Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems Background

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems Background

Gerard Manley Hopkins lived from 1844 to 1889 and in 1858 he officially became a member of the Jesuit Order. The decision may have turned out well for him, but the world lost an unknowable surplus of great poetry as Hopkins made the fateful decision to burn not just his bridges behind him, but the overwhelming bulk of verse he’d composed to that time. The world has come to appreciate the impulsive Jesuit only as a result of the small body of work he kept out of the fire and poems delivered to a trusted friend named Robert Bridges. Not one single stanza, rhyme or line of verse composed by Manley was ever published while he lived.

Almost every existing poem that escaped Hanley’s obliteration is based on a precision of structure based on the accent punctuated by variations from one to four syllable in the foot. This pattern served Hopkins’ propensity for internal rhyme and alliteration which Hanley chose as his mode of expression because he of the resemblance to normal speech patterns he saw within it. The hallmark of a Hopkins poems is therefore a rhythm that seeks to replicate natural manifestation of spoken language.

Ironically—or perhaps paradoxically—while Hopkins was committed to a form that sounded like the rhythm of speech, he seemed almost to go out of his way to introduce content that was anything but commonplace. In particular, many of the poems engage a sophisticated syntax made all the less applicable to everyday discourse through the regular introduction of coined words and phrases and metaphors that build upon metaphors. The result for the first time reader of Hopkins is almost always a sense of alienation at the melodramatic language that eventually gives way to intricately intertwining lyrical sound of those words that are overwhelmingly Germanic in derivation.

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