So, everyone knows Edgar Allen Poe, because everyone was forced to read “The Raven” at some point in school. And most everyone has at least heard of T.S. Eliot, even if you haven’t actually read any of his poems. But here’s a poet you may not have heard of: Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Hopkins was an English Jesuit priest who wrote poetry during the later years of the 19th century. Very little of it was published during his lifetime, and he had kind of a love-hate relationship with it himself, not being sure if poetry was a fitting exercise for a priest. History has decided in favour of it. His poems are like nothing else I’ve ever read. He invented his own poetic form called “sprung rhythm,” which followed such complicated rules that no one has ever been quite able to replicate it. I don’t understand it fully myself, but I do know that it resulted in language is so compressed, and metre so unusual, that it takes several readings to grasp every layer of meaning in one of his poems. Reading it aloud feels like chewing a steak. A really, really delicious steak. That’s the best way I can describe Hopkins’ use of words.
And as for what the words are saying…it’s not every poet, and certainly not every Victorian poet following a rhyme scheme, who can convey such fierce joy and sorrow in just a few lines. His descriptions of nature rival those of the most swoony Romantic, and they manage to skip most of the swooniness. His version of singing praises to God puts every modern Christian songwriter to utter shame.
In case it isn’t clear, I freakin’ LOVE Gerard Manley Hopkins. He is the best. I would totally start a Gerard Manley Hopkins fandom, but nobody I know has even heard of him! Well, now you have. Boom.
Here’s one of his more famous poems (and the one that first introduced me to this beautiful genius):
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.
There’s lots, lots more where that came from. Go look up his other stuff–and expect feelings.
Oh, and happy Earth Day, by the way. If I had been responsible enough to plant a tree today, I would have named it Gerard. And from up in Heaven, GMH would have looked down and approved. But instead, I wrote this post.