GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS QUESTIONS FOR E335 VICTORIAN LITERATURE
Assigned: Gerard Manley Hopkins. Selected Poems, from Journal (1516-26): "God's Grandeur" (1516); "The Starlight Night" (1516-17); "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" (1517); "Spring" (1517); "The Windhover" (1518); "Pied Beauty" (1518); "Hurrahing in Harvest" (1519); "Binsey Poplars" (1519); "Duns Scotus's Oxford" (1520); "Felix Randal" (1520-21); "Spring and Fall" (1521); "Carrion Comfort" (1521-22); "No Worst, There is None" (1522); "I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day" (1522-23); "That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire . . ." (1523); "Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord" (1524); also "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (E-Text).
1. What failure does Hopkins charge common human beings with? What do they fail to perceive in nature, and why?
2. How does this poem assert the capacity of poetic language to celebrate God? What does the poet's description of nature have to do with his determination to praise God?
"The Starlight Night"
3. Why does the speaker interpret the stars in the manner that he speaker does, with the help of earthly analogies? How do this sonnet's octet and sestet, taken together, celebrate "the grandeur of God"?
"As Kingfishers Catch Fire"
4. How does the "selving" of natural things, as explained in the first stanza or octet, set up a pattern for human beings to follow?
5. How is human "selving" different from and higher than that of nature, according to the speaker?
6. What power does the speaker ascribe to nature? Which is more important in this poem -- the perceiver, or nature? Explain.
7. What prayer to Christ does the poem's sestet make? How would you compare this poem's emphasis on childhood innocence to romantic poems on the same theme (Wordsworth's "Intimations of Immortality" or Coleridge's "Frost at Midnight," for example)?
8. Compare this poem to Tennyson's "The Eagle." What is similar, and what differs between the two poems with respect to the speaker's way of observing a bird of prey in flight, and any broader significance that may be drawn from the observation of nature?
9. How does the sestet (the final six lines) complete the poem's meaning -- why, with regard to the speaker's perception of the Windhover diving, is there "No wonder of it," and what do the references to the shiny plough and "blue-bleak embers" add to your understanding?
10. How does this poem attempt to liberate nature from saturation by human consciousness? How might that attempt be said to distinguish Hopkins' treatment of nature from the romantics' treatment of it?
11. The poem ends with the line "praise him" -- i.e. praise God for the great diversity of things as described in the first ten lines. How is the appreciation of nature's diversity, for Hopkins, an affirmation of God's creative energy? To respond, you might want to refer to the Norton introduction's explanation of Hopkins' affinities with Duns Scotus.
"Hurrahing in Harvest"
12. How does the speaker's interaction with nature lead him to an appreciation of God? What's the relation between the speaker and nature, and between God and nature, in this poem?
13. Connect this poem to what your Norton introduction says about Hopkins' doctrines of "inscape" and "instress." How does this poem dramatize a failure of "instress" on the part of those who have chopped down the stand of poplars?
"Duns Scotus's Oxford"
14. How does the speaker particularize Oxford, and how is his mention of Duns Scotus, the "subtle doctor" of scholastic fame, part of that particularization?
15. What is the speaker's complaint about modernity's intrusion into the Oxford schoolscape and landscape, over and above the obvious "uglification" of the scenery? As with "Binsey Poplars," connect this poem to what your Norton Introduction says on page 1649 about Hopkins' doctrines of "inscape" and "instress."
16. How does Hopkins, as a Jesuit priest who has ministered to the blacksmith Felix Randal, respond to the man's death?
17. In what sense is this poem a meditation on the difficulty of "looking to the end," both for the priest and for the once active blacksmith?
"Spring and Fall"
18. Explain the latter part of the poem -- what does the falling of the leaves symbolize?
19. How is the poem more an expression of the speaker's state of mind than of young Margaret's?
20. Why does the speaker describe despair as "carrion comfort"? Is despair the same thing as apathy, or is it a different state of mind than apathy? Explain.
21. Why does the speaker turn on Christ and argue with him in the second stanza? What accusation does he level against Christ?
22. What is the quality of the affirmation that the speaker makes, or the resolution at which he arrives, in this poem? What can he do about his depression?
"No Worst, There is None"
23. What is this lowest state of the soul that the speaker describes? Why is it appropriate to describe it as a kind of personal hell?
24. Compare the poem's last three lines to Swinburne's final lines in "Hymn to Proserpine." Why is the thought ultimately not comforting to Hopkins?
"I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark, Not Day"
25. Describe the psychology of depression that Hopkins is exploring. Why is it so difficult to escape the mental state he finds himself in?
"That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection"
26. How is nature a destructive force in the first part of the poem? What links nature's energy with that of the Resurrection?
27. How does the poem figure the power and scope of the Resurrection? What images, what poetic strategy, help Hopkins accomplish that task?
"Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord"
28. Why does the speaker argue with God -- what emotional purpose does arguing with God serve for the speaker?
29. This poem is rather formally structured -- why is that appropriate to the subject matter?
Edition: Greenblatt, Stephen et al, eds. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. 8th ed. Vol. E. New York: Norton, 2006. ISBN Package 2 (Vols. DEF) 0-393-92834-9.
"The Wreck of the Deutschland"
30. This poem's structure is bipartite. Identify them and explain how they are related to each other in terms of theme and stylistic characteristics.
31. Explore the language and imagery Hopkins employs to describe the violent event (a shipwreck during a terrible storm): how do his choices help to convey the sudden peril and destructiveness of this event?
32. Why is a stormy shipwreck such an appropriate event to focus on in terms of Hopkins' Catholic religious perspective Ã¢â‚¬â€œ what does it tell us about the human condition?
33. How does the narrator relate to the sufferers on board? How does the narrator relate to and portray God? What does God have to do with the wreck of the Deutschland?
34. To what extent is this poem about the narrator's own spiritual situation, and to what degree is it an elegy about the wreck and the suffering of those on board? How does the conclusion of the poem affect your response to this question, and why?
Edition: "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (E-Text).