Biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889), today recognized as one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, belongs to the venerable list of authors—including Emily Dickinson, Herman Melville, and Franz Kafka—who received recognition for their brilliant literary accomplishments only after their deaths. He went entirely unpublished during his lifetime, and only started to gain recognition after World War I, 30 years after his death, when his friend Robert Bridges published a collection of his poems.

An array of diverse influences, beginning with members of both his immediate and extended family, contributed to the development of Hopkins’ particular, idiosyncratic creativity. His early education included daily readings from the New Testament, which had a profound influence on Hopkins’ intellectual development as well as his character more broadly. His mother, Kate Smith, shared with him her love of music as well as literature and philosophy; from her sister, his aunt, he learned to sketch at a young age, which encouraged his lifelong interest in the visual arts.

Hopkins also had a creatively fruitful, at times collaborative and occasionally competitive, relationship with his father, Thomas Marsland Hopkins. The older Hopkins also wrote poetry, and some of his son’s defining thematic concerns are also found in his work; in particular, the notion of nature as a kind of text written by God, meant to inspire us to contemplation of Him.

Hopkins’ conversion to Roman Catholicism in 1866 and subsequent decision to become a priest (in 1868) created a rupture with both his Protestant family and poetry. He burned almost all of his previously written poems, and didn’t write again for many years. The only poetry that survives from his earlier period is that saved by Bridges. When he did begin writing again, Hopkins' increasingly ascetic and idiosyncratic devotion to religion corresponded to an increasing idiosyncrasy and experimentation in his poems. He developed a complex system of diacritic markings to denote his complex ideas about rhythm and prosody. The poems he wrote in the last years of his life, even as they’re increasingly obscure, desolate, even despairing, are very much still the works of a great poet, in full command of his powers, continuing to experiment, learn, and improve his craft.

After Hopkins' death of typhoid fever in 1889, his friend Robert Bridges published some of his nature poems in various anthologies, but it wasn't until 1918 that the first edition of Hopkins' collected poems was published, though initially to only sparse acclaim. However, with the publication of the second edition of his poems in 1930, Hopkins became known for his originality, and his influence touched many famous poets of later generations, including T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas, and W.H. Auden.

Study Guides on Works by Gerard Manley Hopkins

"Felix Randal" is a poem written by British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1880, first published posthumously in 1918. Partly inspired by Hopkin’s own experience as a Jesuit priest, the poem shows a priest (thought to be Hopkins himself)...

“Pied Beauty” was written by the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877, but—like so much of his work—wasn’t published until 1918, 30 years after his death, as a part of the collection Poems, which was edited by his close friend Robert...

“The Windhover” is a sonnet written in 1887 and the best-known work of the English poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins. Though unpublished in the author’s lifetime, it is now widely considered one of the crowning achievements of Victorian...