Gerard Manley Hopkins, selected poems Contents
- As Kingfishers Catch Fire
- Binsey Poplars
- The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe
- Carrion Comfort
- Duns Scotus' Oxford
- God's Grandeur
- Harry Ploughman
- Henry Purcell
- Hurrahing in Harvest
- I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Synopsis of I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Commentary on I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Language and tone in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Structure and versification in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Imagery and symbolism in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Themes in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Synopsis of The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Commentary on The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Language and tone in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Structure and versification in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Imagery and symbolism in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Themes in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- The May Magnificat
- My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Synopsis of My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Commentary on My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Language and tone in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Structure and versification in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Imagery and symbolism in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Themes in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- No Worst, There is None
- Patience, Hard Thing!
- Pied Beauty
- The Sea and the Skylark
- Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves
- Spring and Fall
- St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
- The Starlight Night
- That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection
- Synopsis of That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Commentary on That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Language and tone in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Structure and versification in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Imagery and symbolism in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Themes in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord
- Tom's Garland
- To Seem the Stranger
- To What Serves Mortal Beauty
- The Windhover
- The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Synopsis of The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Commentary on The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Language and tone in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Structure and versification in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Imagery and symbolism in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Themes in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Beauty and its purpose
- The beauty, variety and uniqueness of nature
- Christ's beauty
- Conservation and renewal of nature
- God's sovereignty
- The grace of ordinary life
- Mary as a channel of grace
- Nature as God's book
- Night, the dark night of the soul
- Serving God
- Suffering and faith
- The temptation to despair
- The ugliness of modern life
- Understanding evil in a world God has made
Commentary on Duns Scotus' Oxford
The first quatrain praises the city of Oxford, Britain's oldest university (though not much older than Cambridge). Hopkins doesn't actually individualise any of the many colleges in the city, as we might expect, but rather takes an overall view of the cityscape, trying to detail its particular inscape, which will be done visually and aurally, in terms of shapes, shades and sounds.
The city is famously situated at the confluence of two rivers, the Thames (called at this point the Isis) and the Cherwell, but these are not mentioned by name; the city is just ‘river-rounded', that is, bordered by river(s). In fact, Hopkins has an interest in borders and limits:
- l.4 ‘here coped and poised powers' suggest some tension between city and country
- ‘to cope' in its oldest form means ‘to meet in combat'.
More on Oxford's boundaries: In medieval times, the country came right up to the city and made a distinct border for it. If any of you are reading Thomas Hardy's novel, The Mayor of Casterbridge, you may have noticed that Hardy defines Casterbridge (Dorchester) in exactly the same way.
The second quatrain is devoted to criticising the city's modern suburbs. Some Victorian housing has often had a bad press: people still have to live in the cramped terraced houses in unimaginative lines of roads. In Victorian times there was little town-planning - builders did what was right in their own eyes. Hopkins calls it ‘graceless growth':
- by ‘graceless' he doesn't just mean 'without artistic merit'
- he uses grace in a Christian sense of having something of the love of God in it
so ‘graceless' means both unloving and Godless.
- The brick of the new houses is compared to the grey of the stones from which the medieval buildings were made.
- ‘confounded' is used in the older sense of ‘brought to ruin'.
The sestet then turns to Duns Scotus. This was his city, too. In the first tercet, Hopkins seeks to identify himself in the city with Duns. For Hopkins, the instress of Oxford is thus that of the medieval city, mediated through Duns, ‘who of all men most sways my spirits to peace.'
In the second tercet Hopkins summarises Duns Scotus' achievements. In medieval philosophy, one of the debates was on the nature of reality:
- Duns Scotus suggested that each individual had his or her own reality or being, but that there was an overall reality that could contain them all.
- In other words, humans can be recognised as such at a universal level, even though none of us are carbon copies of some prototype.
- Hopkins' poem As Kingfishers Catch Fire sets out this idea poetically.
Medieval debates were intensely complicated and lengthy. Scotus' Oxford lectures (in Latin) were printed, filling volumes. Hopkins believed that, in his day, Duns Scotus outshone any philosopher from Italy or Greece (even though Duns' name was used to form the word ‘dunce' as a mark of derision when his philosophy went out of fashion).
The other contribution of Duns Scotus that Hopkins mentions is his exposition of what is
- However, to the medieval philosophers there was a problem: would not Mary's human sinfulness be transmitted to Jesus genetically?
- Scotus' response was to say that Mary herself was sinless from her birth, so no sin got transmitted.
- To others, this was the same problem, merely pushed back a generation.
Duns Scotus, having taught this doctrine in Oxford, then went on to the University of Paris, where the teaching gained much support.
- Pick out words and phrases in the first quatrain that describe
- What words and phrases suggest Hopkins' enthusiasm for Duns Scotus?
- What does the phrase ‘Yet ah!' suggest to you?
- Do you find it significant that Hopkins makes no reference at all to his own undergraduate days?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
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