Gerard Manley Hopkins: An analytical approach
Gerard Manley Hopkins, though a poet of the Victorian era, had a serious leaning towards the Pre-Raphaelites. Thus, poetic style, diction– all had a uniqueness with Hopkins. In his diction, we find striking similarity with Walt Whitman and a remarkable Romantic Revolt. We all know that Hopkins was very much interested in blending the natural with the erudite elements, often spiritual .Sometimes, it made his lines difficult to understand. Yvor Winters has blamed it on his stance of Romantic Individualism but we again know that Hopkins desired for an “impersonal and esoteric” discipline.
We are quite sure that Hopkins was interested in creating a “Parnassian” style by blending the noble immaculateness of Greek and Roman epic with the charm of lyric and the modern inclination towards the picturesque. In the best poems of Hopkins we find a remarkable blend of love of the ambience [Ecology] along with the love of God[Spiritualism].If we take The Windhover for immediate analysis it will be clear that the same attempt has been successfully wrought in here. The Windhover begins with the much-discussed portrayal of the bird in flight. Sometimes it seems to surpass Shelley’s description of his skylark and that of Hardy’s nighthawk [cf Afterwards].While describing the bird, Hopkins’s emotional outburst in “morning’s minion , kingdom of daylight’s dauphin” is simply unparalleled. Like Shelley he seems to utter “Hail to thee, Blithe Spirit, bird thou never wert”, when he says, “High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing/In his ecstasy! Then off, off forth on swing,” Throughout the poem, there is an alliterative charm which lends an additional beauty to the poem. The description of the bird is an appendage to the portrayal of nature and when the poet speaks of the “sheer plod,” “blue-bleak embers” he had the delicate poise of the falcon’s movements in mind, no doubt. The falcon is drawn as a chevalier, a horseman brandishing his rein as he sweeps “forth on swing” . The skate on ice image shifts the point of view only to stress the exactness and keenly portrayed movements of the bird. The bird is actually etched against the dawn.
Hopkins is brilliantly wedding ecology to spiritualism especially in the lines,
“..…..AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!
No wonder of it: sheer plod makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
Fall, gall themselves and gash gold-vermilion.”[cf The Windhover]
These lines are ambivalent in suggesting both the fire and ecstasy the poet has felt while envisaging the bird along with the greater fire which Christ illumines it with and which flames out at the world. The moral impeccability of man can “give beauty back to God” and thus God can be ever-effulgent, flashing out more brilliantly! The same theme forms the basis of The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo. The last three lines of The Windhover have remarkable similarity with Hurrahing in Harvest. The transformation of the clay with the humble service of the plough is literally mentioned. But on probe into the inner meaning, we understand that the poet is talking about the metamorphosis of the mortal coil and the “blue bleak embers” result from the conflagration of the inner dross and shine as “gold-vermilion”. Patience or eternal sufferings the true Christians talk about has also been hinted at. To ponder once more over the analogy of “sheer plod makes plough down sillion shine”, we find its paradox sparkling in the lines “This Jack joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,/ Is immortal diamond.” This “Jack, joke” toiling of the plough makes the trash and mud glitter like diamond and the sparkling of the diamond from the silicates of the soil is once again the mirror of Christ in the modest heart of mortal clay. It also keeps reminding us of Christ on Cross with gashing wounds, oozing out blood in the battle for Redemption, yet gleaming like gold because of His secret glory. Is it not putting ecology and spiritualism on an even keel?
In Pied Beauty, Hopkins speaks of a vision of creation in “harmonious multiplicity”. Nature in this poem is in constant flux. The sky’s pattern of couple-color is only momentary, the trout carrying mottled rose-moles are swimming, the chestnuts have dropped on the ground, and a fresh fire-coal in a like manner is consuming itself by its very act of being itself. Finches take to flight, landscape stand divided in plots, the piece of land lying fallow this year gets ploughed the next year, and each trade with its limited and particular potentials strives to make and change the universe. The nature is in continuous change , no doubt.
Through alliterative expressions, in two different stanzas Hopkins brilliantly shows the obvious inter-relationship of ecology and spiritualism. The poet frantically tries to make us understand that metaphoric difference is no difference between the objects, they are basically alike. We get to understand the chestnut falls by means of the fire-coals, the skies in comparison with a brinded cow , keeping in mind that they are different as well as alike. Thus, the whole universe taken as a unit is a case of “pied beauty.” The poem includes all the four vital elements of environment: earth, water, air and fire. The fields, trouts, skies and fire-coals are synecdoche and the poem epitomizes the cosmos. It is because, the relation of likeness and difference, of the single and the multiple, of the general and the specific pervades the whole universe.
