As an example of the datedness of the approach, consider this passage from an attempt by the author to assess the sonnet "Carrion Comfort": "[Writing] is one way of holding, and not abandoning, the hermeneutic circle. By this I mean that the gathering of the fourfold as a means of poetics includes the negation of the hermeneutic circle as a way of holding it, or of holding the elements of the fourfold in the openness of being. Such a holding can be seen in the gesture of writing, of writing as a presencing of the errors of being" (p. 87). That kind of opaque language, which asks literary criticism to masquerade as philosophy, went out of fashion several years ago, for good and ample reason, but it resurfaces here all too often.
Regarding one-sidedness the problems are more extensive. While the book often alludes to, and certainly borrows heavily from, a variety of (mostly continental) philosophers and critics, including the author's dissertation director, it evidences major gaps in the author's awareness of Hopkins criticism. Prior work on Hopkins and Heidegger has been published, but it is not cited. The scholarly work that is cited represents a thin and dated group--so important a concept as inscape, for example, gets explained by means of a passage from W.A.M. Peters more than sixty years old. Most serious of all are the many errors that have crept into the text: the idea, for example, that Hopkins wrote "Binsey Poplars" at Oxford during the poet's student days (it was written over a decade later when the poet served at a Jesuit parish in that city), or that the well-known Hopkins scholar Jude Nixon is a "she." While the book is not without interesting and sometimes stimulating critical commentary, it needed a good fact-checking editor and it is too little removed from its origin as a dissertation.
An article by Sarah Wood, "Some Scraps on Beauty-in-the-Ghost" (parallax 15, no. 1 : 80-89), shares some of the difficulties of the Willems book, for example its overdependence on philosophy (Derrida) and its needlessly opaque language. But Wood's more modest intention is to comment upon a work by Nicolas Abraham and Maria Torok, and her suggestive comments on "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" serve that purpose and also illuminate the poem.
Last year's review commented on an important novel based on Hopkins' life, Ron Hansen's Exiles. Another novel similarly rooted appeared in 2009: Robert Waldron's The Secret Dublin Diary of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Brandon). This latest fictional entry does not sustain a comparison with Hansen's. Both novels borrow from the poet's journals and correspondence to imagine dialog and invent scenes, and both provide a sympathetic treatment of the poet. But where Hansen invented when he could not know, Waldron mangles chronology, which he could know, and instead of inventing language he pirates it wholesale. So much of the language of this book is the poet's that Hopkins should be credited as co-author--except he would be horrified at the uses to which his words have been put. Waldron evidently takes such liberties because he has a thesis to propound, namely that the source of all of Hopkins' creativity, but more especially all of his personal and spiritual miseries, was a repressed homosexuality. Therefore the novel is full of invented scenes of the poet looking at boys, or longing to kiss young men, or expressing his mad love for a handsome fellow Jesuit. The obsession with such scenes, represented also by the book's cover, tells us more perhaps about the author's or publisher's motives than about the poet's. While the notion of a homosexually oriented Hopkins has been a staple of criticism for quite some time, and appropriately so, the extent to which that theme is carried here will disserve anyone trying to understand the poet better.
Here too an article--Spencer Reece's "Countless Cries: Father Gerard Manley Hopkins" (American Poetry Review 38 : 3-5)--complements the book but also betters it. Reece wishes to account for Hopkins' silences, and he lists among the reasons for them a sublimated homosexuality which nevertheless binds us to the poems. "What vexed Hopkins," Reece claims, "was his sexuality, more than his priesthood" (p. 4). But the power of Reece's argument is that it avoids the reductive, as evidenced by his carefully worded summative comment: "The limitations of Hopkins--his celibacy, his Jesuit rules, his thwarted Jesuit career, his uninspired preaching--were maybe hidden blessings, creating the silent vacuum for the poems" (p. 5). Waldron's novel misses those nuances.
Three books devoted to larger themes--to nature, the Ignatian tradition, and the occult, respectively--have chapters on Hopkins, and all three manage to say something similar about the poet and his relationship to nature. John Felstiner's Can Poetry Save the Earth? A Field Guide to Nature Poems (Yale Univ. Press) begins with the premise that poetry raises consciousness and that consciousness in turn can embolden conscience. We see "the things of our world afresh by saying them anew" (p. 3). Felstiner in his chapter "'freshness deep down things': The World Charged by Gerard Manley Hopkins" argues for the compatibility of Hopkins's naturalism and his religious vocation. The poet, "drunk on the tone, taste, texture of words" (p. 96), craves ecstasy and finds it in the deep-down freshness of a nature that even in his own day was under assault and disappearing fast. Kevin F. Burke, S.J., and Eileen Burke-Sullivan examine The Ignatian Tradition (Liturgical Press), that is, the connection between the spiritual practices associated with Ignatius of Loyola and the history which has produced them. Their chapter on Hopkins connects him to the creative use of the imagination and also to the Ignatian practice of endeavoring to find God in all things, especially in the natural world. Dal-Yong Kim in Mystical Themes and Occult Symbolism in Modern Poetry (Edwin Mellen Press) continues this emphasis on what the author calls "natural sacramentalism" by connecting the poet's theories of inscape with his nature poems, all of which conspire to reveal the divine energy behind the manifold and glorious details of the physical world around us.
