Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Eye Rhyme: Visual Experience and the Poetics of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Academic journal article Victorian Poetry

Eye Rhyme: Visual Experience and the Poetics of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Article excerpt

This was the prized, the desirable sight, ', unsought, presented so easily, Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, | eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

"Moonrise June 19, 1876" (1)

In 1874, while he was teaching at Manresa College, Roehampton, Gerard Manley Hopkins composed a set of lecture notes entitled "Rhythm and the Other Structural Parts of Rhetoric--Verse." The lecture begins with a definition of verse as an audible pattern:

   Verse is speech having a marked figure, order of sounds independent
   of meaning and such as can be shifted from one word or words to
   others without changing. It is figure of spoken sound. (2)

Hopkins' insistence on the sound of poetic structure is also applied to rhyme. Having mapped out the essentials of Classical meter, he then notes some rules for rhyme. Under the heading "Rhyme to the ear and rhyme to the eye," he writes:

The so-called rhyme to the eye is when the syllables are spelt alike, as plough and though and cough and rough and enough; but this is a fiction, there is no rhyme but to the ear: rhyme to the eye is correspondence of parts in pictorial art or in an infinity of natural things as the two eyes and the two sides of the body generally, butterfly's wings, paired leaves, shadows in glass or water. (Journals, p. 286).

No sooner has Hopkins located verse within the aural world than the second half of his statement opens up something much more interesting: a definition of "rhyme to the eye," not as a technical element of prosody, but as a kind of visual unity available as the correspondence of form within art or as symmetry in nature, either in paired opposites or in reflection. Hopkins goes on to say that the very notion of eye rhyme is invalid because of the nature of rhyme as a meeting of the like and the unlike: "There are two elements in the beauty rhyme has to the mind, the likeness or sameness of sound and the unlikeness or difference of meaning (Journals, p. 286). Rhyme, under Hopkins' rubric here, is not only the matching of words in patterns on the page-it is a system of viewing reality based on the recognition of sameness and difference.

The attention to sameness and difference is visible in many levels of Hopkins' work and thought. In the poetry, it manifests itself in his use of metaphor, in his pursuit of the universal and the particular, in his word-play and alliteration, and in the tension between form and freedom which governs his use of sprung-rhythm. It is also visible in Hopkins' journals, where attention to sameness and difference takes on a scientific tone of variation and categorization in his careful observations of clouds, flowers, trees, and small creatures. It is also evident in the terms of "inscape" and "instress," which he uses to express this view of reality from his undergraduate days onward. Inscape represents particularity, the unique, inner form of each organic thing, revealed to the observer through the senses. Instress represents connectivity. It is the awareness of the connection between one inscape and the inscape of other objects; instress also applies to the relationship of the perceiver to the perceived. Instress is therefore the observer's sensation of inscape, the realization of form or pattern, and the recognition of the interwoven character of all being. Hopkins may privilege sound in matters of versification, but his observation of reality and his awareness of instress and inscape is almost always visual--as it is, for example, in his journal entry on March 12, 1870:

I have always taken the sunset and the sun as quite out of gauge with each other, as indeed physically they are, for the eye after looking at the sun is blunted to everything else and if you look at the rest of the sunset you must cover the sun, but today I inscaped them together and made the sun the true eye and ace of the whole, as it is. It was all active and tossing out light and started as strongly forward from the field as a long stone or a boss in the knop of a chalice-stem; it is indeed by stalling it so that it falls into scape with the sky. …

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