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Young Hopkins Hopkins as a Jesuit Priest


Poet and Priest


   A Hopkins Poetry Workshop

Read by Edward Petherbridge
Read by Paul Scofield

Sharing my love of his poetry; based on three BBC Programmes I have produced on Hopkins, on a workshop I gave at the Actor's Centre in London and most recently on the CD I produced with Claire Marchionne.

Read by Wimbush and a chorus of actresses
Read by Claire Marchionne

I aim to be flexible, entertaining and anecdotal.  To give you a flavour of some excerpts I shall play at the workshop, here are some selections from my productions:

  1. Edward Petherbridge's reading of The Habit of Perfection from The Uncreated Light a BBC Radio 4 programme.
  2. Paul Scofield reading The Wreck of the Deutschland, BBC Radio 3.
  3. Actresses performing The Leaden Echo from St. Winefred's Well, a verse fragment for a play by Gerard Manley Hopkins completed by Anthony Burgess.
  4. Claire Marchionne reading Pied Beauty.

I am sorry that these are not the most joyful excerpts!  (Also I should encourage the actors to inject more pace.)  Unlike Hopkins' biographers, Norman White and Robert Bernard Martin, I glory in Hopkins' joyfulness.  I have loved Hopkins' poetry since I was at Beaumont the Jesuit College, which he frequently visited.  I should like to share a little of my love.

Proposed Shape for Participants

There are three important things I should like to tell you about Gerard Manley Hopkins:

  1. He is a powerful and profound religious poet.
  2. He is one of the most satisfying and sensuous nature poets in the English language.
  3. He is an acknowledged master of original style.

One might add that his poetry "ripples with energy".

Although he lived as early as from 1844 to 1889, he rightly stands at the beginning of many anthologies of modern verse.

Professor Gardner describes him as "this puzzling and strangely exhilarating poet".  Gardner's two-volume study "Gerard Manley Hopkins: a Study of Poetic Idiosyncrasy in Relation to Poetic Tradition", published in 1948, remains the definitive academic work on Hopkins.  But as Hopkins himself said: "my verse is less to be read than heard" and this is what we plan to do today.

Before plunging in at the deep end with his great work "The Wreck of the Deutschland".  I should like to ease you in gently with one of his early poems, written in a conventional verse form.  It is also one of the few early poems that he did not burn on entering the Jesuit order.

I shall ask 7 of you each to read one stanza of "The Habit of Perfection", that he wrote at the age of 21.  Then I shall play you the three stanzas that the actor Edward Petherbridge read in a BBC radio feature about Hopkins called "The Uncreated Light", which I produced in 1989.  The "uncreated light" is a mediaeval schoolman's term for "God's Energy".

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. 

Already Hopkins originality, his love of alliteration, his peculiar observation of nature that you will find in his journals are evident.  I shall read - and ask you to read - some excerpts from these.

The Wreck of the Deutschland

						Thóu màstering mé
                    			Gòd ! gíver of bréath and bréad;
           		Wórld's stránd, swáy of the séa;
                   			Lórd of líving and déad;
     		Thou hast bóund bónes and véins in me, fástened me flésh,
     		And áfter it álmost únmade, whát with dréad,
            		Thy dóing : and dóst thou tóuch me afrésh ?
Óver  ágain I féel thy fínger and fínd thée.

Before we continue, I should let Hopkins himself tell you something about this poem:

"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 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 which now I realised on paper.  To speak shortly, it consists in scanning by accents or stresses alone, without any account of the number of syllables, so that a foot may be one strong syllable or it may be many light and one strong.  I do not say the idea is altogether new; there are hints of it in music, in nursery rhymes and popular jingles, in the poets themselves, and I have seen it talked about as a thing possible in critics."

"Here are instances -

'Díng, dóng, béll;
 Pússys ín the wéll; 
Whó pút her ín?  
Líttle Jóhnny Thín.  
Whó púlled her óut?  
Líttle Jóhnny Stóut.' 

"For if each line has three stresses or three feet it follows that some of the feet are of one syllable only.  In Thomas Campbell you have:

Ánd their  fléet alóng the déep próudly shóne.'


Ít was tén of Ápril mórn bý the chíme

And in Shakespeare:

'Whý should this désert bé?  

"Why do I employ sprung rhythm at all?" asks Hopkins. "Because it is the nearest to the rhythm of prose, that is the native and natural rhythm of speech, the least forced, the most emphatic of all possible rhythms, combining, as it seems to me, opposite and, one would have thought, incompatible excellences, markedness of rhythm and naturalness of expression."

Although his religious insights may have been demanding and his observation of nature unusually original and acute Hopkins listened to how people spoke and that is primarily where he found his verse forms.

