Commentary on Henry Purcell
The sonnet divides, as does Duns Scotus' Oxford, into two quatrains and two tercets.
Matters of conscience
In a letter, Hopkins explains the first quatrain thus:
‘I hope Purcell is not damned for being a Protestant
, because I love his genius.'
When Bridges wanted a fuller explanation, he wrote again:
‘May Purcell, O may he have died a good death and that soul which I love so much and which breathes or stirs so unmistakably in his works have parted from the body and passed away...in peace with God
Hopkins goes on to talk of the Catholic view of judgement, and his hope that it is perhaps not quite as strict as he fears. This is an odd problem for a poet to be wrestling with at the beginning of a poem, but it shows Hopkins as a priest as much as a poet, since a priest should be concerned that people are not condemned after death.
The Bible is certainly clear as to the reality of condemnation of the soul after death:
‘Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned.' (Mark 16:16
or, putting the other side:
‘For God so loved the world that he gave his one and only Son, that whoever believes in him shall not perish but have eternal life' (John 3:16
- the problem for Hopkins was that Catholics did not believe that Protestant religious rites, such as baptism, were valid
- nowadays, both Protestants and Catholics have much more accepting views about each other, but, in Victorian times, battle lines were drawn and each side frequently condemned the other.
- the whole sonnet is a wish or a prayer that Purcell will have found God's mercy, will ‘have fair fallen'.
The second quatrain is explained by Hopkins in one of his letters thus:
‘And that not so much for gifts he shares, even though it should be in higher measure, with other musicians as for his own individuality.'
- Lines 5 and 6 try to define the reason for Hopkins' admiration by negatives: what it is not caused by. This is always a more difficult way of putting things than by coming straight out and saying what you like about a person. It delays the real focus.
- In l.7, Hopkins is trying to define Purcell's individuality, his inscape: ‘It is the forgèd feature finds me'. So far, we have only come across this term with reference to landscapes, but Hopkins had no thought of limiting the concept to inanimate Creation. Somehow, through his music, Purcell's ‘abrupt self....throngs the ear.'
- Instress is when an inscape becomes part of our own inner perception, and this is what Hopkins is describing here. ‘Thronging the ear' denotes a very overwhelming experience.
The phrase ‘abrupt self' mystified Bridges. He thought it referred to some eccentricity in Purcell (and, by all accounts, Purcell was somewhat eccentric). Hopkins' response was uncharacteristically strong:
‘My sonnet means ‘Purcell's music is none of your d—d subjective rot (so to speak)'.
- Purcell's music is baroque in style, as was Bach's, and not at all Romantic
- he did not use his music as self-expression
- however, at a deeper level, he has imprinted his uniqueness on it
- thus we do not just say, ‘This must be by Purcell', but ‘This must be Purcell', i.e. the sort of person he was, a distinction central to Hopkins.
The sestet is not so intense, as the larger part of it is formed by an extended metaphor of a great seabird. The seabird is only intent on flying, and that is wonder enough, but as he opens his wings, Hopkins sees its distinctive markings, which is really the bird itself, not just its flight. So, as Hopkins is lifted by his ‘air of angels', he sees the real Purcell, the inscape.
Investigating Henry Purcell
- ‘Especial a spirit' (l.2):
- Do you think Hopkins means only Purcell is special, being a genius.
- Or is everyone special?
- What does the word ‘special' mean to you?
- Read the little explanation Hopkins puts under the title.
- Does it help?
- Can you see all that in the poem?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1When the Sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome bought spices, so that they might go and anoint him. 2And very early on the first day of the week, when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb. 3And they were saying to one another, Who will roll away the stone for us from the entrance of the tomb? 4And looking up, they saw that the stone had been rolled back - it was very large. 5And entering the tomb, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, dressed in a white robe, and they were alarmed. 6And he said to them, Do not be alarmed. You seek Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has risen; he is not here. See the place where they laid him. 7But go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going before you to Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you. 8And they went out and fled from the tomb, for trembling and astonishment had seized them, and they said nothing to anyone, for they were afraid. 9[[Now when he rose early on the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, from whom he had cast out seven demons. 10She went and told those who had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11But when they heard that he was alive and had been seen by her, they would not believe it. 12After these things he appeared in another form to two of them, as they were walking into the country. 13And they went back and told the rest, but they did not believe them. 14Afterward he appeared to the eleven themselves as they were reclining at table, and he rebuked them for their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they had not believed those who saw him after he had risen. 15And he said to them, Go into all the world and proclaim the gospel to the whole creation. 16Whoever believes and is baptized will be saved, but whoever does not believe will be condemned. 17And these signs will accompany those who believe: in my name they will cast out demons; they will speak in new tongues; 18they will pick up serpents with their hands; and if they drink any deadly poison, it will not hurt them; they will lay their hands on the sick, and they will recover. 19So then the Lord Jesus, after he had spoken to them, was taken up into heaven and sat down at the right hand of God. 20And they went out and preached everywhere, while the Lord worked with them and confirmed the message by accompanying signs.]]
