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Discuss Hopkins As A Religious-Minded Poet


G. M. Hopkins was a religious minded man. He believed in the presence of God in every object of nature. No doubt he was assailed by spiritual doubts and suffered tortures on this account, but his faith prevailed and triumphed over the doubts. He was an ardent believer in God and in the divinity of Christ; he had a very powerful ascetic strain in his temperament; he led an austere and morally elevated life. In his poetry he invokes the Deity whom he was determined to serve. In this connection the remark of Humphrey House that Hopkins was not a mystic and there is nothing in his poems that show that he felt the immediate and personal presence of God seems to be the reverse of the truth.

Discuss Hopkins As A Religious-Minded Poet


His desire to become an Ascetic: 

Hopkins poem “The Habit of Perfection” reveals that he had a keen desire towards asceticism. He wrote this poem when he was only twenty - two years old. In this poem he makes a complete surrender of himself to the ideal fo asceticism. In the first two stanzas he speaks of the ban he was thinking of imposing upon himself as regards the writing of poetry. He thought that he would not write poetry which was opposed to his spiritual aspirations. He elects silence which is conducive to spiritual contemplation.


He denies to himself all the pleasures of the senses: the eyes must seek only the “uncreated light” by which he means the creative energy of God's mind; the palate must not desire the taste of wine but be content with fasting; the nostrils must smell only the fragrance of the incense burnt in the church ; the feet must walk to the church and poverty must be the poet's spouse.

His major religious poem: “The Wreck of the Deutschland” is his great religious poem. In the poem the poet does not mean to mourn the wreck or the loss of human lives or even to present a narrative of events. His aim is to give us a picture of his own spiritual vicissitudes and to interpret the shipwreck as a revelation of God, the poem opens as:


“Thou mastering me 
God! giver of breath and bread; 
X              X                      X 
Lord of living and dead; 
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, 
fastened me flesh, 
And after it almost unmade, what with dread, 
Thy doing and dost thou touch me afresh!”


God has made and also unmade him, and over him he feels God's finger and finds Him: “Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.” Then the poet recalls the spiritual stress and strain he has undergone and God's grace which he has achieved. He sees God “under the world's splendour and wonder” and he greets God wherever he recognizes Him in the world around him. He, then speaks of the birth of Christ and the ardent desire of the faithful to worship “the hero of Cavalry”. “Be adored among men. God”, says the poet, adding “Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm.”


His attitude towards Nature: 

Hopkins wrote a number of Nature poems in 1877. He was greatly influenced by Duns Scotus, a medieval scholastic philosopher's “principle of individuation” and “concept of this – ness” as the specific nature of a thing by virtue of which it differs from everything else. Hopkins regards it as the true bond between the creature and God. He achieves a unity between opposites, and the apprehension of this unity fills him with joy which is expressed in his poem “Pied Beauty”:


“Glory be to God for dappled things— 
For skies of couple - colour as a brinded cow …”


In his nature poems Hopkins achieves the integration of life between the artist who is concerned with sensuous beauty and the ardent believer in Catholic Christianity. All these poems imply the presence of a God of infinite goodness and beauty in Nature and the deliverance of man from death by faith in Christ.


Diction in Nature - poems: 

His Nature poems have been written in contemporary colloquial English heightened by the use of a vocabulary that includes dialect and technical words and a number of specially created compounds, a diction that is indeed sometimes odd and grotesque but always full of vitality and power. He uses the whole resources of the language and not merely a limited range of words and constructions generally considered fit for poetry. His language is neither the colourless standardized speech of urban industrial England nor the affected archaism of Victorian “Parnassian” poetry.

“The Windhover” is a famous Nature poem of Hopkins. In this sonnet he sees a kestrel (or a falcon) in flight; and the bird becomes for him a symbol of all natural beauty which, by a sudden and dramatic transition, is compared with the spiritual beauty of Christ's sacrifice. At the same time the bird's flight seems to represent the poet's artistic sensibility contrasted with and likened also to the austere self - sacrifice of the priestly life which he has chosen for himself. Three categories of Hopkins’ poems: A critic classifies his poetic work into three categories: (1) Poems which are direct expression of his religious beliefs. (2) Poems which have no relation with religious faith. (3) Poems which are precisely expression of doubt.


The first category: 

The poems belonging to this category are inferior work. These poems are “Barnfloor and Winepress”, “Nondum”, “Easter”, “Ad Mariam” and “Rosa Mystica” etc. Two poems of this category — “Heaven Haven” and “The Habit of Perfection” are really exquisite. “The Wreck of the Deutschland” has been considered by this critic to be a poem of fear and submission rather than of the love of God.

The second category: 

The poems such as “Penmaen Pool”, “The Starlight Night”, “Spring”, “The Sea and the Skylark”, “The Windhover”, “Pied Beauty” and “The Caged Skylark”, etc. belong to the second category. Here the poet is aware of the objective beauty of the world. His dreaminess and sensuality both are revealed in these poems.


The third category: 

The poems belonging to this category are full of gloom, and awful in anguish. These poems are called terrible sonnets. Here is absence of spiritual complacency in these sonnets. His poems of this category are no longer full of hope and joy; they express misery and despair. In these poems the poet does not exult in the presence of God in Nature or in man's deliverance from mortality by divine aid. In these poems God is shown as indifferent to the poet's sufferings, almost as an enemy. In “Carrion Comfort” he writes:


“But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst 
Thou rude on me 
Thy wring - world right foot rock! Lay 
a lionlimb against me ?”


The sincerity of Hopkins’ thinking led him to an originality of expression. He rejected the readymade techniques of contemporary poetics. His originality in this respect is innovations into metre make his poems difficult to understand.