Two excellent articles exemplifying textual scholarship appeared during the year. Edward H. Cohen's "The 1918 Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins" (Book Collector 58, no. 2 : 199-218) recreates the circumstances surrounding the publication of this first edition of Hopkins' poems, edited by Robert Bridges and appearing under the imprint of the Oxford University Press. Cohen attends to the actual production of the volume--his study, the author claims, "is the first to examine Bridges's role in designing the book, to identify the distinguishing features that he selected, and to demonstrate how his insistence on the perfection of the first edition resulted in the creation of various binding states heretofore unknown to scholarship" (p. 200). Cohen argues that Bridges was not, contrary to the claims of some, dilatory in preparing for the press this thin volume of the poems of his good friend. Moreover when he did undertake the task he did so conscientiously and tastefully. Very careful examination of extant copies of the book allows Cohen to establish some new facts: for example, that while the book appears to be bound as octavo, its printing format is sextodecimo, and that Bridges' insistence on correcting some ill-reproduced photographs of Hopkins accounts for this book having two binding states.
A shorter article by Simon Humphries may have a more direct impact on scholarly debate. His "Gerard Hopkins's 'Hark, Hearer, Hear What I Do': Two Editorial Traditions Examined" (ANQ: A Quarterly Journal of Short Articles, Notes, and Reviews 22, no. 2 : 27-33) focuses on the poem to which editors have given the title "Epithalamion" and begins where Cohen left off, namely with Robert Bridges' 1918 edition. Bridges made some fateful editorial decisions: to give the poem the title it has carried ever since, to suggest that because it was written on paper from a Royal University of Ireland examination booklet Hopkins must have been composed it while he was invigilating examinations, and to diminish the poem's importance by grouping it among Hopkins' unfinished poems. Humphries makes a very persuasive case otherwise. The "Epithalamion" title, for example, is really the poet's genre description, not his proposed title, so that a better editorial choice now would be to treat it as one would any other untitled poem, that is by its first line, as Humphries himself does in his article's title. As to the invigilating question, Humphries demonstrates successfully that previous editors have been incautious in accepting a cause-and-effect relationship between examination paper and the occasion for its use. And while the dismissive treatment of the poem as a "scrap" has been rectified by later editors like Catherine Phillips, the poem's very existence raises important scholarly and editorial questions such as how to weigh the poet's own views about poetic fragments against our own reception of them, a conflict which has meant that "the critical tradition has been too slow to value what Hopkins did produce" (p. 31). One hopes that Humphries will extend this fruitful inquiry into other parts of the Hopkins canon.
Three important articles attend to perhaps the most important Hopkins-related topic, his poetic language. Allan C. Christensen in "Navigating in Perilous Seas of Language: In Memoriam and 'The Wreck of the Deutschland'" (VP 47, no. 2 : 379-401) argues that both poems draw upon traditions by which poets connect sea voyages with their poetic compositions about them, the physical dangers of the former implying the compositional difficulties of the latter: "At issue is the craftsmanship required to navigate the poetic vessel through dangerous seas" (p. 379). Christensen draws careful and detailed parallels between Tennyson's and Hopkins' uses of such themes and figures as, for example, the lost maternal presence, the intruding patriarchal figure, the silencing of the poet's voice, the renewing breath of inspiration, and the rescuing ark. The author occasionally verges on a danger implicit in all criticism of this sort, namely of suggesting that any poem is about nothing but language: see, for example, the exaggerated claim that "the wellbeing of language ... has always constituted Hopkins' supreme concern" (p. 396). But for the most part Christensen evades the danger and offers a stimulating, insightful, and carefully delineated reading of the many parallels between these two major poems.
Pamela Coren's article "Gerard Manley Hopkins, Plainsong and the Performance of Poetry" (Review of English Studies 60, no. 244 : 271-294) takes as its point of departure Hopkins' declaration in a letter to Robert Bridges that plainsong, otherwise known as Gregorian chant, is the only good and truly beautiful recitative. Coren establishes the poet's familiarity with plainsong dating back to his Anglican days and shows the multiple ways in which plainsong became an aesthetic base for his poetry and "provided an impetus to his move away from standard verse rhythms and his development of sprung rhythm" (p. 271). Both plainsong and sprung rhythm are in turn forms of recitation or proclamation, which for Hopkins represents the truest form of poetry-hence his notion that his poems are to be heard, not read.
