Printer Friendly

Introduction: How to Read Hopkins.

"Have you read the poems of a man, who is dead, called Gerard Hopkins? I liked them better than any poetry for ever so long; partly because they're so difficult, but also because of writing mere rhythms and sense as most poets do, he makes a very strange jumble; so that what is apparently pure nonsense is at the same time very beautiful, and not nonsense at all. Now this carries out a theory of mine; but the poor man became a Jesuit, and they discouraged him, and he became melancholy and died." So Virginia Woolf introduced Hopkins to her former Greek tutor, Janet Case, in July 1919. (1) Clearly Woolf was intrigued by the volume that Robert Bridges published in 1918 and not put off by the poet laureate's rather baleful introduction, which famously warned the would-be reader of Hopkins's "purely artistic wantonness," "definite faults of style," and "peculiar" and "often repellant," sometimes false or "vulgar or even comic" rhymes. When "he indulges in freaks, his childishness is incredible," Bridges admonished. Yet he was not fully dismissive--he had, after all, preserved the manuscripts since the 1870s, and ensured their publication. To put readers "at their ease," Bridges defined Hopkins's "extravagances" thus: "[T]hey may be called Oddity and Obscurity; and since the first may provoke laughter when a writer is serious (and this poet is always serious), while the latter must prevent him from being understood (and this poet always has something to say), it may be assumed that they were not a part of his intention." (2) Since 1918, each generation of Hopkins's readers has responded variously to the tantalizing and experimental oddity, the "strange jumble" of his poetry. Similarly, critics have enjoyed the challenges of bringing light to the shadows of his verse--without entirely dispelling them. As for the poet's "intentions," the astute reader of Hopkins should remember his words of caution to Alexander Mowbray Baillie: "I cannot but think it a little weak of you in this and other cases, so entirely to be engrossed with one side of a question that you cannot even see that another side exists" (Cones., 1: 45). The multifacetedness of Hopkins's texts--prose as well as poetry--render them available for analyses that continue to grow in richness and diversity.

To take further guidance from Hopkins, one finds in his correspondence extensive evidence of an astute and self-aware critic. In April 1871, while undergoing "a hard course of scholastic logic," Hopkins realizes, "I find now too late how to read--at least some books, e.g. the classics: now I see things, now what I read tells, but I am obliged to read by [begin strikethrough] glimpses [end strikethrough] snatches" (Cones., 1: 204). Six years later, Hopkins discerns how "each tucked string tells, each hung bell's / Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name" (PW, p. 141). Reading critically--the text, the world--is a constant dialogue: a "telling" on the part of the observed and a profound receptivity on the part of the observer. Hopkins has in mind an active receptivity: not one of glimpsing passively but snatching, catching, instressing. When Hopkins's speaker asserts, "I caught this morning morning's minion," he celebrates intelligent receptivity as an apprehension of the other on its own terms, "the mastery of the thing!" (PW, p. 144). Instead of the critic's impulse to proclaim "mastery" of the text, the poem insists on a dynamic exchange between speaker and bird, or reader and text.

As early as 1864, Hopkins was trying to define that "great, abnormal in fact, mental acuteness, either energetic or receptive, according as the thoughts which arise in it seem generated by a stress and action of the brain" (Carres., 1: 67-68). He was focusing on creative "inspiration," but we are suggesting that critical endeavors demand inspiration as well as "deep insight," "great delicacy," and "liberality": "the first requisite for a critic is liberality," he told Baillie, "and the second, liberality, and the third, liberality" (Corres., 1: 46). One hundred years after the publication of Poems, we are presenting six diverse essays that have in common the kind of insight and acuity that Hopkins modeled as poet and critic.

In "Catching Fire: 'The Windhover,"' Helen Vendler distinguishes between the ways in which the poem's speaker observes the bird in the octave but inscapes it in the sestet, undergoing "the exhilaration of suddenly inscaping the bird into a single complex gestalt." The essay vividly analyzes the "sudden transfiguring of the world into intelligibility--brought about by a stunning fusion of sense [and] intellectual imagination." Provocatively, and counter to generations of Hopkins critics, Vendler suggests how and why the poem does not culminate in "a theological and redemptive tableau." Vendler's particular discussion of "species-manifestation" in "The Windhover" complements Julia F. Saville's wide-ranging analysis of the categories of "species" and "soul" in "Anthropocentrism and the Soul of Hopkins's Ecopoetics." Surveying poems, Oxford essays from the mid-1860s, and sermons from the late 1870s, Saville demonstrates how Hopkins consistently advocates the "change in consciousness" necessary if "anthropocentrism" and its damages (environmental degradation, ruinous climate change, species' extinction) are to be reversed. By expanding the study of Hopkins through the lens of ecopoetics, Saville reveals the ways in which, for Hopkins, aesthetics, ethics, and science are always interconnected. Among the questions she addresses are, What are the individual's obligations to respect and protect the natural world? and How do human and nonhuman exchanges animate Hopkins's poetry?

Whereas Saville stresses how, for Hopkins, language itself performs the energy the poet experiences in human, nonhuman, and elemental nature, Justin Tackett investigates the Victorian science of phonography and performance in "Phonographic Hopkins: Sound, Cylinders, Silence, and 'Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves.'" Considering the "sonic beauties and stirring acoustic effects" of Hopkins's poetry, Tackett links Hopkins's interests in the sonorous and performative aspects of verse to Thomas Edison's 1877 invention of the phonograph and other experiments in "phonographic thinking." By enfolding Hopkins's poetry within the new field of sound studies, Tackett demonstrates how the materiality of early sound recordings is linked to images of "spooling" and spinning in several poems, especially "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves."

Tackett links poems' sonorous effects to then-contemporary technology. Michael Rutherglen, on the other hand, considers how the "sonic densities" of the poems invoke the inscapes of speech. He also provides another facet of the argument adduced by Saville: how Hopkins's texts "reinvigorate his readers' sense of the natural world, such that they would be driven to protect it as a treasury of inscapes." In "Hopkins's Material Poetics: Sense and the Inscapes of Speech," Rutherglen returns to "inscape" to consider "the perceptual intensities to which Hopkins attaches his term." The wide-ranging discussion enfolds not only Duns Scotus but also Martin Heidegger; comments about Hopkins's 1873-1874 lectures on "Poetry and Verse" remind one that Hopkins's intellectual imagination was fully exercised in poetry and prose.

"Material poetics," in Rutherglen's phrase, are particularly on display in Hopkins's translations, texts that are too often overlooked. Elizabeth Howard uses a particular example--Hopkins's translation of a lyric from Shakespeare's Measure for Measure--to argue for the significance of Hopkins's work in the fields of translation and reception studies. "'To Admire and Do Otherwise': Hopkins's Modified Translations of Shakespeare's Casket Song" reminds one of Hopkins's eagerness, once he became Professor of Classics at University College and Fellow of the Royal University of Ireland in 1884, to publish and thereby justify his Dublin appointments.

Whereas Howard stresses the academic facets of Hopkins's prismatic life, James Finn Cotter revisits the calling of the parish priest and the poetry that those responsibilities inspired. "'Felix Randal the farrier': Visiting the Sick" considers that very Victorian moral precept, duty, in terms of classical and early Christian contexts. Of course, how the poet's "sacerdotal obligations" inform his poetic discourse has troubled Hopkins's critics for more than a hundred years.

As the variety of critical lenses used in these essays attests, Hopkins's canon continues to tell itself in new ways for new audiences. The piedness of his writings is revealed most lucidly at the interstices of various disciplines, art forms, senses, and environments. From an exceptionally wide-ranging base of studies--including ancient Greek and Latin texts, Welsh poetry, Shakespeare, theology, and Jesuit spirituality--rang out a voice that remains utterly singular, counter, and beautiful. The essays in this special issue of Victorian Poetry call us, as Hopkins does, to attend to the strange (transforming Elizabethan English into Latin and Greek; experimenting with phonographic thinking), the material (textual and sensuous), and the other (whether the nonhuman or a dying parishioner).

"Everybody cannot be expected to like my pieces," Hopkins admitted to Bridges in April 1879. "Moreover the oddness may make them repulsive at first" (Corres., 1: 354). In 2018, as in 1918, meeting these texts on their own terms reveals as much about our critical selves as it does about Hopkins's poetry and prose. His texts both invite and intimidate--their mysteries "must be instressed, stressed" whatever the difficulties (PW, p. 120). For by welcoming their "oddness," the careful reader can catch "All things counter, original, spare, strange; / Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)" (PW, p. 144).
Abbreviations Used in This Issue

Corres.    Correspondence. Ed. R. K. R. Thornton and Catherine
           Phillips.
           2 vols. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2013.

Diaries    Diaries, Journals, and Notebooks. Ed. Lesley
           Higgins. Oxford:
           Oxford Univ. Press, 2015.

DN         Dublin Notebook, ed. Lesley Higgins and Michael
           Suarez, S.J.
           Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 2014.

LPM        The Later Poetic Manuscripts of Gerard Manley Hopkins in
           Facsimile, ed. Norman H. MacKenzie. New York: Garland,
           1991.

Ox. Ess.   Oxford Essays and Notes, 1863-1868. Ed. Lesley Higgins.
           Oxford:
           Oxford Univ. Press, 2006.

PW         The Poetical Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. Norman H.
           MacKenzie. Oxford, U.K.: Clarendon, 1990.

SD         Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley
           Hopkins. Ed.
           Christopher Devlin, S.J. Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959.


Notes

(1) Virginia Woolf, The Question of Things Happening: The Letters of Virginia Woolf 1912-1922, ed. Nigel Nicolson (London: Hogarth, 1976), p. 379.

(2) Robert Bridges, preface to Poems: Now First Published, by Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Bridges (London: Humphrey Milford, 1918), accessed at http://www.bartleby .com/122/101.
COPYRIGHT 2018 West Virginia University Press, University of West Virginia
No portion of this article can be reproduced without the express written permission from the copyright holder.
Copyright 2018 Gale, Cengage Learning. All rights reserved.

Article Details
Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback
Author:Higgins, Lesley; Paxton, Amanda
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Date:Jun 22, 2018
Words:1687
Previous Article:"All about fishes"? The Riddle of Humpty Dumpty's Song and Recursive Understanding in Lewis Carroll's Through the Looking-Glass and What Alice Found...
Next Article:Catching Fire: "The Windhover".
Topics:

Terms of use | Privacy policy | Copyright © 2021 Farlex, Inc. | Feedback | For webmasters |