Gerard Manley Hopkins was born on the 28th of July in 1844, in Stratford, Essex, England. He was a bright son of Manley Hopkins, a marine insurance adjuster, and writer, while his mother, Catherine Hopkins was a religious but well-educated person. His parental interest in literature paved the way for Hopkins’s literary career. Their extensive reading material enabled him to express his ideas at a very young age. Moreover, their stay at Hampstead in 1852, near Keats’ residence provided him another chance to learn the basics of poetry. While reading Keats’s literary pieces, he produced, “The Escorial”, his earliest poetic piece.
Gerard learned the basic skills of reading and writing at home, and his formal education started at High Gate School in 1854. Among his teachers at High Gate were Richard Watson Dixon, a great poet, and Philip Stanhope Worsley, another English poet. Later, he joined to Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied under the supervision of Benjamin Jowett and Walter Peter. Besides studying classics, literature, philosophy, and the languages of ancient Rome and Greece, Hopkins also learned the art of poetic recitation. In 1867, he won First class degree in classics and was considered the star of Balliol by Benjamin Jowett. Upon graduation, his skills earned him a teaching post at the Oratory in Birmingham.
Gerard’s final years were spent in a melancholic state due to extremely heavy work-load. His health began to deteriorate, and his eyesight also started failing. A devout Jesuit, he found himself in an artistic dilemma. His poetic inspiration also suffered a decline during his last years. However, after suffering from bad health and bouts of diarrhea for many years, he died of typhoid fever in 1869 and was buried at Glasnevin Cemetery, Ireland.
Some Important Facts of His Life
- He was the founder of a marine insurance firm.
- He copied eleven poems from his father’s collection, A Philosopher’s Stone, and included his Oxford notebooks.
- He won the Governor’s Gold Medal for Latin Verse and Headmaster’s Poetry Prize for his poem, “The Escorial.”
Gerard, a leading figure of the 19th century, successfully pursued two careers in life. First, as a preacher and later as a professor. Soon after completing his education, he turned toward the priesthood in 1877. He served as a parish priest, occasional preacher, and missionary in various institutions and churches in London, Glasgow, and Liverpool. While studying theology at St. Beuno’s College, he turned toward poetry. Moved by a fatal incident in 1875, he wrote: “The Wreck of the Deutschland” which failed to get him recognition. Later, he produced various sonnets including “The Windhover.” His strikingly original and rich texts were at first read by his friends and fellow poets like Coventry Patmore, Robert Bridges, and Richard Watson Dixon.
Later, from 1885, he started writing another series of sonnets, starting with a remarkable piece, “Carrion Comfort.” On account of their sensitive nature, these sonnets were labeled “terrible sonnets.” These pieces reveal the tensions between religious vocation and the sensuous world. During his lifetime, Gerard’s friends continuously urged him to go for publication but he resisted. However, after his death, in 1918, Robert Bridges published the first edition of his work followed by another edition, which influenced the audience as well as other great poets of the 20th century.
Although Gerard could not earn popularity for the pieces he wrote during his lifetime, after his death, his efforts continue to mesmerize all generations. His literary pieces reflect the richness of language and a unique rhythm that make him stand different from the other writers. The pieces he considered immature earned him huge respect and international recognition after his demise. It is because those pieces fail to follow the paradigms set by the previous authors. In fact, he adopted a distinctive writing style, avoiding rhythmic structure and exaggeration. Rather, he used sprung rhythm in his poetry, which, to him, provided a way to escape the traditional or existing poetic styles and rhythmic structures. An ardent admirer and supporter of linguistic purism in English, his poetry presents a mixture of old and new English. He used several dialects and archaic words and also added some new words in his composition. The recurring themes in most of his pieces are loss, death, religion, despair, and its biting effects on mankind.
Some Important Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins
- Best Poems: He was an outstanding writer, some of his best poems include “Carrion Comfort”, “God’s Grandeur”, “Spring and Fall”, “The Winnowed”, “Pied Beauty” and “The Wreck of the Deutschland.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Influence on Future Literature
Gerard brought revolutionary changes to the world of literature. His thought-provoking ideas, religious beliefs, and analytical approach inspired many writers and critics. His indifferent writing style and way of expression left a marked influence on various authors of the 20th century including Dylan Thomas, T.S. Eliot Stephen Spender, W.H. Auden, and C. Day-Lewis. The success he won through the presentation of his ideas has made various modern writers envy his style.
- Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be. (Carrion Comfort)
- The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil. Crushed. (God’s Grandeur)
- “Nothing is so beautiful as Spring-
When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;
Thrush’s eggs look little low heavens, and thrush
Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring
The ear, it strikes like lightnings to hear him sing;
The glassy peartree leaves and blooms, they brush
The descending blue; that blue is all in a rush
With richness; the racing lambs too have fair their fling. (Spring)