Monday, March 8, 2010

Gerard Manley Hopkins

English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) is one of the 19th century's most influential poets. Many of you will be familiar with his best-known work such as “The Windhover” and “Pied Beauty”. Even so, I’d like to encourage you to invest a few minutes meditating on his verse.

Hopkins wrestled with reconciling the humility of Christian servanthood with the inherent pride in producing art. He dedicated whatever time he could — which was minimal due to the demands of the priesthood — to his unique poetic vision, and he submitted his talent to God as a gift. The Norton Anthology of English Literature touches on his story by saying, “During his lifetime, these remarkable poems, most of them celebrating the wonders of God’s creation, had been known only to a small circle of friends, including his literary executor, the poet Robert Bridges, who waited until 1918 before releasing them to a publisher.” It is my belief that Hopkins’ attitude of submission to God, and his dedication to his art, are the essential elements that pleased his Lord — so that God has chosen to elevate Hopkins’ poetry.

The words of the following poem often play in my mind, in the same way the psalms do, when I’m out in God’s creation, leading me to worship.

God’s Grandeur (1877)

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.


In contrast to “God’s Grandeur”, Gerard Manley Hopkins also wrestled in prayer concerning the difficulties in his life. The following poem (one of his “terrible sonnets”) included a quote in Latin from Jeremiah 12:1, which reads in the NIV, “You are always righteous, O Lord, when I bring a case before you. Yet I would speak with you about your justice: Why does the way of the wicked prosper?” The final line of this poem has often found itself in my own prayers.

[Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord] (1889)

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? And why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
---Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build—but not I build; no, but strain
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.

May we approach our lives and art as Hopkins did.

Entry written by D.S. Martin. He is the award-winning author of the poetry collections Poiema (Wipf & Stock) and So The Moon Would Not Be Swallowed (Rubicon Press). They are both available at: www.dsmartin.ca