May 13, 2009

Hopkins in New Yorker

I lapped up an article in The New Yorker about Gerard Manley Hopkins. It was crack-cocaine-ish in seeing Hopkins portrayed outside the friendly confines, in a stridently secular publication. (Of course the modern lie of objectivity is to think only the enthusiasts are biased. And because agnostics aren't enthusiasts, they assume the Olympian heights by default. R.R. Reno wrote about something similar recently in the context of the academic world.)

I’ll say this for article, they do cut to the chase. The things we wanted to know about Hopkins – the things of intense interest – they deal with. No sidelong glances at minutiae they recognize the telling and memorable anecdote.

One in particular was that Hopkins recognizes in himself a similarity to Walt Whitman in sensibility which sort of gave him the willies: "I always knew in my heart Walt Whitman's mind to be more like my own than any other man's living. As he is a very great scoundrel this is not a pleasant confession."

Without having yet read the book, Hopkins may seem to prove the rule that the good die young, having sacrificed his happiness for the pains of a clergydom he never quite fit.

An excerpt from the article:
But [Hopkins] is always concerned that this love of nature might turn into pantheism, that we might forget the Creator in the creation. That is why, in "God's Grandeur," Hopkins moves directly from praise to chastisement: "Why do men then now not reck his rod?" In "The Starlight Night," he magically evokes the stars - "The bright boroughs, the circle-citadels there!" - before reminding us that heavens are not Heaven: "Ah well! it is all a purchase, all is a prize," which we must buy with "Prayer, patience, alms, vows."....

For the poet, life is multiple, pied and dappled, endlessly various and alluring; for the priest, life is dualistic, the stage on which good and evil do combat for our eternal soul. Ultimately, Hopkins has no doubt which of these visions must prevail: the poem ends by invoking the "rack" where "thoughts in groans grind," the punishment awaiting the damned....Hopkins was aware of the gulf between his artistic vision and his religious one, and of its costs. That is why he was so ambivalent about writing and publishing his poetry, to an extent that seemed masochistic to his friends.

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