had a painless birth and only felt bliss when Rama was born. However, the chief female in the story was Sita, Rama's wife, not his mother.

    When I was younger, I recall voluntarily memorizing one of Hopkins poems which I didn't see on the Bartleby site, called "to a young child" so I'll post it below: http://www.tetrameter.com/hopkins.htm

    Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leaves, like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! as the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By & by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you will weep & know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sorrow's springs are the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.
    Last edited by YesNo; 04-04-2011 at 07:51 PM. Reason: I misspelled Rama's wife's name

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    Ecurb Ecurb's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Jozanny View Post
    I am not particularly worried about his sentimentality, as if it is a flaw at all it's relatively minor thus far. (I have not had the time yet to really mediate and absorb even the early pieces yet.) But, aside from what we believe, and I believe the Immaculate Conception is stuff and nonsense, a political calculation on the part of early Roman clerics to deal with human binary projections onto divinity, Mary is, nevertheless, a powerful metaphoric figure, and my preliminary contention: Hopkins does not posit the Immaculate Conception has a historical event. He sees it as a living process that is as necessary to him as oxygen, and also as an internal event that he himself is birthed in daily, a testament of and party to his faith in a living theology.

    Why I can't absorb this from Protestant poets but can feel the force of it in Hopkins, I cannot parse today, but will add what Andy offered his readers. Hopkins may lay it on thick, knocking us all out of Wilde woman's comfort zone, but if we lay down our defenses, one can see why he is second to Browning. He realizes his passionate zeal is dangerous, both lover of the Incarnate and as newborn as the Christ.
    The notion of Mary as "the container of the uncontainable" is common in Eastern Orthodox iconography, as in Catholicism. The fundamental contradictions inherent in Christianity (death = life;
    something (a woman’s womb or a stable) can contain the uncontainable; the meek shall inherit the earth; man can be God; etc. etc.) are the essence of the religion. Claude Levi-Strauss felt that all myths were designed to overcome inexplicable contradictions by comparing them to explicable seeming contradictions.

    I went on vacation to Turkey last fall, and some ancient Orthodox churches had images of earthen pots, glowing, as if filled with something they could not contain. According to the guide books, these were associated with Mary, because they contained the uncontainable.

    By the way (of mere tangential interest to this thread) I'm in the middle of a biography of Mithradates, the Anatolian King who warred with Rome and had some 80,000 Romans murdered in a single night in 88 BCE. "Mithra" is the sun God, and Mithradates was both born and crowned in conjunction with the appearance of a comet -- auguring that he (like Jesus) was destined to be a savior and a King.

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    Quote Originally Posted by Ecurb View Post
    I went on vacation to Turkey last fall, and some ancient Orthodox churches had images of earthen pots, glowing, as if filled with something they could not contain. According to the guide books, these were associated with Mary, because they contained the uncontainable.
    Would you be able to show us an image of these, or direct me to one?

    Yes/No: I just scrolled back and read your post, thank you. Perhaps by morning I will have been able to read and gather my thoughts. I just dismissed the old man who served as my freelance attendant for many years, and as usual, my life is like the gerbil on the treadmill, never able to dash to a quiet destination, but I hope we can all examine a selection of poems, and then broaden the discussion afterwards.

    Now I have to get back to being busy, which I actually am, and reflect that if I had listened to my writer friends @ Speakeasy, then I might have still had my writer friends @ Speakeasy . That they all may be on FB now is beside the point.
    Last edited by Jozanny; 04-05-2011 at 09:01 PM. Reason: hasty skim

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