Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a unique and innovative Victorian Era poet who wrote a group of six poems called the "Terrible Sonnets". Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and wrote these sonnets during a time when he felt entirely separated from God. Hopkins's poetry takes on themes of spirituality, nature, and melancholy with playful alliteration, musicality, and his characteristic sprung rhythm.

Gerard Manley Hopkins Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Contents
Table of contents

    Gerard Manley Hopkins, Biography, StudySmarterFig. 1 - Portrait of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins Information Overview
    LifetimeBorn: July 28, 1844, in Stratford, Essex (Greater London)Died: June 8, 1889, in Dublin, Ireland
    Occupation Poet, Jesuit priest, academic, artist
    Nationality British
    ReligionRoman Catholic
    Education Highgate School, Balliol College of Oxford University, St. Beuno's College
    Famous poems "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (1918), "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" (1918), "Binsey Poplars" (1918), "The Windhover" (1918), "Pied Beauty" (1918)

    Gerard Manley Hopkins: Biography

    Here, we will look at the early life, background and works of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins Early Life and Drawings

    Gerald Manley Hopkins was born into a highly artistic, educated, and religious family. He was the eldest of nine children born to Kate Smith Hopkins and Manley Hopkins in Stratford, Essex, on July 28, 1844. His mother, Kate, was the educated daughter of a physician who shared her love of music, philosophy, and reading with her children.

    His mother was particularly fond of Charles Dickens novels. His father, Manley, was the owner of a ship insurance company and was also a published poet and writer. Both Hopkins's parents were devout High Church Anglicans, and he studied the New Testament from an early age.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins's artistic aunt and uncles taught and encouraged him in sketching. His great-uncle, Richard James Lane, was a renowned engraver and lithographer. As a child, Hopkins wanted to be a painter and was inspired by the Pre-Raphaelites and John Ruskin's (1819-1900) artwork.

    Hopkins’s love for sketching, painting, and the fine arts influenced his writing. Gerard Manley Hopkins grew to be talented artist who worked on sketching and drawings throughout his lifetime. He often drew plants and scenes from nature.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins, nature, StudySmarterFig. 2 - Hopkins was often inspired by the natural world around him.

    Hopkins moved to Hampstead as a child, where there was more space to enjoy nature. He had a deep love of the outdoors from a young age. His home in Hampstead was close to where the Romantic poet, John Keats, had lived and written about three decades back.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins Education

    As a boy, Gerard Manley Hopkins attended the Highgate school, where he wrote poetry and developed his love for language. In 1863, he went to study classics at Balliol College of Oxford University, focusing on Greek and Latin. At Oxford, he kept kept writing poetry and made friends with Robert Bridges, who would be Poet Laureate, a physician, and a lifelong friend who would edit and publish Hopkins's work posthumously.

    Hopkins was raised to be a devoted Anglican, but he entered the Roman Catholic Church during his time at Oxford in 1866. This caused estrangement with many of his family members, but was not a decision he went back on. Hopkins's conversion was sparked by a conversation with John Henry Newman.

    John Henry Newman (1801‐ 1890) was a Catholic priest, poet, and theologian, who was originally an extremely high-ranking Anglican priest. Hopkins left Oxford in 1867, taught at John Henry Newman's school in Birmingham for a year, and then joined the Jesuit Order in 1868 to study to become a priest.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins, Jesuit Priest, StudySmarterFig. 3 - Hopkins was influenced by John Henry Newman, a Catholic priest.

    The Jesuits, also known as the Society of Jesus, are a type or order of Catholic priests and religious brothers. The Jesuit order was founded by St. Ignatius of Loyola in the 1500s. The Jesuits take vows of poverty, chastity, obedience, and special obedience to being sent anywhere in the world for service and mission. They are known to be missionaries as well as educators.

    At this transitional period of his life, Hopkins decided to burn his poetry, as he saw it as a distraction to adapting to the priestly way of life. He did not write poetry for around seven years while training and studying for the priesthood.

    Hopkins's Catholic faith and spirituality would eventually inspire a great deal of his poetry. For part of his Jesuit formation, Hopkins studied prayer, spirituality, and philosophy. He was particularly interested in the philosophy of John Duns Scotus on the unique selfhood and individuality of each living thing. This philosophy can be reflected in his writing.

    Hopkins taught young Jesuits in London in 1873 and then went to St. Beuno's College in Wales to study theology in 1874. This occasion would mark a pivotal revival in Hopkins's poetry writing.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins as a Priest and Poet

    Amidst the beautiful scenery of St. Beuno's College and with a cheerful disposition, Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry flourished between the years 1875 and 1877. During these couple of years studying theology, Hopkins wrote "The Wreck of the Deutschland", a 35 stanza poem about a shipwreck that is now known as one of the greatest English odes. During this time, he also composed eleven musical sonnets, including "God's Grandeur" (1918) and "The Starlight Night" (1918).

    What is the difference between a sonnet and an ode?

    While a sonnet is specifically a 14-line poem written in iambic pentameter (ten syllable verses with an alternating pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables), an ode is a more general term for a lyric, or songlike poem that offers praise to a person, place, thing, or idea.

    A famous example of a sonnet is Shakespeare’s, "Sonnet 18" and a famous example of an ode is John Keats’s, "Ode to a Grecian Urn".

    Hopkins was ordained a priest in 1877 and served around England, Scotland, and Ireland at numerous Jesuit schools and parishes. He often felt pressure from his obligations as a priest and educator, but wrote about people he met, his faith, his feelings of melancholy, and his desire to protect the environment. Hopkins wrote environmental poems such as "Binsey Poplars" (1918) and "Inversnaid" (1918), memorial poems such as "Felix Randal" (1918), and religious poems such as "The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we breathe" (1918).

    Hopkins was requested to be a Greek language and literature professor at a Jesuit College in Ireland in 1884. He initially had a difficult time adapting to life in Ireland. In 1885, Hopkins experienced a period of severe depression, and he felt entirely separated from God. During this period of darkness he composed his so-called "Terrible Sonnets," or "Sonnets of Desolation," which include titles such as "I wake and feel the fell of dark" (1918) and "No worst, there is none" (1918).

    Gerard Manley Hopkins Death

    In 1889, Gerard Manley Hopkins felt a lack of inspiration for his poetry, which he described in a final poem to his good friend and fellow poet, Robert Bridges, called "To R.B." Hopkins caught typhoid in Dublin soon after and died suddenly on June 8, 1889, at the age of 44.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins Legacy

    Hopkins was not known as a poet during his lifetime. He focused on his priestly vocation and hardly published any of his work. However, after his death, Hopkins's good friend, the famous poet, Robert Bridges, collected and edited his work for publishing. In 1918, a collection called Poems was released, which included many of Hopkins' most famous poems, such as "The Windhover," "Pied Beauty", and "Binsey Poplars".

    Hopkins rapidly rose to fame in the 1930s and 1940s. He is now known as a precursor of Modernism, and one of the most unique and influential poets of the Victorian Era (1837‐1901). Gerard Manley Hopkins has been cited as an inspiration to writers such as T.S. Eliot, C.S. Lewis, Dylan Thomas, W.H. Auden, Sylvia Plath, John Berryman, Ted Hughes, and Seamus Heaney.

    Hopkins is known as a contemporary of the English poet, Christina Rossetti (1830‐1894). Christina Rossetti also lived during the Romantic and Victorian age, and she wrote about Christian themes in children's poetry.

    Although Hopkins lived during the Victorian Era, his writing did not conform to the styles of the time. While Victorian poetry shifted away from the Romantic idealization of nature in favor of realism, pessimism, and themes relating to science and technology, Hopkins maintained the Romantic emphasis of nature with a more experimental approach to poetic form.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins focused on his love of sounds, words, music, and rhythm, rather than on trends and strict guidelines for poetry. For example, rather than sticking to iambic pentameter, or the alternation between unstressed and stressed syllables in a ten syllable line of poetry, Hopkins used sprung rhythm, which counted the stressed syllables in a line, but let the number of unstressed syllables vary.

    Sprung Rhythm is a poetic rhythm that irregularly stresses syllables to mimic natural speech. It was discovered and named by Gerard Manley Hopkins, who often used marks to indicate stresses on syllables the reader might be unsure about.

    Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins

    As Hopkins's poems were unpublished at the time of his death, his friend, Robert Bridges, collected and edited his poems, which were released in a book called Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1918. The collection included "Binsey Poplars", "Pied Beauty," and "The Windhover". Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins initially sold slowly, but a second edition published in 1930 became quite popular, establishing Hopkins as a significant poet of the Victorian Era.

    Robert Bridges (1844‐1930) was a British physician and poet who was appointed Poet Laureate in 1913. Bridges' poems were centered around his Christian faith.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems

    Hopkins's poems are known for their vivid imagery, themes related to God, religion, and nature, and unique use of language with sprung rhythm, interesting rhymes, invented words, and alliteration.

    Famous Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins include:

    • "The Windhover"
    • "The Wreck of the Deutschland"
    • "God's Grandeur"
    • "I wake and feel the fell of dark"
    • "No worst, there is none"
    • "Carrion Comfort"
    • "Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves"
    • "Pied Beauty"

    Gerard Manley Hopkins Sonnets

    Hopkins loved the musicality of the sonnet form of poetry. He wrote many sonnet poems and experimented with their form. Most of his poems were variations of sonnets with the number of lines and numbers of syllables per line varying from the traditional Italian 14 sonnet with 10 syllables of iambic pentameter per line. Hopkins also experimented with setting sonnets to music.

    During a difficult period of his life, Hopkins wrote six sonnets known as his "Terrible Sonnets" or "Sonnets of Desolation" because they were written during a time he felt disconnected from God and was lacking God's consolation. "Carrion Comfort" (1918) "I wake and feel the fell of dark"(1918) and "No worst, there is none" (1918) are all "Terrible Sonnets," not because of their quality, but because of Hopkins's depressed state while writing them.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins - Key takeaways

    • Gerard Manley Hopkins was an English poet and Jesuit priest who lived from 1844 to 1889.
    • Hopkins was raised in a devout Anglican family but converted to Catholicism during his time at Oxford University.
    • Hopkins was not known as a poet during his lifetime, but his work was published posthumously and he became well known by the 1930s.
    • Hopkins's writing often dealt with themes of God, spirituality, nature, and melancholy.
    • Hopkins defined and used sprung rhythm.
    • Hopkins wrote and experimented with sonnets.
    Frequently Asked Questions about Gerard Manley Hopkins

    What is Gerard Manley Hopkins famous for?

    Gerard Manley Hopkins is famous for being a poet and Jesuit priest. Hopkins is known as one of the most unique and influential poets of the Victorian Era. He wrote with vivid imagery on themes of God, religion, nature, and melancholy. Hopkins's writing is seen as a precursor to the Modernist movement. 

    What makes Hopkins a unique poet in British literature? 

    Hopkins was a unique poet in British literature because he did not stick to Victorian Era trends for writing, but played with sounds, rhythms, and words. Hopkins coined the term, sprung rhythm, which is an irregular type of meter that stresses certain syllables to mimic natural speech. 

    Who is Gerard Manley Hopkins?

    Gerard Manley Hopkins was an English poet, Jesuit priest, academic, and artist who lived from 1844 to 1889. He is one of the most notable and unique poets of the Victorian Era. 

    What is Gerard Manley Hopkins's most famous poem?

    Gerard Manley Hopkins is famous for poems such as 'The Windhover,' 'The Wreck of the Deutschland,' and 'As Kingfishers Catch Fire.'

    Why did Gerard Manley Hopkins burn his poems?


    Gerard Manley Hopkins burned his poems before becoming a Jesuit priest because he thought that poetry would keep distract him from his priestly life and duties. However, after becoming a priest, he was often encouraged to write and his poetry blossomed. 

    Test your knowledge with multiple choice flashcards

    Who inspired Hopkins's religious conversion?

    True or False: Gerard Manley Hopkins was faithful to the trends of Victorian Era poetry.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetry is seen as a precursor to which literary movement?

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