The article closes with some very shrewd observations on the poet's inconsistencies, such as the "observable dislocations between his personal readings as inscribed in his stress markings, and his wider critical vision which produced sprung rhythm" (p. 293).
An article by Joseph Feeney, S.J., originally in Studi Di Anglistica and later included in Letter[s]: Functions and Forms of Letter-Writing in Victorian Art and Literature, ed. Mariaconcetta Costantini et al. (Rome: Aracne, 2009), assesses "The Playfulness of Gerard Manley Hopkins" as evidenced by the playfulness of the language in his letters and even in the darkest of his poems. Feeney acknowledges the poet's seriousness but argues that his claim of playfulness "if established.... will change the understanding of Hopkins as man and poet and, even more important, change the way his poems are read" (p. 129). A full and convincing development of this thesis is offered by Feeney's book on the same topic, reviewed in these pages last year. Here the focus is on the language of Hopkins' family letters and letters to Robert Bridges, where Feeney finds examples of playfulness at the rate of "well over one per page and nearly two per letter" (p. 132), and also on selected poems, especially "No worst, there is none" and the first part of "The Wreck of the Deutschland."
The third number of volume VII of Revue LISA/LISA e-journal  was published as a Festshrift in honor of Rene Gallet, Professor Emeritus of the Universite de Caen. Seven essays in all made up the Festschrift, and two of them dealt with Hopkins and modern science. Cary Plotkin in "Hopkins the Darwinian: a Contextual Understanding" (pp. 476-489) takes up the intriguing question of why Hopkins appeared to react so placidly to the Darwinian revolution going on around him in the Oxford of the 1860s. Plotkin shows very convincingly that Hopkins came out of a Catholic tradition that sought "to harmonize Darwinism with the minimal requirements of the Aristotelian-Thomist synthesis" (p. 488), a position made possible because of the wide latitude given to varying beliefs by the Catholic Church of Hopkins' day. Similarly the honoree, Professor Gallet, contributes an essay on "Hopkins in the Age of Maxwell" (pp. 465-474) which describes the second major scientific revolution of Hopkins' day, the redefinition of matter, often associated with J. C. Maxwell. Gallet shows that the poet's interest in the subject, best evidenced by his announced intention to write a book on Light and Ether, was really more philosophical than scientific. Despite their differing epistemologies, strong parallels exist between Maxwell's and Hopkins' religious philosophies and their belief in human freedom as opposed to determinism and necessitarianism.
Two of the essays deal with religious issues. Sjaak Zonneveld's "Blessed John Duns Scotus and Recent Papal Pronouncements" (pp. 412-421) updates the status of Hopkins' favorite philosopher, showing how three modern popes have praised the Franciscan for many of the same qualities the poet identified in him. Maureen Moran in "Hopkins and Victorian Responses to Suffering" (pp. 571-581) argues persuasively that the prevalence of physical pain in Hopkins' poetry owes more to his appropriation of Victorian discourse than it does to algolagnia. She shows that Hopkins, while aware of and influenced by contemporary attitudes, nevertheless developed his own distinctive take on suffering. For him the endurance of suffering becomes "a process of the natural perfection of the whole individual" (p. 574) rather than simply an exchange--"no pain, no (heavenly) gain"--or a sign of acquiescence. The martyr-hero suffers, but not passively: his or her response is stressful and stressing, a combination of Protestant ideals of religious martyrdom and Catholic attitudes toward sainthood that only someone with Hopkins' mixed background could develop.
The remaining three essays focus directly on the poetry. The most general one, Gildas Lemardele's "Le Mer et l'instance paradoxale dans quelques poemes de G. M. Hopkins" (pp. 101-108), summarizes the poet's ambivalent attitudes toward the sea, which is both violent and benevolent yet acts with a divine insistence. Catherine Phillips' "Nothing is so beautiful': Hopkins's Spring" (pp. 110-119) takes note of the many celebrations of that season in the poetry. Regarding the poem with that title, Phillips argues against the conclusion of Seamus Heaney and others that the poem splits into two parts. Instead in her view it is united by its Marian allusions and imagery and by its vivid sacramentalism, qualities which reappear in other, later spring-related poems. And Joseph J. Feeney, S.J., in "Is Hopkins' 'The Windhover' about Christ? A Negative Response, with a Whimsical Postscript" (pp. 95-99) adopts a confessedly New Critical approach in denying there is any internal evidence that Hopkins' best-known poem is about Christ--rather it is about "the wonder of a bird's natural power of flight and the even greater wonder of its ability to overcome adversity" (p. 97).
