Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.



Mormon Lectionary Project

Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J.

Ecclesiastes 3:16-22 (NRSV)Psalm 19:1-6 (1662 BCP); Luke 24:13-35 (NRSV); Philippians 2:25-30 (NRSV); Jacob 2:8-10Mosiah 4:1-12; Moses 3:7

The Collect: Almighty God, who showed thy servant Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J., the glory of thy creation, brought him through spiritual desolation, and gave him strength of words for his wrestlings with thee: grant that through his verse we might grow in our capacity to reckon with both beauty and loneliness, by the grace of thy Son, Jesus Christ, and through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, who are, together with thee, the One True God.

Born in the year of Joseph Smith’s death, and gone himself only forty-four years later, Gerard Manley Hopkins lived a rich and difficult life. As a young man, he had the gift of seeing the Creator’s hand in nature. This sacramental view of nature drew him to Roman Catholicism and eventually to a vocation as a Jesuit priest. Not just the heavens, but everything in the world declares the glory of God, and Hopkins could see even a leaf as a “tabernacle for the sun”—or, perhaps, a tabernacle for the Son.

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame; As tumbled over rim in roundy wells Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name; Each mortal thing does one thing and the same: Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; Selves—goes its self; myself it speaks and spells, Crying What I do is me: for that I came. I say more: the just man justices; Keeps grace; that keeps in all his goings graces; Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is— Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places, Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his To the Father through the features of men's faces.

In the final lines, Hopkins plays on the most powerful implication of the Emmaus story in the New Testament: that any person we meet could be, and in some sense is, Jesus. In his nature poems, Hopkins illuminates the LDS teaching that all things were created spiritually before they were temporally. The testimony of Jesus in nature can be very strong indeed, as glimpsed by Hopkins in the flash of morning light off a falcon’s wing:

The Windhover To Christ the Lord I caught this morning morning's minion, king- dom of daylight's dauphin, dapple-dáwn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rólling level únderneath him steady áir, and stríding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing, As a skate's heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! Brute beauty and valour and act, oh, air, pride, plume, here Buckle! AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier! No wónder of it: shéer plód makes plóugh down síllion Shine, and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear, Fall, gáll themsélves, and gásh góld-vermílion.

Amidst the glory, however, Hopkins also saw some of the not-so-beautiful contributions made by humanity, for sometimes instead of delivering the pleasing word of God, we enlarge the wounds we make in the earth and each other.

God's Grandeur The world is charged with the grandeur of God. It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trace; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod. And, for all this, nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastwards, springs— Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Later in life, after Hopkins was sent to a difficult (because deadly dull) assignment in Ireland, the human smudge and smell took over, leaving him in a state that he, through Ignatius of Loyola, understood as spiritual desolation. Like the Preacher, he came to see us as all animals, subjects of death and vanity.

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day. What hours, O what black hours we have spent This night! what sights you, heart, saw, ways you went! And more you must, in yet longer light's delay. With witness I speak this. But where I say Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent To dearest him that lives, alas! away. I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me; Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse. Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see The lost are like this, and their scourge to be As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

Still, as Paul sent Epaphroditus to the Philippians to show that he had recovered from a sickness nigh unto death, God sent Hopkins to show us that grace lights a way forth from spiritual night.

My own heart let me more have pity on; let Me live to my sad self hereafter kind, Charitable; not live this tormented mind With this tormented mind tormenting yet. I cast for comfort I can no more get By groping round my comfortless than blind Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find Thirst's all-in-all in a world of wet. Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise You, jaded lét be; call off thoughts awhile Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile 'S not wrung, see you; unforseentimes rather—as skies Betweenpie mountains—lights a lovely mile.

Hopkins shows us that, as for King Benjamin’s people, acknowledging one’s own status as dust can enable a more potent testimony of Christ—as well as a clearer view of oneself.

That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows|flaunt forth, then chevy on an air— Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay gangs|they throng, they glitter in marches. Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash|wherever an elm arches, Shivelights and shadowtackle in long|lashes lace, lance, and pair. Delightfully the bright wind boisterous|ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare Of yestertempest's creases; in pool and rutpeel parches Squandering ooze to squeezed|dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd,|nature's fire burns on. But quench her bonniest, dearest|to her, her clearest selvèd spark Man, how fast his firedint,|his mark on mind, is gone! Both are in an únfathomable, all is in an enormous dark Drowned. O pity and indig|nation! Manshape, that shone Sheer off, disseveral, a star,|death blots black out; nor mark Is any of him at all so stark But vastness blurs and time|beats level. Enough! the Resurrection, A heart's-clarion! Away grief's grasping,|joyless days, dejection. Across my foundering deck shone A beacon, an eternal beam.|Flesh fade, and mortal trash Fall to the residuary worm;|world's wildfire, leave but ash: In a flash, at a trumpet crash, I am all at once what Christ is,|since he was what I am, and This Jack, joke, poor potsherd,|patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, Is immortal diamond.

