Early Life and Influences
Gerard Manley Hopkins, a renowned 19th-century poet, was born on July 28, 1844, in Stratford, Essex, England. His parents, Manley Hopkins and Catherine Hopkins, nurtured his literary inclinations. His father, a marine insurance adjuster and writer, introduced him to literature, and his mother's religious background added depth to his thought.
During their stay near Keats' residence in Hampstead in 1852, Hopkins was exposed to poetry. Engaging with Keats' literary works, he penned his earliest poem, "The Escorial." His parents' rich reading material allowed him to express his thoughts from an early age.
Education and Formative Years
Hopkins acquired foundational reading and writing skills at home before enrolling in Highgate School in 1854. His mentors included Richard Watson Dixon and Philip Stanhope Worsley, both notable English poets. Later, he pursued studies at Balliol College, Oxford, under the guidance of Benjamin Jowett and Walter Peter. His curriculum encompassed classics, literature, philosophy, and ancient languages, along with the art of poetic recitation. In 1867, he graduated with a First-class degree in classics, earning admiration from Jowett. Subsequently, he secured a teaching position at the Oratory in Birmingham.
Challenges and Later Years
Hopkins faced health issues and diminishing eyesight during his later years due to his overwhelming workload. As a devoted Jesuit, he navigated the complexities of his artistic pursuits and religious commitment. His poetic inspiration waned, but he managed to produce remarkable works. Unfortunately, persistent health problems, including typhoid fever, led to his passing in 1889. He found his final resting place at Glasnevin Cemetery in Ireland.
Contributions and Literary Style
Hopkins embarked on two impactful careers in his life – as a preacher and a professor. After completing his education, he embraced the priesthood in 1877, serving in various capacities across London, Glasgow, and Liverpool. During his time at St. Beuno's College, he rekindled his poetic pursuits. His masterpiece, "The Wreck of the Deutschland," emerged from a tragic incident in 1875. Hopkins' profound and original works gained recognition among peers like Coventry Patmore, Robert Bridges, and Richard Watson Dixon.
From 1885 onward, he produced a series of sonnets, including the evocative "Carrion Comfort." These intense poems, often referred to as "terrible sonnets," explored the tensions between religious devotion and worldly desires. While Hopkins resisted publication during his lifetime, Robert Bridges posthumously released his works in 1918 and further editions followed, influencing 20th-century poets.
Distinctive Literary Style
Hopkins' posthumous recognition stems from his unique linguistic and rhythmic choices. His language is rich, and his rhythm distinct. He diverged from traditional structures, favoring sprung rhythm for its ability to break free from conventions. His poetry amalgamated old and new English, blending various dialects, archaic terms, and innovative vocabulary. Themes of loss, death, religion, and human despair permeate his work.
Key Works and Influence
Among Hopkins' remarkable poems are "Carrion Comfort," "God's Grandeur," "Spring and Fall," "The Windhover," "Pied Beauty," and "The Wreck of the Deutschland." These works showcase his mastery over language, rhythm, and profound themes.
Hopkins' impact on literature remains profound. His thought-provoking ideas, religious beliefs, and analytical approach continue to inspire writers and critics. His unique writing style and expressive prowess influenced prominent authors like Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot, Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden, and C. Day-Lewis. His literary contributions continue to evoke admiration and envy among modern writers.
"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.
"God's Grandeur": 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.
"Spring": Nothing is so beautiful as Spring-
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, through his unique style and profound themes, has left an indelible mark on the world of poetry and literature.