Wednesday, 8 June 2011

Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ - Died 8th June 1889

The Catholic litany of famous converts seems never ending and Father Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ must appear close to the top, certainly of any nineteenth century version of such a list.

Born in the East End of London of a wealthy father, Gerard was the eldest of eight children. The family were strong High Church Anglicans and steeped in literature and the arts.
He soon developed an interest in art and painting in particular (his Great Uncle was the famous artist, Richard James Lane).
 And it seemed that his nephew was also destined for a career in the arts. When the family moved to the more salubrious surroundings of Hampstead Heath, the ten year old Gerard found inspiration in Keats poetry and developed a precocious talent for prose.

At Balliol College, Oxford, (1863-67) he studied classics and formed a friendship with Robert Bridges, a fellow poet who, in fact, was destined to become Poet Laureate.  By the summer of 1866 he had made up his mind to convert to Catholicism and travelled to Birmingham to consult the man who had travelled the road to Rome very famously before him, Blessed Cardinal John Henry Newman.

"Glory be to God for dappled things...."

Things moved on apace and Gerard was received by the Cardinal,into the Church on 21st October 1866; within eighteen months he had resolved to enter the priesthood and, as a sign of commitment, gave up writing poetry and made a bonfire of all his poetical works, resigning himself to a life in imitation of Christ.

However, after a short period he reconciled his creative talent and resumed writing verse. He studied at St Beuno’s College in North Wales and so began his fascination with the Welsh language (he had already formed an affinity for Old English, a close relation to the Welsh). The repetitive sounds of Welsh were, it is believed, a major influence on the alliterative and onomatopoeic distinctive style that he developed in his main works.

Ordained into the Jesuit Order in 1877 he began a series of appointments, teaching first in Chesterfield, moving to Mount Street, London as a curate before accepting similar posts in Oxford, Manchester, Sheffield, Stoneyhurst in Lancashire and, finally, University College, Dublin.

Never blessed with a strong constitution, Dublin and its heavy workload began to have a bad effect on his health and by 1889 he had contracted typhoid fever and died. His last words were: “I am so happy, I am so happy, I loved my life”.

There is some speculation that his mood swings throughout his brief life were as a result of depression, what is termed today, Bipolar Disorder.
He died 8th June 1889 and is buried at Dublin’s Glasnevin Cemetery.

The Kestrel, country name....Windhover

The Windhover

                                                 To Christ Our Lord
I caught this morning morning's minion, king-
      dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
      Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
      As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
      Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird, – the achieve of, the mastery of the thing. 
Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here
      Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion
Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!

      No wonder of it: shéer plód makes plough down sillion
Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,
      Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion.

Is it my imagination or is there an element that could be found in any of the poems of Dylan Thomas here?

Posted by Richard Collins - Linen on the Hedgerow


  1. Amazing post!

    Thank you,. Richard...

    And yes, you're right in highlighting the similarities between Hopkins and Thomas - especially in this poem.

  2. Is the deconsecrated chapel where Hopkins worshipped now part of Froebel College, Roehampton?
    I would find it a privilege to stand in the spot where he would have perhaps received his inspiration.

  3. Anne, sorry, I do not know, maybe a GMH aficionado out there may come forward.


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