Hopkins was a Jesuit priest with a profoundly mystical nature. Nevertheless, despite following the rules
of religion to the letter, he found himself in a state of deep spiritual depression -- what is sometimes
known as the "dark night of the soul".
Essentially, he felt that, despite all his fervent attempts to serve his Lord, God was not responding with
any perceivable blessing. On the other hand, those people whom he regarded as sinners appeared to
lead very fruitful lives indeed.
THE POET & HIS POEM
This sonnet is based upon the following extract from the scriptures:
"You are righteous, O LORD,
when I bring a case before you.
Yet I would speak with you about your justice:
Why does the way of the wicked prosper?
Why do all the faithless live at ease?"
Gerrard Manley Hopkins was born in 1844, the first of nine children. His parents were staunch Anglicans.
He attended a grammar school in Highgate and then continued to Oxford University. His search for
religion, however, caused him to fall under the influence of the great Catholic convert, John Henry
Newman. As a result, Hopkins became a Catholic in 1866 and then joined the Society of Jesus or Jesuits
the following year.
Initially Hopkins burned all his early poetry because he believed it was a symbol of ambition. Luckily, he
later changed his mind, being influenced by the writings of the medieval scholar Duns Scotus who saw
art as a reflection of God within the world.
From this concept, Hopkins developed his philosophy of "Inscape" and "Instress".
"Inscape" is the underlying form that marks the essence of all things, the God-principle which exists
"Instress", on the other hand, is our personal ability to experience that God-principle.
Everything has "Inscape". In other words, everything has a God-principle. Trees, flowers, sunsets,
people and animals: each has its own "Inscape".
However, not everyone has "Instress". The person who watches the glory of the setting sun but
is reminded of a poached egg clearly lacks "Instress".
The poet studied Theology in Wales, which is probably where he picked up the Welsh lyrical way of
speaking and writing. He would translate this lyrical metre into his poetry in what he called "Sprung
Hopkins was ordained a priest in 1877 and then worked as a curate in Sheffield, Oxford and London
before moving on to become parish priest in slum parishes in Manchester, Liverpool and Glasgow. None
of this, however, was intellectually suitable for a man who had such a brilliant mind.
Eventually he became a professor of Latin and Greek, first at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire and then
at the University College in Dublin. His frustration, however, at having to mark a plethora of mediocre
scripts sent him spiralling into a state of deep depression from which he would not emerge.
He died of typhoid fever in 1889. He was then only 44 years of age.
Have you looked at the questions
in the right column?
Read the left column and then answer
the following questions:
Explain the meaning of each of the following words:
- SOTS AND THRALLS OF LUST;
"Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum:
verumtamen justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c."
- Why do you think this sonnet begins with a Latin verse? (2)
"THOU art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners' ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?"
- Why does the poet address God as "sir"? (2)
- What does the poet mean when he says that what he pleads "is just"? (4)
- What is it that God is doing that the poet feels is not quite fair? (4)
"Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause."
- Rewrite the following in your own words so that the meaning becomes clear: "How wouldst thou
worse, I wonder, than thou dost | Defeat, thwart me?" (2)
- What is meant by "the sots and thralls of lust"? (2)
"See, banks and brakes
Now leaved how thick! laced they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build but not I build; no, but strain,
Time's eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain."
- There is a major change in the theme of the sestet. What is this new theme? (2)
- What literally is a "eunuch"? (2)
- What does the poet mean when he refers to himself as "Time's eunuch"? (4)
"Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain."
- Comment on these words as a climax for this sestet. (4)