Off the Shelf Classics (continued)
CHRISTINE PERRIN is a lecturer in English.
Sermons, letters, journal entries, and poems of a compelling English poet and Jesuit priest are included in the dense volume Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works. Hopkins (1844–1889) is known for a small number of explosive poems that unite his loves and fears, and his passions for theology and nature, with his revolutionary poetic innovations—he was a modernist writing in a Victorian era. He loved sensuous beauty and recorded it in the most minute observation.
A combination of close witness, crisp and idiosyncratic language, and/or metaphor, wed to theological insight is a near daily occurrence in his personal writings. I’m often thrilled to see the way in which the attention, compression, and strangeness of his daily writing enters his poems. From him I have learned discipline of the imagination. I’ve also been instructed by Hopkins’ wrestling (I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God) with significant anxiety and depression but also with intense blistering joy.
He is not unusual for observing perennial spiritual truths such as the absence of God (him that lives alas! Away), the darkness of despair (I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day), overpowering love toward God (Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here/ Buckle!), the witness of the natural world to God’s grandeur (The world is charged with the grandeur of God).
He is remarkable, however, in his ability to find a form and a language for the physical experience of these ideas. If you have experienced them yourself you will revisit the state he describes in recognition, and if you haven’t, you will know them for the first time. The conflict of his allegiances (he wanted to write poetry; he wanted to be a good priest) and the poetry that came as the result of what often appeared to be unbearable tension is beautiful and consoling to me. His humanity worked out in fear and much trembling is like snowdrops in March for all who seek to do the same.
—CHRISTINE PERRIN is a lecturer in English.
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