God’s Grandeur

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. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs ‒
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

God’s Grandeur by Gerard Manley Hopkins


Continue reading “God’s Grandeur”

I Wake And Feel The Fell Of Dark, Not Day

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day,
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

I Wake And Feel The Fell Of Dark, Not Day by Gerard Manley Hopkins


Continue reading “I Wake And Feel The Fell Of Dark, Not Day”

Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1918)

 

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. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs ‒
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Hear Malcolm Guite Read Today’s Poem


When we think of the grandeur of God, our first thoughts go to the magnificence of creation.  As St Paul wrote in the book of Romans, God’s ‘invisible attributes are clearly seen’.  Gerard Hopkins describes a world ‘charged’ and ‘flaming out’, but this is more than the appreciation of an eclipse.  Look close and see the essence of God in Gethsemane.

As Terry Glaspey writes in 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!” Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

How does crushing reveal essence?

Isaiah 53:5

But he was pierced for our transgressions, he was crushed for our iniquities; the punishment that brought us peace was on him, and by his wounds we are healed.

D I G  D E E P E R


Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Hopkins, a 19th-century British Jesuit has influenced as many secular poets as he has religious ones.  His poems press against the borders of his forms; he wrings multiple meanings out of his language. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford.  In 1866 Hopkins joined the Roman Catholic Church, in 1868 he entered the Jesuit novitiate, and in 1877 he was ordained priest. In 1884 he was appointed professor of Greek at the Royal University, Dublin, a position which he held till his death. He was unknown as a poet during his life, except to two or three friends, who recognized his genius and loved him as themselves.

Sources & Resources

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Mortal Beauty, God’s Grace: Major Poems and Spiritual Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York: Vintage Books, 2003.
Lichtmann, Maria. Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poetry as Prayer. Boston: Pauline Books and Media, 2002.
Mariani, Paul. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life. New York: Viking, 2008.
White, Norman. Hopkins: A Literary Biography. Oxford: Clarendon Press, 1992.

Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite
Malcolm Guite

Malcolm Guite is poet-priest and Chaplain of Girton College Cambridge, but he often travels round Great Britain, and to North America, to give lectures, concerts and poetry readings.  For more details of these and other engagements go to his Events Page

Photo courtesy Lancia E. Smith

 

 

Terry Glaspey

Terry Glaspey

I’m really looking forward to discussing my book, “75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know,” with the members of Literary Life Book Club. I can’t wait to hear your thoughts and perspectives on some of the art, music, and literature you’ll discover in the book. I’m interested in how it speaks to you in your life and the ways it inspires, challenges, or maybe even annoys you! I’ll try to share some “deleted scenes” stuff I had to leave out and will tell a few stories about what I experienced while doing the writing and research. Hope that many of you can join us as we look at he stories behind some truly wonderful art.

Let’s explore together!

Terry

Join the discussion with Terry on Facebook HERE

Terry Glaspey is a writer, an editor, a creative mentor, and someone who finds various forms of art—painting, films, novels, poetry, and music—to be some of the places where he most deeply connects with God.

He has a master’s degree in history from the University of Oregon (Go Ducks!), as well as undergraduate degrees emphasizing counseling and pastoral studies.

He has written over a dozen books, including 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know:  Fascinating Stories Behind Great Art, Music, Literature, and Film, Not a Tame Lion: The Spiritual Legacy of C.S. Lewis, The Prayers of Jane Austen, 25 Keys to Life-Changing Prayer, Bible Basics for Everyone, and others.

Terry enjoys writing and speaking about a variety of topics including creativity and spirituality, the artistic heritage of the Christian faith, the writing of C.S. Lewis, and creative approaches to apologetics.

He serves on the board of directors of the Society to Explore and Record Church History and is listed in Who’s Who in America Terry has been the recipient of a number of awards, including a distinguished alumni award and the Advanced Speakers and Writers Editor of the Year award.

