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.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J., priest and poet, 1889
The Collect: Almighty God, who showed your servant Gerard Manley Hopkins, S. J., the glory of your creation, brought him through spiritual desolation, and gave him strength of words for his wrestlings with you: grant that through his verse we might grow in our capacity to reckon with both beauty and loneliness, by the grace of your Son, Jesus Christ, and through the intercession of the Holy Spirit, who are, together with you, the One True God.
For the music, here are “6 Songs of Gerard Manley Hopkins,” by Peter Lea-Cox:[youtube https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLL3PKoslWLi819WvScylpV8EJb-eXj1Lv]