Gerard Manley Hopkins

1844-1889. English poet. Born at Stratford (Essex) and educated at Baliol College, Oxford, under Jowett and Pater, he was influenced in art by the Pre- Raphaelites and in religion by the later Tractarians.* In 1866 he seceded to Rome. He joined the Jesuits and held several teaching and pastoral posts, including Stonyhurst, St. Helens, and the chair of Greek at Dublin. On entering the order he destroyed the poetry he had written up to that date and only returned to the art at the request of his superior to write a poem on The Wreck of the Deutschland, celebrating the heroic death of four exiled nuns from Bismarck's Germany. The oddity of the poem's language resulted in its rejection by The Month, to which it was submitted.

This oddity of expression, now recognized as the source of Hopkins's strength—“All things counter, original, spare, strange,” to use one of his own lines—is consistent with his emphasis on individuality—“What I do is me: for that I came.” In this Hopkins revealed his allegiance to Duns Scotus, rather than to the official theologian of the Jesuits, Thomas Aquinas. Consistently with this emphasis, he developed his theories of inscape (or individually distinctive form in things) and instress (the force that determines the form). This gives to his vision of things, particularly natural phenomena, a sharp, unusual, and special vividness and to his account of his own experience a penetrating sensitiveness that in the so-called Terrible Sonnets and in “Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves” becomes almost unbearably painful—“selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe—and shelterless, thoughts against thoughts in groans grind.”

Hopkins's poems were not published in his lifetime and indeed did not appear until his friend and literary executor, Robert Bridges, issued them in 1918. It was then clear how he was indeed a poet born out of due time, and the subsequent publication of his letters has revealed the acuteness of his criticism and dissatisfaction with the poetic mode of his own contemporaries. Hopkins remains a difficult, but immensely rewarding poet, a man who agonized before God.

See Poems (ed. W.H. Gardner and N.H. MacKenzie, 1967); and N.H. MacKenzie, Hopkins (1968).