« Chris Rea: Auberge | Main | "The Triumph of Drivel" »



Feed You can follow this conversation by subscribing to the comment feed for this post.

There are some good books about the poems. I was given by the Spiritual director of Opus Dei in Ireland a book called Hopkins in Ireland. It reads the terrible sonnets as atheistic. I lent it to a colleague who said he could refute it in a snap and never saw it again. Its enjoyable. Theres a book by Aidan Nichols which gives you dominican sparks notes on all the poems

I love Hopkins

You could certainly argue convincingly that he was in an atheistic mood. I'm familiar with that. I meant to include, though, that his last words were "I am so happy, so happy."

The first thing one needs is not Dominican notes, entertaining as those might be, but plain old notes for words like "sillion." Gardner helps with a lot of those.

Frequently I find that his poetry is like music in this sense. I know about 6 drops worth of music theory, so when I listen to a great piece of music, I don't understand what the composer is doing or how he is producing the effects that he is producing, but it just washes over me and something within me comprehends it. Sometimes, though I could not begin to parse Hopkins's verse, it just resonates in my soul.

I could not have begun to delineate those four points about how Hopkins does what he does, and I barely understand what you are saying, but I pretty much see what you are saying. ;-)

This is a great piece.


There are poems by Hopkins in the back of the Liturgy of the Hours, and sometimes I like to just sit and read them in adoration. I particularly like the one that begins:

O God, I love thee, I love thee---
Not out of hope of heaven for me
Nor fearing not to love and be
In the everlasting burning.


I think Aidan's book is fairly low brow

"We feel something of what he feels, not as a moment of openness produced by the poem, but as an aspect of our relationship to the real world. This is not the usual experience of a Catholic with the art of the past couple of centuries, and it’s pleasant not to have in the back of one’s mind a voice saying “Of course one can’t take his philosophy as-is...”, which I at any rate often do."

I appreciate this. Great post, Maclin. I look forward to reading it again at leisure.

When I was in college, it was Hopkins and Emily Dickinson who grabbed my attention the most. Very different in style and the feelings they arouse -- Emily's spare and mysterious style was far away from his "special intensity...almost ecstatic quality". But each were unique.

They were alive and working at the same time. Wonder what they would have thought of each other's poetry?

Interesting question. My first unreflective reaction is that he would have liked hers, she would not have liked his. But I don't have any real reason for thinking so.

Thanks for this, Mac. I've admired Hopkins, but at arm's length on account of the difficulties. My favourite of his poems, "The Habit of Perfection", is my favourite in part because it is so simple. But this overview helps me to understand him better, and I think I would like to spend some time with him again.

I struggle for anything intelligent to say, Mac. Wonderful post, lovely poet. I know I told you about the Jesuit two summers back who came and gave a Hopkins lecture - very enjoyable, entertaining, and informative. It is quite something when an expert on a subject inspires you so for a short period of time and you think you understand that subject. Then with time it fades, only hopefully to burn bright again at some later point in the future.

Glad you liked it, Stu and Craig. I do encourage you to give him a chance. Janet's advice to treat it a bit like music is good. I mean, you have to understand *something* to enjoy it, but you don't have to understand *everything*.

All poetry is supposed to be better read out loud, but I think Hopkins especially rewards that exercise.



A fine essay, Mac.

I first encountered Hopkins my senior year of college -- the same year, coincidentally, that I began to suspect I would end up Catholic. I was a fan then of "difficult" poetry -- Hart Crane, Wallace Stevens, T S Eliot -- convinced that if a poem was easy to understand it couldn't be very profound. So when "The Windhover" showed up on an English-class reading list, I was in love. Here was a "difficult" poet who was also a Catholic priest and whose poems were religious! (My reaction, in other words, was the opposite of yours. You weren't much interested that Hopkins was a Christian. I found it the most interesting thing about him.)

Because I wanted to "get" the Catholicism in it, Hopkins's poetry motivated me to pay close attention, closer attention than I had ever paid to poetry before. And after a while, it didn't seem quite so "difficult." In fact, Hopkins's poetry taught me, in a way, to pay closer attention to ALL poetry, and I eventually came to see that some "difficult" poems are not all that difficult, and some "easy" poems are not all that easy.

I'm glad you mentioned his last recorded words. It's tempting, from a certain (secular) perspective, to read disappointment and frustration into the story of Hopkins's life as a Jesuit. One finds comfort in knowing that he didn't see it that way at the end.

I've only read tiny bits of Hopkins and you make me want to read more, and more attentively.

Rumer Godden has a novel called "Kingfishers Catch Fire." I never knew till now that it was an allusion!

Yes, the poem is in the front of the book. She's coming up in November.


Maybe I've started a Hopkins Awareness movement. What color should the ribbon be?

The kingfishers we have around here are not that colorful, and when I see them darting around I think about what it would be like if they were as brilliantly colored as the European ones.

Thanks, Jeff. You were obviously way ahead of me in spiritual maturity. I would only have scoffed at the idea that I would ever become Catholic.

The kind of obscurity in poetry that really gets me is the kind where the words are perfectly clear when I take them a phrase or a sentence at a time, but I can't make them add up to anything coherent. That was my experience the few times I sampled Hart Crane. Stevens is sometimes that way, but I can usually more or less see what he's getting at.

I agree about reading Hopkins aloud. I have a recording of some of his poetry that I've been meaning to dig out.

Hearing his poems read by someone else would be a great help for me, especially because of the diacritical marks he used, which I've always found very confusing.

I read "Habit of Perfection" to my kids this morning at breakfast. My ten-year old said, "huh?" My 17-year old really dug it. I didn't hear from the 14-year old.

By the way, some accounts of his last words included "I have loved my life."

I'm really glad that Jeff mentioned the last words because I had missed them.

I lost a comment, but it wasn't important.


RIP Comment. It's not clinging to life in the spam catcher.

That scared me! At first I was thinking, OH NO, Who died?!


Sorry. I guess it was the "I lost..." that suggested that, since people often describe a death that way.


Look at the stars! Look, look up at the skies!
Oh look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!
The bright burroughs, the circle-citadels there!
Down in the dim woods the diamond delves! the elves'-eyes!


The roommate I mentioned once got a lot of weird looks by shouting out those first two lines as we were walking down the street.

Once when I was talking to an English professor about my total unmusicality he said, 'but you enjoy reading poetry'. He said that many unmusical people get the pleasure others get from music an analogous pleasure to that obtained by musical people from music.

Oh, I'm always stopping people in parking lots and making them look at the setting moon or a rainbow. I don't shout though. Generally, they seem happy to stop.


Verify your Comment

Previewing your Comment

This is only a preview. Your comment has not yet been posted.

Your comment could not be posted. Error type:
Your comment has been posted. Post another comment

The letters and numbers you entered did not match the image. Please try again.

As a final step before posting your comment, enter the letters and numbers you see in the image below. This prevents automated programs from posting comments.

Having trouble reading this image? View an alternate.


Post a comment

Your Information

(Name is required. Email address will not be displayed with the comment.)