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Gerard Manley Hopkins by Justin Hastings, Chelsea Dietsche and Haley Hinze

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 5 months ago
Gerard Manley Hopkins
(1844 - 1889)
Gerard was born in Stratford, Essex, England on July 28, 1844. His father, Manley Hopkins was in the marine insurance business and his brother was in the Hawaiian government for many years. As he grew older, he entered Highgate High school, where T.S. Eliot was briefly a master. He was well liked there and quickly gained friends. He moved on from there to Oxford University, where in the next century J.R.R. Tolkien was a professor.
Just like at Highgate, here Gerard was well liked by his peers. Though he was raised in a practicing religious family, Hopkins found his faith during his years at Oxford. While his family was Anglican by denomination, Gerard was criticized for having increasingly Roman Catholic views at school. Gerard and his friend Alexander Wood made progress towards the Catholic Church during their time at Oxford and in 1866 they were both received into the Catholic Church.
Two years later Gerard joined the Jesuits, a Roman Catholic monastic order dedicated to teaching. He was later ordained a priest. Two loves grew within Hopkins and he dedicated his life to them: teaching and parish work. It was during his early years as a priest that he really began writing his poetry. It began in short intermittent bursts.
Even though he was a priest, Hopkins said that he was always religiously uncertain.
In 1884 Hopkins was moved to Dublin, Ireland and given the title, “Fellow of the Royal University of Ireland,” and “Professor of Greek" at University College, Dublin. Shortly after moving to Dublin, Hopkins developed a nervous depression. In 1885 Gerard’s depression and spiritual desolation reached a new low. It was during this period that Hopkins wrote his Terrible Sonnets. One should also note that during this time in history it was not easy to be an Englishman in Ireland.
During the spring of that year, Gerard was diagnosed with Typhoid. After his diagnosis, Hopkins slowly, but surely came out of his depression. During this last period of his life he wrote his final four sonnets. And unable to get out of bed, on June, 5  1889 he died. His last words were, “I am so happy, I am so happy."

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. 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.







The speaker here is indistinct, though it seems to be Hopkins, himself.


Speaker's feelings:

The first three lines of the sonnet have an admiring, marvelling sort of tone to them; however, Hopkins switches to a depressing sort of feeling in the next five lines. He feels that all the grandeur of God that nature displays has been trampled on and ruined by men. He seems to feel that man's industriousness separates him from nature and God.


The last six lines contain hope, comfort, and refreshment. Hopkins feels that despite the way humans continually "smudge" and "blear" and "smear" everything up, God (specifically, the Holy Spirit) is still watching and preserving everything in our "bent World."



 The whole world is this poem's stage. "God's Grandeur" specifically speaks of nature, man's imprints and soil. The poem also deals with the cosmic realm of life, giving us a unique perspective on the world; the last two lines call the reader to look from above to see "the Holy Ghost over the bent world." 


Hopkins sets a broad timeframe. It can perhaps be broken downs like this:

1) It begins with the beginning of creation - in which the world was perfectly "charged with the grandeur of God"

2) It traces through all of history - "generations have trod..." 

3) to the present - "all is seared with trade"

4) and looks to the future - "it will flame out" and "for all this, nature is never spent".


Meaning of the poem with textual evidence:


"God's Grandeur" is packed with Biblical imagery. According to Skylar Burris, images include the Creation, the Fall, Christ's Suffering, Man's Rebellion, and the quiet presence of the Holy Spirit. See if you can find them before you read what's next. Also, it helps to think of the poem both literally and spiritually.


Creation is subtly evident in the first lines of the sonnet. The word "charged" reminds us of light, which was created first according to Genesis.


The shook foil is probably gold foil, and this image can refer back to the Light of God that men follow. Hopkins, himself, explained that this image of "shook foil" is the central theme, and the rest of the poem expands on it. The ooze of oil refers not to petroleum, but to olive oil. Olive oil was used in sacred anointings and sacrifices in the Bible. Both the foil's flame and the olive's oil are believed to refer to the Holy Spirit.


The single word "Crushed" is said to refer very indirectly to the Son, Jesus. Instead of using "pressed" to refer to olive oil, Hopkins used "crushed" perhaps to stir up images of Christ's body and His suffering on the cross.


