Gerard Manley Hopkins is a rewarding and, if we are to get the best of him, a demanding poet. It is possible to read him with much pleasure without having a
detailed knowledge of his life, of his beliefs, and of the technical means by which he expressed his ideas and feelings. Hopkins, though, becomes a greater and more rewarding artist, the better we know and understand his love and study of nature, his doctrinal beliefs, and his technical innovations. In closely observing and recording nature, in prose as well as poetry, Hopkins developed a language to describe what he perceived – terms such as ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’ [pp. 27; 63]. He developed a poetic language and a new rhythm, which he named Sprung Rhythm [pp. 68-9]. And intimately and necessarily involved with his view of nature and his poetic innovation, are Hopkins’s doctrinal beliefs. It is not only that he became a Catholic, a Jesuit, and a priest. He was also deeply devoted to Mary as Mother of God, above all through the doctrine of the Immaculate Conception [p. 78], and he was deeply moved by the idea that the Incarnation itself, Christ coming as man to share humanity and to suﬀer, was part of a grand scheme of salvation, preceding the creation of the world [p. 134]. So all nature, as God’s creation, is to be explored, delighted in, and a means to perceive God in his creation and through it the beatiﬁc vision of God in his glory. It is not necessary to be a Catholic or even a Christian to enjoy Hopkins, but it is essential in reading the poetry to have an understanding of his beliefs. This study, designed to explore and illuminate these issues and
others, is progressive and cumulative. It begins with the life and contexts, passes to the work, both poetry and prose, and then surveys a range (necessarily only a selection) of critical responses to Hopkins, picking up and developing key issues, the often clashing
voices here enforcing the need to develop our own readings and responses. In reading this study it is vital to have a complete and convenient
edition of the poetry, including fragments and unﬁnished work, in chronological order. Catherine Phillips’s edition [p. xv] includes all the poetry and a useful selection of prose. It should be to hand to explore the poetry and to test this study’s claims in Part II and those of the critics in Part III. Anyone wishing to read at least some of the poetry before beginning this study might start with the ﬁrst poems of mature production: might plunge into ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ and the sonnets that immediately followed; or ‘The Wreck’ and a selection that includes ‘Felix Randal’, ‘Spring and Fall’, ‘Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves’, ‘That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire’, and ‘St Alphonsus Rodriguez’; or as an intriguing alternative, early poems, including ‘The Escorial’, ‘A Vision of the Mermaids’, ‘The Alchemist in the City’, ‘Floris in Italy’, ‘The Nightingale’, and then ‘The Wreck’. The reader of Hopkins needs to have a serious (not solemn)
interest and delight in poetry. As a reader of Hopkins since ‘A’ Level, many years ago, I hope that this study will aid that interest and pleasure in the supreme poetic voice of Gerard Manley Hopkins.