The poem has a wonderful circular motion in disseminating the significant message that everything issues out of God and returns to God. In the first line of the poem The poet again harps on the relation of the similar and different , of the singular and the plural and likens it to that of God with the universe. The Creator and the Creation ultimately rhyme in unison. The first line starts with eulogy and the last line is an echo of an appeal for eulogizing Him: “Glory be to God for dappled things” and “Praise him”
God’s beauty can be defined in a couple of words: “past change.” He is One and Eternal and again this Almighty of Un-severed Singularity fathers forth that universe which is diverse, mottled, ever-changing, temporal. Surprisingly enough, all these spatial, changing, forked, fickle or freckled objects of environment has their source in the Eternal, Changeless and One and Unique God!! Naturally, in varied elements of Nature the stamp of God remains to be seen—indelible and ever-present. Unity lies in the bosom of “pied” diversity, no doubt. In God only diversity and unity are reconciled and made ONE. Gods’ omnipotence lies in the fact that he is the father of divergence and the confluence of the opposites. Thus from God issue forth the opposites and again in God they mingle.
Why is it that God is best understood through the pied objects? It is because, the dappled things , the freckled and fickle objects of nature display the imperfect facet of the universe that seek perfection only by getting united to God. Hence, t understand God, man must have small and varied experiences that bring to him the sensation that god remains manifested in all these imperfect, fragmented objects of universe which can easily be perceived by the five senses of human beings. And on getting the feel of the existence of God in all the small, dappled, trifle elements of the world, man tries to transcend the limits of this world and sets out on a journey beyond, inwardly.
Hopkin’s vision of ecology is balanced in tension between a profound understanding of the uniqueness of each object and a perception of omnipresence of God in all earthly objects. Hopkins harps on the notion of Concordia discors ,i.e unifying of diversity. And herein lies the essence of this poem. The sense-perceived objects of the environment present themselves as “swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim”. And by knowing these futile objects man can try to know Him and “praise him”. There is a striving throughout the poem to put God and Nature[ecology] on an equal pedestal, barring all contraries.
God’s Grandeur is an Italian sonnet where Hopkins has not used his favorite sprung rhythm but lines of varied iambic pentameter. In the octave, God is the manifestation of an electric sparkle, which fleetingly dazzles when falls on a rumpled metal foil .God’s presence is also like a rich oil, which wells up “to a greatness” when tapped with a certain patient pressure .So far, the images are quite appropriate to revere the presence of God. But in the octave itself, Hopkins through repetitive words and phrases brings forth man’s alienation from his Creator. The human beings these days along with the advancement of civilization is moving away from God. It baffles him especially when God’s presence is backed by such proofs. The shoes that separates man’s feet from the direct contact with the earth signifies man’s spiritual alienation ,along with the progress of civilization and man’s severing of all ties with the environment. In these lines , this message rings clear, “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.”
Despite, man’s progress in material pursuits has given him a right of cultural neglect, God’s omnipotence hardly stands questioned. Because of this cultural neglect, a hiatus between spiritualism and ecology might have resulted if God were not benign enough because “there lives the dearest freshness deep down things.” And nature is not “spent” due to man’s mal-utilizing of its resources. Environment cannot be ignored by man because it still carries the stamp of God’s benignity. If God’s presence went nullified could it ever be possible to see the sun which had just set down in the West to illumine the eastern cosmos? It is a sheer proof of God’s striving to balance the nature and man’s inordinate craving for toppling God’s omnipotence. God’s grandeur lies in God’s own proclaiming of the laws of universe and sustaining them. Man is to be redeemed from his spiritual aridity by construing well that God’s power of renewal is still intact because a bright dawn lies on the other side of the dark night. The cycle of birth and death, sunrise and sunset is enough to aver that God is still proactive with his creative oeuvre. The last lines promises God’s regenerative power as like mother hen He with his loving incubation hatches out a chicken. Like Holy Ghost of the Trinity , He keeps safe and secure all potentials of this universe.
In all the three sonnets discussed above, the single message that comes clear is, God fathers the universe and ecology and spiritualism are inseparable though God’s presence is being denied with the progress of science and civilization. But world can be restored to its original meaning of creation and nurturing of that if a balance can be wrought between reverence to God and the understanding of the intricacies of environment. God’s beauty lies in God’s grandeur, without any doubt!
1. Devlin, Christopher ed: The Sermons and Devotional writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins, OUP, London, 1959.
2. Phare, E.E: The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Survey and Commentary, Cambridge Univ. Press, England, 1933.
3. Heuser, Alan: The Shaping Vision of Gerard Manley Hopkins, OUP, London, 1958
4. Martz, L.L: The Poetry of Meditation, , Yale Univ Press, New Haven, 1954.[pp-321-26]