Finally we can consider the six important articles which appeared in Vol. XXXV of Hopkins Quarterly, dated 2008 but appearing in 2009. The Winter-Spring number begins with Duc Dau's "'Beautiful Action': Hopkins and the Perfect Body" (pp. 3-18). Very politely taking issue with the recent emphasis on homoeroticism in the poet's attitude toward the body, Dau suggests a reorientation of criticism towards an understanding of Hopkins' thought as philosophically and theologically rooted. Hopkins saw himself as an Aristotelian Catholic, which meant that he saw bodies as having an end--the uniting of inner and outer beauty in purposeful work--shaped by a coherent aesthetic and sanctioned by a divine purpose. Dau makes a persuasive case that Hopkins' writing about bodies in his poetry reveals not voyeurism but a healthy imagination where, with "the beauty of the body acting out its purpose, humans will, like Plato's winged philosophers, reach God, the fullness of beauty" (p. 17).
Jude Nixon provides a long and very interesting exploration of Hopkins' attitudes toward and ministry to the poor in "'if all had bread': Father Gerard Hopkins, the Condition of England Question and the Poor of Nazareth House" (pp. 19-46). As noted earlier, Hopkins returned to his beloved Oxford in 1878 as curate in the Jesuit parish of St. Aloysius. He was soon assigned duties as a chaplain at Nazareth House, a home for the indigent, mostly the elderly and young children. There he saw first-hand the debilitating effects of poverty on the health and spirits of those in his care, experiences which had their culmination in the many funerals over which he presided. The chaplaincy of Nazareth House prepared Hopkins for his later work in the slums of Liverpool and gave him a lifelong concern both for poor people themselves and for the political and social institutions which gave rise to their plight and to ill-fated responses like the New Poor Law--all of which Carlyle summed up as the "Condition of England Question." This concern for the poor manifests itself especially in Hopkins' poems, from "Felix Randal" to "Tom's Garland." "Felix Randal" itself figures in a related article, Arnd Bohm's "A Passing of Heroes: Seamus Heaney's 'Seeing the Sick' and Hopkins' 'Felix Randal" (pp. 47-53). Bohm traces the many borrowings from Hopkins in the Heaney poem about the sickness and death of his father, published in 2001. Bohm also shows the effect of Heaney's inversions of relationship, so that, for example, where priestly father/poet wrote about spiritual son, now son/ poet writes about earthly father.
The Summer-Fall number contains articles by three Jesuit scholars. "Hopkins on the Art of Newman's Prose" (pp. 75-110) by Frederic Schlatter, S.J., reveals the remarkable fact that, much as he was indebted to Newman as his spiritual father and as the one who received him into the Catholic Church, Hopkins had deep reservations about Newman as a prose stylist. That he would not have liked the poetry occasions no surprise, but his critique of the prose style, supposedly Newman's greatest gift as a writer, represents a singular judgment. Hopkins objected to what he saw as Newman's limited range of quotation and example and his lack of "brilliancy," by which among other things he meant a kind of bright ornamentation. It was these alleged deficiencies that led to Hopkins' audacious offer to Newman to write a commentary on The Grammar of Assent. Schlatter very thoroughly explicates both Newman's own development as a rhetorician and Hopkins' evolving critique, a critique which also has much to say about the poet's intentions for his poetry and prose.
David Leigh, S.J., in "Paradoxes of Redemption in the Poetry of Hopkins" (pp. 111-119) argues that Hopkins' poetry provides many examples of his use of the third of three traditional Catholic ways of understanding the God/ human relationship, the via paradoxica. Leigh demonstrates the poet's many uses of paradox, both in his prose--for example, the letter to Canon Dixon claiming that he was "doomed to succeed by failure," or the retreat note on the pleasure and repulsiveness of the hidden life--and especially in his poetry. Even in the darkest of sonnets, Leigh argues, Hopkins employs allusions or symbols which remind the reader of the central paradox of Christianity, the redemptive power of an instrument of suffering, the cross.
"Wielding Hopkins into Song" by Kevin Waters, S.J., makes vivid the difficulties faced by any composer who sets out to transform Hopkins' poetry into music. Waters has set many Hopkins poems to music during his more than forty years as a composer. The challenges he describes seem daunting, but he concludes that "the opportunity to delve into such a treasure was overwhelmingly profitable" (p. 130).
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|Title Annotation:||Guide to the Year's Work; Manley Hopkins|
|Date:||Sep 22, 2010|
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