Terry has two daughters and lives in Eugene, Oregon.

Dig Deeper at TerryGlaspey.com

 

Some of the greatest painters, musicians, architects, writers, filmmakers, and poets have taken their inspiration from their faith and impacted millions of people with their stunning creations. Now readers can discover the stories behind seventy-five of these masterpieces and the artists who created them. From the art of the Roman catacombs to Rembrandt to Makoto Fujimura; from Gregorian Chant to Bach to U2; from John Bunyan and John Donne to Flannery O’Connor and Frederick Buechner; this book unveils the rich and varied artistic heritage left by believers who were masters at their craft.

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

 

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


RickThe poet William Butler Yeats referred to himself as “the last romantic”, and while I know he meant that in the broader sense of his company with Keats, I also know he must have winked as he said it.  Romance is a popular topic, but it’s a cheap drink these days.  The beating heart of romance is beauty, and like Yeats wrote elsewhere in his poem Adam’s Curse, we “must labor to be beautiful.” 

When God made the world it was “very good” but sin’s scar runs deep.  We scratch and claw at the earth  to make it yield fruit and every effort of man to reclaim paradise is an imperfect, losing battle.  We all share the poet’s agony of at once answering the call of God’s image wherein we were created, yet struggle to see true beauty through the darkened glass behind which we are imprisoned.

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

This is what Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty” is about. And what it is, too. Not only does its content celebrate the beauty of “all things counter” and “strange,” but the form of the poem itself is irregular, from the new words Hopkins creates out of strange combinations (“fathers-forth”) to his invented pattern of sound using “sprung rhythm,” to the very structure of the poem. The structure mimics a sonnet, but then breaks all the rules of the form, none more dramatically than the abrupt, foreshortened end of the poem with the two sudden words of finality, “Praise him.” Praise him, the poems asks—no, commands—for the awkward things: the fickle, the freckled, the big teeth, the three-legged dogs, the girls that act like boys, and those that are “Pretty Plus.”  There is, the poem reminds us, a certain kind of beauty that arises only from imperfection—or pain.

By the time I read Hopkins’ poem for the first time, I had long outgrown writing horse poems, I’d grown into my barrel belly and big teeth, and witnessed the fading of my freckles. I had become a teacher and become surer of myself. I could celebrate knowingly with the poet all things spare and strange because I had overcome feeling so myself, mostly. I had come to see that poetry was not a means of escape, but rather an art of reconciliation. For poetry is made in the discovery of resemblances. It seeks likenesses, even amidst the strangeness of differences. Perhaps this is what Hopkins knew, and feared enough to burn.

How is the power of the strange different from the power of beauty? How is it the same?

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

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. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Terry and Karen

God of the Awkward, the Freckled, and the Strange: Day 4

Pied Beauty
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Michael Graves recites Pied Beauty


What is beauty?  Certainly if we are to understand anything about a creation we must look to its creator for meaning.  Our Trinitarian God is both unified and diverse in essence and creation reflects Him accordingly. As Jeremy Begbie wrote in The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts “Creation sings laus Deo in and through its ineffaceable diversity of particularities.”

In Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me, Karen Swallow Prior says this:

It wasn’t until many years later—years after reading nursery rhymes, followed by silly limericks, then poems by Robert Frost and Edgar Allan Poe, and then Shakespeare—that I first encountered the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins’ poetry is odd and beautiful; its beauty, in fact, comes from its strange words, sounds, and images. I think it’s fair to say that if it weren’t for Hopkins’ own sense of not quite fitting in, his poetry would not be so powerful. Like mine, it might never have even been written if not for his pain.

What are some unexpected sources of beauty that you have encountered?

Ecclesiastes 3:11

He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end.