Let's listen to the whole of The Wreck of the Deutschland read by Paul Scofield and then we can read it together stanza by stanza and discuss it.  Hopkins when he first submitted it to the publisher of the Jesuit magazine 'The Month', - who rejected it - marked the stresses in blue chalk.  Sadly that version has been lost, but Professor Gardner has attempted to recreate the stresses. Here is a selection of stanzas (I hand out a selection of accented stanzas) Let's enjoy the full sweep and power of the poem.

After this I should like each of you to take a stanza or two and offer your interpretation.  Hopkins' poetry is not easy but its understanding is always rewarding and in order to read it well it certainly helps to understand it.

Let's listen to Paul Scofield:

I díd say yés
O at líghtning and láshed ród;
Thou héardst me truér than tóngue conféss 
 			Thy térror, O Chríst, O Gód;
 	Thou knówest the wálls, áltar and hóur and níght :
The swóon of a héart that the swéep and the húrl of thee tród
Hárd dówn with a hórror of héight
And the mídriff ástrain with léaning of, láced with fíre of stréss.

The frówn of his fáce
Befóre me, the húrtle of héll
Behínd, whère, whére was a, whére was a pláce ?
I whírled out wíngs that spéll 
And fléd with a flíng of the héart to the héart of the Hóst.
           My héart, but yóu were dóvewinged, Í can téll,
Cárrier-wítted, I am bóld to bóast,
To flásh from the fláme to the fláme then, tówer from the gráce to the gráce.

I am sóft síft
In an hóurglass - át the wáll
Fást, but míned with a mótion, a dríft,
And it crówds and it cómbs to the fáll
I stéady as a wáter in a wéll, to a póise, to a páne,
 	But róped with álways, áll the way dówn from the táll 
Félls or flánks of the vóel, a véin
Of the góspel próffer, a préssure, a prínciple, Chríst's gíft.

I kíss my hánd
To the stárs, lóvely-asúnder
  		Stárlight, wáfting him óut of it ; and
 			Glów, glóry in thúnder ;
 	Kíss my hánd to the dáppled-with-dámson wést :
Since thó' he is únder the wórld's spléndour and wónder,
His mýstery múst be instréssed, stréssed ;
For I gréet him the dáys I méet him, and bléss when I understánd.

And so on until the last magnificent stanza

   				Dáme, at oúr dóor
 			Drówned, and among oúr shóals, 
  		Remémber us in the róads, the hèaven-háven of the rewárd:
Our Kíng back, òh, upon Énglish sóuls!
Let him éaster in us, be a dáyspring to the dímness of us, be a 
              crímson-cresseted éast,
More bríghtening her, ráre-dèar Brítain, as his réign rólls
Príde, ròse, prínce, hèro of us, hígh-príest,
Our héarts' chàrity's héarth's fíre, our thóughts' chìvalry's thróng's Lórd.

I should like to explore Hopkins notions of "inscape" and "instress" and to invite some of the participants' interpretation of these concepts.

We could also listen to Edward Petherbridge reading stanzas 12 to 15 and stanza 19 to 21 and finally 35.  Or we may wish to move on to other poems that the participants have prepared.

St. Winefred's Well and Other Poems

I should like to share some of my favourites with you.

I am particularly enraptured by The Leaden and the Golden Echo (The Maiden's Song).  This is part of Hopkins' fragment for a verse drama St Winefred's Well.  The novelist Anthony Burgess was a tremendous admirer of Hopkins. As a precocious sixteen-year-old, he claimed that he could recite by heart all of Hopkins' verse.  He was frustrated by the incompletion of Hopkins verse drama and in later life completed it himself in the style of the poet: a splendid pastiche, which I was fortunate to produce.  This poem combines Hopkins sensuality and his spiritual depth to a marvellous degree. Let us first read the Leaden and the Golden and then hear it from the production (for many voices and in an appropriately Welsh accent):

Hów to kéep is there ány  àny, ís there nóne such, nówhere knówn some, bów or 
bróoch or bráid or bráce , láce, látch or cátch or kéy to kéep
Bàck béauty, kéep it, béauty, béauty, béauty, … from vánishìng awáy?
Read by Claire Marchionne
Read by Shaun MacLoughlin

I should also particularly recommend The Windhover, Spring, Pied Beauty and Binsey Poplars (that "greatest of all ecological poems") for their love of nature and I should also like to look at Felix Randal for its celebration of a very different kind of man to Hopkins.  Also I should like to look at Duns Scotus's Oxford, which combines his love of place and his love for a man who predated him by 500 years.

Finally - and most importantly - I should like participants to select their own favourite poems to prepare for reading.

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: