Title: Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Poet's Poet
Categories: Holy Men and Boys , Jesuit
Icon Number: FGMH144
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ
(28 July 1844 – 8 June 1889)
“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame…
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same…
Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells.
Crying What I do is me: for that I came.”
There are saints, writers, artists, and musicians whose gifts are so complex or advanced in time, that they do not come easily into the public forum. In fact during their lives, the sheer God-given genius they are bound dutifully to share with humankind, draws toward them intense jealousy, hostility and contempt. This whole bloody cycle of fratricide nearly opens Genesis with Cain murdering his brother Abel, and is dramatically, explicitly portrayed in Sir Peter Shaffer’s play, Amadeus.
These pioneers-for-God however, feed other saints, artists and writers; who absorb them and give their originality in an understandable way to a larger audience. This happened in the case of Therese who synthesized the massive Carmelite heritage of Juan de la Cruz, Teresa de Avila and Scripture into her own particular genius of “the little way”. Gerard Manley Hopkins falls at the top of anyone’s list of poets’-poet or artists’-artist. He is now considered one of the greatest poets in the English language. This does not mean he is easy to read. His images flair up before you with a Baroque ferocity…two words which you think cannot come together. The language is lush, mysterious and beautiful with a rough ancient Celtic musicality; meaning you must actually move your mouth to read Hopkins as if you were singing or trying to speak in Spanish or French.
The theology woven tightly all through…above, beneath, alongside, is perfectly “horizontal and vertical”, all at once. Neither the selfless martyr of 9/11, Mychal Judge, nor Gerard Manely Hopkins would be acceptable to a seminary today, but Hans Urs von Balthasar has included Hopkins as a Theologian in his symphony of aesthetics and contemplation, Herrlichkeit, or The Glory ofthe Lord. He writes that the ascending bird became Hopkins signature as he watched the Industrial Revolution trample his poor parishioners in England and Ireland, and his beloved “wild”, a word that jumps up everywhere in his work. But Mary, the Mother of God, is also ‘worldmothering air, air wild’, and Christ’s Advent in his masterpiece, The Wreck of the Deutchland, is ‘sealed in wild waters.’
Like all truly great artists and saints, Hopkins is given a gift so unique that one cannot exhaust him. He remains like his Jesuit poet-ancestor,St. Robert Southwell, and the majestic, sonorous voice of the Risen Lord in Revelation, continually creative, “making all things new.”
This icon is dedicated lovingly to prophet & poet, mentor & friend,
Daniel Berrigan, SJ from Fr. Wm Hart McNichols June 8, 2004
© Fr. Wm Hart McNichols