An anniversary worth recalling… GM Hopkins

GM Hopkins poet

Gerard Manley Hopkins: Jesuit Priest and Poet (1844–1889)

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England to a prosperous Anglican family. Though he excelled at Oxford and seemed destined for a brilliant career, these expectations were dashed when he announced his decision in 1866 to become a Roman Catholic, and then a Jesuit priest.

A gifted poet, Hopkins presumed that in becoming a Jesuit he must renounce his literary interests. In 1875, however, he read about a shipwreck off the coast of Kent. Among the victims was a group of Franciscan nuns escaping anti-Catholic persecution in Germany. When his superior casually mentioned that it would make a good subject for a poem, Hopkins felt authorized to resume writing. It was as if a dam had burst. The result was his epic “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” one of the most remarkable poems in the English language. In compressed, highly charged language, he used this event to describe the victory wrought by Christ through his passion and resurrection. Yet neither this nor any of his subsequent poems was published in his lifetime. His friends found his revolutionary style bizarre and incomprehensible.

Hopkins spent most of his life in obscure religious assignments, wracked by doubts regarding his abilities and accomplishments. Toward the end of his life he seemed to resolve the identity of his vocations as priest and poet. Poetry, he came to see, was his means of naming and replicating the sacramental character of the created world; it was his way of expressing his true being and thus returning praise to his Creator. He died of typhoid on June 8, 1889. His last words: “I am so happy.”

“Mine, O thou Lord of Life, send my roots rain.”

(Thanks, MC!)

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