Dig Deeper

Literature, Liturgy & The Arts


The 2006 Wheaton Theology Conference set out to gauge the current status of Christian thinking and practice in the arts, as well as seeking to suggest fresh theological and artistic possibilities for the future. The conference brought together scholars from several disciplines and artists from a wide range of media and styles. Several others presented fine papers that we cannot include here for reasons of space, but we owe them our gratitude all the same. The essays included in this book give evidence of the guiding concern of the conference, which was to balance theological sensitivity to the vibrant worlds of art with aesthetic alertness to the centrality of the Scriptures and the primacy of the cross.

Daniel J. Treier, Mark Husbands, and Roger Lundin, The Beauty of God: Theology and the Arts (Downers Grove, IL: IVP Academic, 2007)

Gerard Manley Hopkins
by Terry Glaspey

Preview of Literary Life’s Summer Book

Who would ever have guessed that a quiet, bookish priest who never saw his poems published during his lifetime would be lauded today as one of the great innovators in the history of poetry? At his death in 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind a collection of poems that celebrate the glory of God in nature, ponder the darkness and confusion of life, and wrestle with his relationship to God. These faith-filled poems were so ahead of their time, their meter so odd and eccentric, that it took many years before his accomplishments were fully appreciated and embraced.

On first reading, many of Hopkins’s poems might strike the reader as obscure and obtuse, just a little too erudite for their own good. But when revisited, they reveal profound and universal spiritual insights communicated in a unique off-kilter style, which necessitate a bit of patience and contemplation for their fullness to be grasped. Hopkins unfailingly finds fresh and startling ways of expressing himself as, for example, in this hyphen-laden description of Jesus from one of his poems: “The heaven-flung, heart-fleshed, maiden-furled / Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame, / Mid-numbered He in three of the thunder-throne!”1 Each rhythmic phrase reveals an important truth about Jesus, as they gather and rise in a trinitarian crescendo of praise.

Hopkins’s poems need to be read aloud to be fully appreciated, for he wrote with his ear, concerned with the way the words rhyme and chime in their breathless building upon each other, and using hyphens to join neighboring thoughts together. Syntax is ruptured, words are inverted and invented, and distinct patterns of sound are created. He called his rhythmic patterns “sprung rhythm.”

Hopkins’s theological conviction that each and every thing has its own particular qualities that make it unique led him to his conception of “inscape.” To understand the “inscape” of an object is to understand the purposes for which God created that particular object, to see the grandeur and splendor within it. So, in many of his poems, he sought to disclose the inscape he perceived in the created world. In “Pied Beauty,” for example, he writes with ecstatic joy and urgency:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1844 into an Anglican family that valued music, poetry, and painting. His father was an amateur poet, and Hopkins wrote his first poem at age ten. An excellent student, he won a scholarship to Oxford, where he distinguished himself as an outstanding scholar in the classics. At age twenty-one he underwent a moral and spiritual crisis from which he emerged as a confirmed Catholic, received into the church by the famous theologian John Henry Newman. Two years later he decided to join the Jesuit order, and in a fit of pious self-denial burned all of the poetry he had written up until that point. (He later referred to this impulsive act as “the slaughter of the innocents.”) At this point in time he believed that writing poetry would be a distraction from his spiritual focus, and so he determined that he would not write any more poetry unless requested to do so by his superiors in the Jesuit order.

For the next seven years Hopkins did not compose a single poem, surely a painful sacrifice for one who so loved words. Then a tragedy that made news all over the world provided an unexpected opportunity. An ocean liner carrying a group of nuns fleeing religious persecution went down in a storm, and all aboard drowned. The rector of the college where Hopkins was studying asked him to write something about the tragic incident, and the result was a long poem called “The Wreck of the Deutschland.” The verse that came spilling out from him perhaps shows the effect of bottling up his talent for so long. The poem was as turbulent as the event he was commemorating—a passionate meditation on the mystery of God’s ways, written in a rhythmic style that plunges forward with an unexpected meter that ignores standard grammatical rules while revealing his intense emotional reaction to the event. With this poem, Hopkins had found a poetic voice that was uniquely his own. When submitted for publication it was accepted, though never published. But now that the poetic door had been reopened, he began to compose verse again, and would for the remainder of his life.