The next lines are reminiscent of the fall into sin (by Adam and Eve) and humankind's rebelliousness toward God. "Reck his rod" means to follow his law. Hopkins ponders, "Why don't men follow God? Why do they disobey his law?" Hopkins looks back through history at the dreary destruction people have marked the earth with: "all is seared with trade." Hopkins inner rhyme schemes between seared and bleared and smeared call attention to this destruction.


"The soil is bare now" describes the way humans have abused the earth and robbed it of its richness in the name of Progress. The shod feet (shod feet means shoes) reveal how we are disconnected with the earth. We can't even feel it any more with our own skin. This condition can also refer to our spiritual state of emptiness and separation from God.


BUT - "for all this, nature is never spent;" The "deep down" things include new, fresh life in nature - and new life spiritually. This spiritual renewal can even overcome "the black West," which our text tells us is an allusion to the splitting of the Church by King Henry VIII. Despite this darkness and destruction, morning still breaks and the Holy Spirit still "broods" over our poor bent world.


Confusing Parts:

The references to shook foil and oil seem really obscure to the reader at first! Hopkins explains it like this:


"I mean foil in its sense of leaf or tinsel...Shaken goldfoil gives off braod glares like sheet lightning...and a sort of fork lightning too." So...the foil can be seen as producing sudden light and electricity.


The oil is olive oil. According to our text, "The grandeur of God will rise and be [made evident] as oil rises and collects from crushed olives..." This gives us the idea of more of a steady glow. Both the suddenness and the steadiness can refer to the type of energy the Holy Spirit uses with humans.


"Reck his rod" means, again, to follow His commands. Rod refers to a measuring stick, and is another way of looking at the commandments.


Line 11 (And though the last lights off the black West went) alludes to King Henry VIII breaking ties with the Roman Catholic Church. Since Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, it makes sense that he would see this as a black moment in spiritual history.



Powerful Lines:

The repetition of "have trod, have trod, have trod" really drives home the weariness of humans and slow desecration of the earth.


"And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;" specifically shows how industry and progress leave their marks on everything.


"dearest, freshness deep down things" invokes the reader to be very introspective and/or to look closely for those "deep down things."


The image of the Holy Ghost both brooding (caring for, comforting) with warm breast evokes a peaceful calm in the last line. The ! in ah! bright wings reminds the reader that the Holy Ghost is also dynamic and can take action quickly - maybe even surprising us.


The verbs are spectacular: charged, flame, ooze, crushed, seared, springs, broods, etc.




The Windhover




 To Christ our Lord


I caught this morning morning's minion, king-

    dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding

    Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding

High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing

In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,

    As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding

    Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding

Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!


Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here

    Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion

Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!


    No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion

Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,

    Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermillion.




Gerard Manley Hopkins (the author) is speaking in this poem. He wrote this poem for “Christ our Lord,” but he’s not necessarily speaking to him alone. Hopkins added this dedication a few years after it was written which suggests he wrote it for other people to enjoy as well. 


Speakers’ feelings:

Nathan A. Cervo describes the authors feelings in a review he wrote on the poem called Hopkins’s THE WINDHOVER. Cervo says the poem “symbolizes the existential engagement and triumph of "Christ our Lord."” Hopkins is clearly expressing his dedication to God, as well as sharing his beliefs and personal morals. With that said, it’s safe to say the speaker feels passionate and very strongly towards this particular topic.



“I caught this morning” and “dapple-dawn-drawn” are descriptions the author uses in the first and second lines to describe the setting. It’s obvious to see from these descriptions that the poem takes place at the dawn hours of the morning, and most likely outdoors.


Meaning of the poem with textual support/ evidence:

Hopkins describes a past experience of seeing a windhover, then goes on to relate it to his own life and spiritual beliefs. A windhover is a small falcon with the ability to fly in place, hovering in the wind. Hopkins describes the bird as the morning’s prize (minion), the prince of daylight, and is amazed by the spotted colors of dawn (dapple-dawn-drawn).


