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    Gerard Manley Hopkins: an atypical Victorian? Essay

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    Much of the power of Hopkins’ later poetry comes from the tension between his creative personality (i.e. self) and his Jesuit beliefs. He attempted to reconcile the two after reading the works of the philosopher Scotus, who recognized the value of the individual self (haecceitas), a concept which seem to condone the poet’s ideas of inscape and their expression, the resulting poetry being a combination of inscape and the instress of the poet himself. Here, in the second verse of The Sea and the Skylark, we see the poet’s instress consciously imposed on the inscape with the inclusion of ‘I hear’; Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend,

    His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeined score In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour And pelt music, till none’s to spill or spend.. Hopkins was not immune from another product of the self consciousness of the age, the tendency towards self analysis. Obviously his vision of the period was coloured by his religious faith, which tended to push him in the direction of those pessimists such as Carlyle, Ruskin, Tennyson and Morris in feeling that Victorian England was moving inextricably towards its own downfall.

    Like Ruskin and Carlyle Hopkins was concerned by the effects of industrialisation upon nature, seeing it as wilful abuse of God given beauty (as can perhaps be seen in the grieving tone of Binsey Poplars), and by the inequality of society, seeing them all as symptoms of the moral decay and growing irreligiousness of society … Why do men then now not reck his rod? (God’s Grandeur, line 4). Both Tom’s Garland and Felix Randall address the social problems which Hopkins clearly saw as a direct result of the godless materialistic industrialisation of the period

    This, by Despair, bred Hangdog dull: by Rage, Manwolf, worse; and their packs infest the age. (Tom’s Garland 19-20) and the poet’s own concern for the spiritual welfare of this growing hopeless underclass. The Wreck of the Deutschland serves to illustrate the might of God and the fate of those who will not sacrifice themselves utterly to Him and suggesting an almost apocalyptic vision of the future in such a society, although the God who presents himself to the faithful Hopkins is very different to the one of the first few stanzas

    The Christ of the Father compassionate (stanza 33). Hopkins is often seen to be set somewhat apart from the Victorian norm, perhaps because his work was not actually published until 1918 but whilst his poetic technique may have been innovative and contemporarily unique, in this respect it represents perfectly the spirit of the age. The sensuous imagery of his poetry, his determination that his art should have an edifying purpose and his concern for the ‘Condition of England’ are typical of much work of the period.

    The crucial difference is the result of Hopkins’ fervent religious belief in a time when many were less sure, his work is poetry of faith and certainty rather than a product of the anguished doubt that characterised the work of men such as Tennyson and Arnold, and this eternal belief underpins everything he wrote, estranging it from much of the eminent contemporary literary canon.

    1 Cited in Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian Temper, Alison G.Sulloway, London 1972, page 1. 2 The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon, ed. Claude Colleer Abbott, London 1955 3 All poems taken from Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems and Prose, ed. W. H. Gardner, London 1953 4 quoted in Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems and Prose, London 1953, p. xxxiii 5 Note-books, p. 95 6 Gerard Manley Hopkins, from lecture notes on Poetry and Verse, 1874.

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