Hopkins Praying about His Own Poetry

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Stratford Library, London

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Stratford Library, London. Photo by Adrian Holme CC BY 2.0

With this week’s post  on lost works, I thought we could spend a little more time meditating on the mystery of failure with Gerard Manley Hopkins. During a retreat in 1883, he wrote this about his own poetry:

…in some meditations today I earnestly asked our Lord to watch over my compositions, not to preserve them from being lost or coming to nothing, for that I am very willing they should, but they might not do me harm through the enmity or imprudence of any man or of my own; that he would have them as his own and employ or not employ them as he should see fit. And this I believe is heard.

I believe he was heard too.

I don’t think Fr. Gerard ever expected to transform into Gerard Manley Hopkins, canonical poet. He hoped perhaps for kinder readings from his friends or to be published in the Month. But to have books and books written about him–to have a journal dedicated to him–to be loved by so many–all of this is more than he could have imagined, I’m sure.

When we dedicate our lives to study, there’s always some text or some author who inspires the devotion. There has to be. There’s no other way to get through a graduate degree in literature. (I mean, it’s not like there’s any financial stability to look forward to afterward.)

For me it’s this dead Jesuit.

Of course, were Hopkins to learn that I’m spending my life researching his poetry, I think he would turn to me in a priestly way and say, No “give beauty…back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver” and “spend…life upon [his] cause.” And then Professor Hopkins would critique what I have already written about him.

You can read more about the opening quote in Philip Endean’s lovely reflection or at the end of Ron Hansen’s novel, Exiles (Partner Link).

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