Inscape and Gestalt: Hopkins
. . . is immortal diamond.
Now that we possess the Letters and Notebooks of Gerard Manley Hopkins, we can see how decisively his discussion of poetic diction--a discussion carried on largely in private--anticipates, surpasses and eliminates most of the theoretical criticism of the nineteenth century. His practice of poetry substantiates his theories. The important documents are his letters to Baillie of September 10, 1864 ( Further Letters, 68-76), a 'Platonic Dialogue' on 'The Origin of Beauty' ( Notebooks, 54-91), an essay on 'Poetic Diction' ( Notebooks, 92-4), some notes for a lecture on 'Rhythm and the other Structural Parts of Rhetoric-Verse' ( Notebooks, 221- 48), and the 'Author's Preface' to his Poems ( Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 3rd edition, 5-10). But many passages of criticism and elucidation are scattered throughout the three volumes of letters and the Notebooks. The poems themselves contain crystalline thoughts on the poet's art.
In 1864 'a horrible thing' had happened to Hopkins--he had 'begun to doubt Tennyson'. He had been 'meditating an essay . . . on some points of poetical criticism', and in the process he had composed his thoughts on Tennyson. He proceeds to divide 'the language of verse' into three kinds:
'The first and highest is poetry proper, the language of inspiration. The word inspiration need cause no difficulty. I mean by it a mood of great, abnormal in fact, mental acute-