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Hopkins loved Our Lady. I therefore dedicate these pages to her namesake, my beloved daughter, Mary. Hopkins aged 15 Hopkins as a Jesuit Priest


His Life through his Poetry

TRACK 1: His Early Poetry

Read by Claire Marchionne
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while you read
	A nun takes the veil

	I HAVE desired to go
  	   Where springs not fail,
	To fields where flies no sharp and sided hail
   	   And a few lilies blow.

	And I have asked to be
   	   Where no storms come,
	Where the green swell is in the havens dumb,
    	   And out of the swing of the sea.
Hopkins aged 18

Dame Helen Gardner, late professor of English literature at Oxford University, wrote:

Hopkins is a powerful and profound religious poet, a satisfying and sensuous nature poet and a master of original style.

He was born at Stratford Essex, in 1844, the eldest of eight children. At Oxford he gained a first in Classics, where Benjamin Jowett, the master of the College, called him the Star of Balliol. At Birmingham Oratory in 1866 Dr, later Cardinal, Newman received him into the Catholic Church.

The Habit of Perfection

		ELECTED Silence, sing to me
		And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
		Pipe me to pastures still and be
		The music that I care to hear.

		Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
		It is the shut, the curfew sent
		From there where all surrenders come
		Which only makes you eloquent.
		Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark
		And find the uncreated light:
		This ruck and reel which you remark
		Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

		Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
		Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
		The can must be so sweet, the crust
		So fresh that come in fasts divine!

		Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
		Upon the stir and keep of pride,
		What relish shall the censers send
		Along the sanctuary side!

		O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
		That want the yield of plushy sward,
		But you shall walk the golden street
		And you unhouse and house the Lord.

		And, Poverty, be thou the bride
		And now the marriage feast begun,
		And lily-coloured clothes provide
		Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.
St. Bueno's College

Hopkins entered the Jesuit novitiate in 1968 and in 1872 he began a three year course in theology at St. Bueno’s College, North Wales. He wrote to his father:

"The house stands on a steep hillside. It commands the long drawn valley of the Clwyd to the sea, a vast prospect, and opposite is Snowdon and its range; just now it being bright visible, but coming and going with the weather. The air seems to me very fresh and wholesome.

"It is built of limestone, decent outside, skimpin within, Gothic, like Lancing College done worse. The stair cases, galleries and Bo peeps inexpressible. It takes a fortnight to learn them. Pipes of affliction convey lukewarm water of affliction to some of the rooms. Others more fortunate have fires.

"The garden is all heights, terraces, excelsiors, misty mountain tops, seats up trees called crows’ nests; flights of steps, seemingly up to heaven lined with burning with aspiration after aspiration of scarlet geraniums.

" It is very pretty and airy, but it gives you the impression that if you took a step farther you would find yourself on Plynlimon, Conway Castle or Salisbury Craig

"With best love to detachments stationed at Hampstead,"

He explored the Welsh countryside and was immediately charmed by both the land and the people.

From “In the Valley of the Elwy”
	    Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales,
	All the air things wear that build this world of Wales;
  	    Only the inmate does not correspond:
	God, lover of souls, swaying considerate scales,
	Complete thy creature dear O where it fails,
	    Being mighty a master, being a father and fond.

Before deciding to become a priest, he had given up writing poetry. He felt it was inconsistent with the religious life, but then, in his own words:

When in the winter of 1875 the Deutschland was wrecked in the mouth of the Thames and five Franciscan nuns, exiles from Germany…aboard of her were drowned, I read the account in the Times.

The Deutschland wrecked on the Kentish Knock sandbank

The Times 11th December 1875:

"At 2 a.m. Captain Brickenstein, knowing with rising tide the ship would be waterlogged, ordered all the passengers to come on deck. Most of them obeyed the summons at once.

"Others lingered below until it was too late. Some of them ill, weak despairing of life even on deck resolved to stay in their cabins and meet death with out any further struggle to evade it .

"After 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning a scene of horror was witnessed. Some passengers clustered for safety within or upon the wheel house and on top of other slight structures on deck.

"Most of the crew and many of the emigrants went into the rigging where they were safe enough as long as they could maintain their hold.

"But the intense cold and long exposure told a tale.

The Wreck of the Deutschland by Sean Street

"The purser of the ship though a strong man relaxed his grasp and fell into the sea. Women and children and men were one by one swept away from their shelters on the deck.

"Five German nuns whose bodies are now in the dead house here, clasped hands and were drowned together, the chief sister a gaunt woman six feet high calling out loudly and often :

“'Oh Christ! come quickly!' until the end came."

I was affected by the account and happening to say so to my rector he said that he wished someone would write a poem on the subject.  On this hint I set to work and, though my hand was out at first, produced one.

I had long had haunting my ear the echo of a new rhythm:

The next track ~ The Wreck of the Deutschland

Introduction to this Hopkins Feature

Gerard Manley Hopkins Workshop

Home Page

We recommend the Oxford Edition and in particular Sean Street's account of The Wreck of the Deutschland, which he was inspired to write from hearing my production of Paul Scofield's reading for BBC Radio 3.  We also highly recommend Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Study of Poetic Idiosyncrasy in Relation to Poetic Tradition by Professor Helen Gardner: