The Genius of Gerard Manley Hopkins

We have several of the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in the Divine Office as alternates to hymns. I’ve always loved both his use of language and rhythm and his sensitivity to the presence of God in nature, something¬† we primarily associate with St Francis of Assisi.

His poems are not immediately accessible as Hopkins crafts words in a way not dissimilar to Shakespeare but the reward for a period of contemplation is entry into a very deep spirituality.

Fr Z on his WDTPRS blog recently posted part of Hopkins poem “The wreck of the Deutschland“. This is a poem about a shipwreck in which five Franciscan nuns died. The shipwreck took place in a blizzard which explains some of the imagery of the poem.

However, at this time, I was most moved by Hopkins imagery of death

and these thy daughters

Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

This is an image of a shipwreck and five women, thrown overboard and drowning in the sea as a thing of beauty because of the presence of God, drawing them to Himself. Francis spoke of Sister Death, an encounter of which he was not merely unafraid but as something to which he looked forward and a prospect he embraced lovingly.

The new translation of the missal emphasises the themes of sacrifice, oblation (offering up) and sacredness. As we stumble prayerfully through these new English expressions of what is an eternal faith I am certainly forced to reconsider my own understanding of the Holiness of God and the promise of salvation and in particular to look forward to that final encounter as a thing of beauty, to be hoped for and loved.

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