Gerard Manley Hopkins: Priest and Poet

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Priest and Poet

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Priest and Poet

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Priest and Poet

Excerpt

The distinction of this book by Dr. Pick is that it treats of Gerard Hopkins as priest and poet. I do not say priest as well as poet, for Dr. Pick shows most convincingly that the two titles are inseparable in Hopkins.

Many articles and reviews have appeared which without collusion agree in this: that the long dead Jesuit poet, ignored in his lifetime and not resuscitated till 1918, must be ranked as amongst the first English-speaking poets of the nineteenth century, and perhaps of any century. These writers have dealt with him as a poet, but for the most part they have been chary of discussing the priest. Some have hinted that he was a poet despite his priesthood. They feel that his religious vocation throttled him--all religion and particularly the Catholic religion being to them "allergic" to poetry and love of natural things and persons, or because Jesuit discipline and spirituality frown on verse-making as a useless occupation. The result has been that so far no one has penetrated to his secret, which explains both the character and the power of this single-eyed poet. The secret lies in the unity of poet, priest, and Jesuit, in Hopkins; and this marks off Dr. Pick's book from all others. Knowing what the Catholic Faith means and having studied with rare insight and appreciation the form of spirituality which distinguishes the Jesuit, he is able to show convincingly that Hopkins' poetry is a loving regard of God and His creatures in the light of the Exercises of St. Ignatius and the sacramental doctrine of the Church.

Once this is grasped the poems fall into order and take on meaningfulness. We see the change-over in maturity: the preoccupation with the true "scape" of things designed by God, the sense of the passing loveliness of earthly things and the need of dedicating them through the Cross to Christ. Perhaps, as so many Victorian spiritual writers did, he tended to over-emphasize the danger of mortal beauty and the proximity of sin, but who are we in these days, when evil wills twist the souls of youth and demolish ancient beauties, to criticize him?

I am so glad that Dr. Pick dismisses the superficial talk of mystic "dark nights" when discussing the sombre sonnets of Hopkins' last years. They obviously fall into what is well known as the season of dry and dark faith, a season during which most good people are deprived of all the old sensible delights they . . .

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