Gerard Manley Hopkins

A few weeks ago we visited St Beuno's in North Wales, where Gerard Manley Hopkins trained for the priesthood and wrote some of his best known poetry.

I love Hopkins' poetry and I particularly enjoy his being strongly influenced by the aesthetic theories of  John Ruskin and by the poetry of the devout Anglicans, George Herbert and Christina Rossetti.

Ruskin's influence on Hopkins is of particular interest to me at the moment, as I develop a greater understanding of Ruskin's work and importance to his contemporaries. It is easy to see how Ruskin's views of natural beauty "unique, momentary, and vulnerable to time and man's impiety'" came to influence Hopkin's writing. Ruskin believed that nature's smallest part held grand significance and that one should engage the senses with detail .

Ruskin wrote that `to find even in all that appears most trifling or contemptible, fresh evidence of the constant working of the Divine power for glory and for beauty, and to teach it and proclaim it to the unthinking and the unregarding' was the `peculiar province' of the artist . This view may well explain the intentionality behind Hopkins' poem Pied Beauty.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
      For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
   Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
      And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.

So, exploring Hopkin's life and poetry further caused me to discover that he spent some years in Liverpool, serving as a priest at St Frances Xavier in Everton. He lived in the Presbytery at 8, Salisbury Street, and as well as serving SFX, he was chaplain to the St Vincent de Paul Brotherhood. We pass this church, now part of Liverpool Hope University, frequently, on our journeys in and out of Liverpool.

Hopkins wrote that he found parish work “very wearying to mind and body” and that he was “brought face to face with the deepest poverty and misery”. In spite of this, he wrote two of his most famous poems Spring and Fall and Felix Randall whilst living here. 

“Spring and Fall"

    Margaret, are you grieving
    Over Goldengrove unleaving?
    Leaves, like the things of man, you
    With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
    Ah! as the heart grows older
    It will come to such sights colder
    By and by, nor spare a sigh
    Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
    And yet you will weep know why.
    Now no matter, child, the name:
    Sorrow’s springs are the same.
    Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
    What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
    It is the blight man was born for,
    It is Margaret you mourn for.

I love connections between poetry, poets and places and I am enjoying the links between Ruskin and Hopkins as well as a link between Liverpool, a city I love, and Hopkins, a poet whose work moves me deeply.