Friday, December 4, 2009

John Armstrong Muses On Gerard Manley Hopkins

What Hopkins was able to accomplish is rare, whether in a poet or any other Christian writer. He used sacramental language to celebrate the particularities of grace in nature. His voice, writes one student of his work, “was perfectly pitched at praise.” In the last few years of his life Hopkins wrote what are called his eight “Terrible Sonnets.” Here his authentic voice no longer uses indirect speech. He addresses God without formality and writes “O thou my friend.” There is a deep cry for help and comfort in these poems. He even asks for mercy rather directly and asks it of God alone. These poems have a disturbing quality but they are moving because they become so personal without falling into despair at all. They are sonnets of “desolation.” St. Ignatius saw this as a predictable part of the spiritual journey and Hopkins experienced both “the darkness of the soul” and the sense of relief that followed.

Hopkins best friend believed the disciplines of the Jesuits did not help him to gain peace and joy but Margaret R. Ellsberg writes: “Not everyone personally experiences God’s will, but Hopkins did, through discipline, intelligence, and no doubt grace. This plaintive sonnet (his final one before he died) is a monument to the personal integration of that experience with suffering.”

At the end of Hopkins’ terribly difficult life it seems poetry became a sacrament of flesh, word and spirit “charged by their interpenetration with each other. When his resistance broke, Hopkins’ highest gift was released” (Ellsberg).

What Hopkins teaches me is that sacramental language and poetic language share certain common tasks. The holy and the divine manifests itself in concrete created things through sacraments. Poetry, by using symbolism and metaphor condenses an unseen reality into human words. For Hopkins poetic words address, reveal and praise God and thereby become sacramental words because of the reality in them.

Read Full Post Here: Gerard Manley Hopkins: How Poetry Can Express Nature and Incarnation Sacramentally.

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