After his ordination in 1877, Hopkins served in pastoral and teaching positions for the remainder of his short life in London, Liverpool, Glasgow, Oxford, Lancashire, and finally Dublin. He was never much of a success either as a priest or as a teacher, as his style of communication was too erudite and elliptical for popular consumption, but he was loved and admired for his gentle spirit, his humor, and his holiness. Throughout these assignments, he struggled with persistent health issues and was prone to periods of deep depression, so he used his poems as a way to explore his own spiritual and emotional battles. These poems have been labeled as his “Terrible Sonnets,” filled as they are with questions, fears, and an awareness of his own fragility and failure.

When he was assigned to move to Dublin and teach classics, Hopkins again wrestled with the feeling that he was a failure and that no one really understood him. His health was in fragile state, and the cold, damp climate took its toll; when he contracted typhoid fever it made short work of him. As he lay on his deathbed, though, after receiving the sacraments, he spoke his last words as a final testimony to his life, murmuring, “I am happy, so happy.” It was not until twenty-nine years after his death that his poems finally saw the light of day when they were prepared for publication in 1918 by his friend and fellow poet Robert Bridges in a volume titled simply Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Hopkins saw the sacred presence all about him, and in many of his poems he celebrated the ways that nature itself gushed about God’s glory. In his poem “God’s Grandeur,” he wrote of a world that remains fresh and infused with the Spirit despite its neglect and abuse by generations of human beings:

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. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell; the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
And for all this nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs—
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent world broods
With warm breast and ah! bright wings.

In other poems, however, it is his honesty about the seeming absence of God that fuels the verse, especially in his later “Terrible Sonnets.” When, in fits of discouragement and depression, Hopkins could not sense God’s presence, he explored the terror of being left to his own devices and ached over his failures—including the fact that his poetry largely went unread. “All my undertakings miscarry,” he wrote in his journal.4 In such a state he felt the strong temptation toward despair, but would not ultimately surrender to it, declaring in one poem, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, / Despair, not feast on thee.”5 But sometimes, feeling alone and abandoned, and smarting from the perception he had been neglected by God, he wrote poems that reflected the intense lover’s quarrel he had with the Lord. Such wrestling brought great pain—agony—but it also earned a hard-won comfort that God loved him enough to purge him of his sin and make him new.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote his poems for a small audience—himself and his God. He could never have imagined that he would be so widely read, or that his poetic innovations would influence so many later poets. In his own eyes, he was a failure—as a priest, as a teacher, as a poet, even as a human being. But perhaps he would have agreed that it doesn’t really matter how one appears in one’s own eyes but only how one appears in the eyes of God. Though we might lose faith in him, he does not lose faith in us. He will not leave us alone in the deadness of our sin, for as Hopkins reminds us, God is always ready to “easter in us.”

Terry Glaspey, 75 Masterpieces Every Christian Should Know: The Fascinating Stories behind Great Works of Art, Literature, Music, and Film (Grand Rapids, MI: Baker, 2015).

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior

Karen Swallow Prior is Professor of English at Liberty University and an award-winning teacher. She is a contributing writer for The Atlantic.com and for Christianity Today, where she blogs frequently at Her.meneutics. Her writing has appeared in Relevant, Think Christian, and Salvo. She is a Research Fellow with the Ethics and Religious Liberty Commission of the Southern Baptist Convention, a member of INK: A Creative Collective, and a member of the Faith Advisory Council of the Humane Society of the United States.

Booked: Literature in the Soul of Me

Booked draws on classics like Great Expectations, delights such as Charlotte’s Web, the poetry of Hopkins and Donne, and more. This thoughtful, straight-up memoir will be pure pleasure for book-lovers, teachers, and anyone who has struggled to find a way to articulate the inexpressible through a love of story.

Terry and Karen