He goes on to compare the bird riding in the air to the experience of riding a horse. In another review, Herbert Marshall McLuhan says “the kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” and the “windhover” literally mirror Christ, and the words “valour,” “plume,” “minion,” and “buckle” evoke the world of dedicated knighthood (dedication to Christ) and pride. The moment is filled with control, honor, concentration- and pride, when suddenly the bird takes off again (buckle!). McLuhan suggests that this parallels the definition of buckling, which is when a knight prepares his armor for action. Moments ago, the bird was peacefully floating in the sky- then suddenly there’s a change as it prepares for battle (rebuffed the big wind). It is in that moment that Hopkins feels his own heart stir (my heart in hiding stirred for a bird) as he watched the bird in amazement.



The last six lines are more in depth on the movement of the bird and drawing parallels to Hopkins’s life. It’s argued whether “buckle” symbolizes buckling of the knees, a fastening to bring something together, and so on, but in any case the moment evokes a feeling of bondage or connection.


The poem ends by saying the experience is nothing spectacular (No wonder of it). It’s an everyday thing. Working hard to let your inner light shine is part of being human. Hopkins compares it to a metal plow that is polished as it is used, not worn down. This image also relates to crucifixion, especially the use of the word “gash.” This would be the reason for all the work almost to say, Christ died for us so we should work hard and be proud and dedicated to Christ, just like the windhover.


Powerful images:

Imagery was the backbone to this poem. The most powerful images, the ones that stuck out most were the chevalier (...a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!), and the windhover itself. He describes the bird as if it's royalty and flawless by saying, "...daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding." and "As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird, - the achieve of, the mastery of the thing!" These lines nearly paint a picture of what's going on, the images the reader gets helps them to understand and see Hopkins's symbolism."



This poem is confusing for a lot of people, especially those who are not Christian. If someone doesn’t know much about Christianity, chances are they won’t understand this poem because that is what this poem is based on, a spiritual experience and comparison to god. The other thing that often confuses people is how the first eight lines are told in past tense, then the next six suddenly switch to the present, people often seem to get lost there. The trick to understanding the poem is to do it open-mindedly and with patience.




Other Enjoyable Links:



http://www.gerardmanleyhopkins.net/demo/index.html: Gerard in song! Check it out.



http://www.favoritepoem.org/thevideos/kunitz.html: Watch someone talk about his love for "God's Grandeur."



Works Cited:


Bergonzi, Bernard. Gerard Manley Hopkins. 1. New York, NY: Macmillan Publishing Co. , 1977.  


Burris, Skylar. "Biblical Imagery in Gerard Manley Hopkins's 'God's Grandeur'." 1999. 09 May

     2007 http://www.victorianweb.org/authors/hopkins/burris1.html



Cervo, Nathan A. "Hopkins." Explicator Volume 59. Issue 4(2001) 189.

     05 May 2007 http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=5275042&site=ehost-live. 


McLuhan, Herbert Marshall. "THE ANALOGICAL MIRRORS." Kenyon Review Volume 11. Issue 1(1989) 208.

     05 May 2007 http://search.ebscohost.com/login.aspx?direct=true&db=aph&AN=7111900&site=ehost-live.


Villeponteaux, Elizabeth. "Flashing foil and oozing oil: Trinitarian images in the first quatrain of 'God's Grandeur'." Victorian Poetry Volume 40. Issue 2

     (2002) 201. West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia. Infotrac. 05 May 2007.




Comments (6)

Anonymous said

at 9:25 am on May 10, 2007

Enjoyed the great depth on the poems, it helped to bring a way better understanding and much more meaning! The pictures also added a lot too, its much easier to envision a poem's descriptions when there is something to reference it off of. Great job all around!! :)

Anonymous said

at 9:28 am on May 10, 2007

Great page, very in depth. Good poem selection, made it easy to understand.

Anonymous said

at 9:35 am on May 10, 2007

You seemed to put a lot of time into this page. It turned out great. The explanations to the poems are very in depth and make it much more understandable in different ways. You;ve definately given me an interest to learn more about this poet.

Anonymous said

at 9:48 am on May 10, 2007

You have done your homework on Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poem "Gods Grandeur" you can pick the referances to how man is soiling the earth.-Bryan

Anonymous said

at 9:59 am on May 10, 2007

You guys are like some sort of well oiled machine that created a super page.

Anonymous said

at 10:03 am on May 10, 2007

great poem. information is well organized. everything seems to be clear.good job.

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