An Excerpt from an Essay on Gerard Manley Hopkins.

This leads me to Hopkins and his influence: god; and his influence on me. God was who he worked for, that was where he drew his inspiration. Hopkins was fueled by his love for god and how he found beauty in all of god’s creations. Hopkins’ works focus on god’s grandeur in all things, and everything he does is in reverence to the almighty. So even though I am an atheist, I find deep inspiration in things like this (I’m also a huge fan of Johnny Cash, even his gospels) I love the dichotomy that exists within myself and how I think of Hopkins in his deepest sincerity for something greater and more important than he, when I read lines like:

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.

I have never felt so strongly about anything. Well, I have never so strongly about anything that wasn’t something tangible or could be taken from me. His faith drives him. His love for something bigger than himself can be verbalized, and he knows that how much he cares depends on him and his feelings, nothing else. I could also define how I feel as jealousy. But I read it and I too am brimmed with his curse… yet I feel not even a tinge of the same thing he does.

I love his use of words that don’t typically go together (he is an odd man, after all — oh and yes I enjoy his Sprung Rhythm, but I think that goes without saying); words that create sound that make me have to read it out loud to feel it, to understand how he heard it. I think there is such great music in his works through repetition and images, that it connects me very deeply to him through my own love of music. Here in The Leaden Echo are some examples:

Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty,… from vanishing away.


Ruck, and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets tombs
and worms and tumbling to decay.
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

And I’m not even going to quote The Golden Echo, I think putting it all down here defeats the point. This goes for many of his works. They strike me so deeply that I find it taxing to chose which, decide which line, pick something that stands out, because so many of them do.

Finally, I was taken by his life and how he lived (especially that he lived during the Victorian era, but was not influenced by it; rather he seemed to defy it) that after reading much of his journal, I realized how alone he really felt. How disillusioned he was near the end of his life with his faith and what he felt he sacrificed to his god and seemingly got nothing. He realized his life’s vanity in salutation to a god that may otherwise exist, left him with nothing; but left me with an even deeper connection to the layers that present themselves in his works. Here are some lines from what most people call “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, if I Contend,” where he seems to do exactly what I outlined. He wants an answer. Here it is in its entirety:

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.

–Such longing and sadness.

With this knowledge of disillusionment, so many lines can have double meanings now; his words aren’t just face value, everything can be read again, and as I peel back each layer I come to a new meaning, a new feeling, and Hopkins remains silent to let me do that. His work becomes beguilement, and I the detective to experiment and learn.

Hopkins exists inside my head. I learned disjointed-jointed rhythm from him, and before I ever heard someone who understood how to read him recite him out loud, I had my own way of reading him — especially his purposeful accents, which I, borrowing from French, would pull or push his words in what direction they pointed, grave ( <—); ague (—>). And I never cared if I was wrong, which strikes me as quite funny.


~ by Shawn M. Young on May 1, 2012.

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