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Read by Idra Novey, May 30, 2009 The Strand Bookstore, New York City From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Born at Stratford, Essex, England, on July 28, 1844, Gerard Manley Hopkins is regarded as one the Victorian era's greatest poets. He was raised in a prosperous and artistic family. He attended Balliol College, Oxford, in 1863, where he studied Classics.

In 1864, Hopkins first read John Henry Newman's Apologia pro via sua, which discussed the author's reasons for converting to Catholicism. Two years later, Newman himself received Hopkins into the Roman Catholic Church. Hopkins soon decided to become a priest himself, and in 1867 he entered a Jesuit novitiate near London. At that time, he vowed to "write no more...unless it were by the wish of my superiors." Hopkins burnt all of the poetry he had written to date and would not write poems again until 1875. He spent nine years in training at various Jesuit houses throughout England. He was ordained in 1877 and for the next seven years carried his duties teaching and preaching in London, Oxford, Liverpool, Glasgow, and Stonyhurst.

In 1875, Hopkins began to write again after a German ship, the Deutschland, was wrecked during a storm at the mouth of the Thames River. Many of the passengers, including five Franciscan nuns, died. Although conventional in theme, Hopkins poem "The Wreck of the Deutschland" introduced what Hopkins called "sprung rhythm." By not limiting the number of "slack" or unaccented syllables, Hopkins allowed for more flexibility in his lines and created new acoustic possibilities. In 1884, he became a professor of Greek at the Royal University College in Dublin. He died five years later from typhoid fever. Although his poems were never published during his lifetime, his friend poet Robert Bridges edited a volume of Hopkins' Poems that first appeared in 1918.

In addition to developing new rhythmic effects, Hopkins was also very interested in ways of rejuvenating poetic language. He regularly placed familiar words into new and surprising contexts. He also often employed compound and unusual word combinations. As he wrote to in a letter to Bridges, "No doubt, my poetry errs on the side of oddness…" Twentieth century poets such as W.H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, and Charles Wright have enthusiastically turned to his work for its inventiveness and rich aural patterning.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844 - 1889
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;	
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells	
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's	
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;	
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:	        
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;	
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,	
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.	
 
Í say móre: the just man justices;	
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;	        
Acts in God's eye what in God’s eye he is—	
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,	
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his	
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Born at Stratford, Essex, England, on July 28, 1844, Gerard Manley Hopkins

by this poet

poem
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.

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right
poem
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
poem
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