The poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins are probably going to be a challenge if one isn’t well equipped with his philosophies. While one might be able to do an off-the-cuff reading, his poems can’t be analysed without a comprehensive understanding of concepts like inscape and instress. It is also extremely important to remember that his poetry transformed entirely after his conversion. Every poem of his is held together by an essence that drives the entire idea that is central to the poem. Before you can read and analyse his poetry, it is advisable to go through the concepts of thisness, inscape and instress. These were ideas that were coined by Hopkins.
THISNESS, INSCAPE AND INSTRESS Inscape derives its essence from the word landscape. It essentially is related to the idea of being or individuality of an entity. It goes with a crucial idea of THISNESS (unique essence of an entity- the stamp of God). He also believed that this uniqueness formed a part of greater recurring patterns. These are metaphysical descriptions. They lend to a very organic yet cosmic structure and design within his poetry which is almost akin to his idea of the world and has a heavy influence in the content. Instress on the other hand is the knowing of the inscape.
The poetry of Hopkins has heavy theological significance. The Pied Beauty is enclose within two very theological phrases- “Glory be to God” and “Praise him”. More than anything else, that speaks of the kind of work he writes. The poem speaks of a hundred dappled things but they converge back to a greater idea. They have greater significance because of God. The poetry of Hopkins circles around the ideas of being and God, and there is an intimate connection between the two.
It is interesting that he uses the Petrarchan sonnet, which was initially used in romantic poetry to writer about God and inner anguish. He uses the sonnet form to express a different theme of uniqueness and that idea is then conflated with the God. there is the Octave-Sestave binary where there is a stark turn in the second part and a pattern emerges.