A poet of daring innovation in a period of traditional verse, this week we mark the anniversary of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ death in 1889.
Born in Stratford, Essex in 1844, Gerard Manley Hopkins was the eldest of nine children, born to deeply religious parents. His father was a published poet and Hopkins followed in his footsteps, winning a poetry prize at grammar school and receiving a grant to study Classics at Balliol College, Oxford, where he continued to compose poetic works.
During his time at Oxford, Hopkins left the Anglican Church to convert to Roman Catholicism, becoming a Jesuit priest in 1868. At this time he burned all his poetry, feeling it unbefitting of his new vocation. However he did continue to keep a journal and returned to writing poetry in 1875 while living in Wales where he was inspired by the language and landscape. It was around this period that he penned the lauded The Wreck of the Deutschland after five Franciscan nuns died in a shipwreck.
During his time as a clergyman, Hopkins served as a parish priest in the slums of Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow, living in Dublin from 1884 until his death of typhoid fever in 1889. He did not enjoy his time in Ireland, being overworked, exhausted and unwell, and his poetry of the time reflect this unhappiness, being termed the “terrible sonnets”. Among these were No Worst, There Is None which featured in this year’s Liverpool LightNight performance, and this week’s Featured Poem, My Own Heart.
These sonnets show the poet’s struggle with spiritual and artistic matters, reflecting a melancholy which, according to Hopkins’ own testimony, he suffered from all his life. Hopkins defined this ‘terrible pathos’ as a “darkness and confusion of soul … diffidence without hope and without love, so that [the soul] finds itself altogether slothful, tepid, sad, and as it were separated from its Creator and Lord.”
My Own Heart
My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst ’s all-in-all in all a world of wet.
Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
’s not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather—as skies
Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.
Gerard Manley Hopkins