Hopkins’ poems, whether reveling in Creation or staring into darkness, can serve as faithful companions to a spiritual life. He can remind us that, when all seems ash, thanks to Christ there yet remains some immortal diamond to treasure. On this day, may we all give thanks and praise to the One God for the gift of the man, poet, and priest Gerard Manley Hopkins—and may we, like Hopkins, find ways of crystallizing the beauties and challenges of our own spiritual lives in order to give companionship to our fellow saints.

For the music, here are “6 Songs of Gerard Manley Hopkins,” by Peter Lea-Cox:


  1. I used to really love Hopkins. Especially the Windhover: I had the part you quoted memorized, and could probably still recite most of it. But, on the whole, he’s a little overwrought, for me. Like a big over-ripe plum on the tree.

  2. JohnnyS says:

    This is terrific. Hopkins is my favorite poet and second most favorite theologian after Norman Maclean. One thing I think Hopkins can teach Mormons in particular is to not be afraid of the the world. God made (or at least divided) light and dark and, if we pay close enough attention to the world, we can see God’s fingerprints everywhere, on everything. Hopkins believed each individual thing in the world possessed its own inscape (unique thing-ness) and instress (energy of being) and the respect he has for all of God’s creations is borne out in his poetry. He wasn’t afraid of “the world” the way that most Mormons are; he instead celebrated all aspects of it as evidence of God’s handiwork. As he himself puts it: “Glory be to God for dappled things.” It would be great if we could leave behind our fear of all things worldly and instead embrace all of what this dazzling, dark, bright, complex world offers us. Thanks for a great post. How ’bout one on John Donne’s Holy Sonnets?

  3. This is really remarkable, Jason. Thank you for bringing Hopkins to life for Mormon spirituality. I really enjoyed how this weaved scripture and Mormon teachings through this poetry.

  4. Jason K. says:

    Amen and amen, JohnnyS. We let Donne’s feast day slip by us, but we’ll be sure to work him in next year.

  5. Olde Skool says:

    Oh, yeah, baby. GMH is the secret voice in my head. So grateful for this series of Sunday poetry, and particularly delighted to see it intersecting here with the Lectionary Project (which I hope to see collected in print at some point). I hear there’s an anthology out there that may provide you with some pretty good material for future Sundays… ;)

  6. Jason K. says:

    Olde Skool: yes, we do plan to collect the Lectionary Project in print. Miles to go before we sleep, though. And thanks for reminding me of that fabulous anthology. ;)

  7. unendowed says:

    Yay, Hopkins is my absolute favorite. (Except when Tennyson beats him out as my favorite, but that’s only, like, 10% of the time.) I love the way he packs words so tightly together to produce rich layers, and I love the ecstasy with which he worships God.

  8. “…may we, like Hopkins, find ways of crystallizing the beauties and challenges of our own spiritual lives in order to give companionship to our fellow saints.”

    Lovely. Thank you. He resonates so much with me, and I think of him often when considering the kingdom of priests that is Mormonism–he struggled for some time to figure out if/how the demands of his priesthood calling could allow for his private spiritual expression through poetry, and at one point concluded they could not, and so burned his poetry as a sign of his devotion to his calling. In some of my own church callings (the more demanding, socially-intense ones particularly) I’ve felt that same difficulty trying to find a balance between a calling to outward service and the call to explore my own spiritual inscape and try to find ways to use that self-awareness to help others.

    And the vivid, inventive, impressionistic language he often uses is certainly fit for the spiritual expression of a new and exciting and change-filled dispensation. I wish we could infuse our talks and lessons with with his verbal excitement and originality–not for novelty, but to prove to ourselves and others that we are fully awake to the miracle and delight of the world illuminated by the Restoration and that rote phrases and overused words simply will not serve a people so fully awake.

  9. Jason K. says:

    Beautiful thoughts, Marie. I love the way that you bring Hopkins’ struggles with vocation into a Mormon context. And the idea of talks marked by his enthusiasm for language: yes, please.

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