1And when the sabbath was past, Mary Magdalene, and Mary the mother of James, and Salome, had bought sweet spices, that they might come and anoint him. 2And very early in the morning the first day of the week, they came unto the sepulchre at the rising of the sun. 3And they said among themselves, Who shall roll us away the stone from the door of the sepulchre? 4And when they looked, they saw that the stone was rolled away: for it was very great. 5And entering into the sepulchre, they saw a young man sitting on the right side, clothed in a long white garment; and they were affrighted. 6And he saith unto them, Be not affrighted: Ye seek Jesus of Nazareth, which was crucified: he is risen; he is not here: behold the place where they laid him. 7But go your way, tell his disciples and Peter that he goeth before you into Galilee: there shall ye see him, as he said unto you. 8And they went out quickly, and fled from the sepulchre; for they trembled and were amazed: neither said they any thing to any man; for they were afraid. 9Now when Jesus was risen early the first day of the week, he appeared first to Mary Magdalene, out of whom he had cast seven devils. 10And she went and told them that had been with him, as they mourned and wept. 11And they, when they had heard that he was alive, and had been seen of her, believed not. 12After that he appeared in another form unto two of them, as they walked, and went into the country. 13And they went and told it unto the residue: neither believed they them. 14Afterward he appeared unto the eleven as they sat at meat, and upbraided them with their unbelief and hardness of heart, because they believed not them which had seen him after he was risen. 15And he said unto them, Go ye into all the world, and preach the gospel to every creature. 16He that believeth and is baptized shall be saved; but he that believeth not shall be damned. 17And these signs shall follow them that believe; In my name shall they cast out devils; they shall speak with new tongues; 18They shall take up serpents; and if they drink any deadly thing, it shall not hurt them; they shall lay hands on the sick, and they shall recover. 19So then after the Lord had spoken unto them, he was received up into heaven, and sat on the right hand of God. 20And they went forth, and preached every where, the Lord working with them, and confirming the word with signs following. Amen.
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
1Now there was a man of the Pharisees named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews. 2This man came to Jesus by night and said to him, Rabbi, we know that you are a teacher come from God, for no one can do these signs that you do unless God is with him. 3Jesus answered him, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born again he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4Nicodemus said to him, How can a man be born when he is old? Can he enter a second time into his mother's womb and be born? 5Jesus answered, Truly, truly, I say to you, unless one is born of water and the Spirit, he cannot enter the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh, and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Do not marvel that I said to you, You must be born again. 8The wind blows where it wishes, and you hear its sound, but you do not know where it comes from or where it goes. So it is with everyone who is born of the Spirit. 9Nicodemus said to him, How can these things be? 10Jesus answered him, Are you the teacher of Israel and yet you do not understand these things? 11Truly, truly, I say to you, we speak of what we know, and bear witness to what we have seen, but you do not receive our testimony. 12If I have told you earthly things and you do not believe, how can you believe if I tell you heavenly things? 13No one has ascended into heaven except he who descended from heaven, the Son of Man. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, 15that whoever believes in him may have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him should not perish but have eternal life. 17For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him. 18Whoever believes in him is not condemned, but whoever does not believe is condemned already, because he has not believed in the name of the only Son of God. 19And this is the judgment: the light has come into the world, and people loved the darkness rather than the light because their works were evil. 20For everyone who does wicked things hates the light and does not come to the light, lest his works should be exposed. 21But whoever does what is true comes to the light, so that it may be clearly seen that his works have been carried out in God. 22After this Jesus and his disciples went into the Judean countryside, and he remained there with them and was baptizing. 23John also was baptizing at Aenon near Salim, because water was plentiful there, and people were coming and being baptized 24(for John had not yet been put in prison). 25Now a discussion arose between some of John's disciples and a Jew over purification. 26And they came to John and said to him, Rabbi, he who was with you across the Jordan, to whom you bore witness - look, he is baptizing, and all are going to him. 27John answered, A person cannot receive even one thing unless it is given him from heaven. 28You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him. 29The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom's voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. 30He must increase, but I must decrease. 31He who comes from above is above all. He who is of the earth belongs to the earth and speaks in an earthly way. He who comes from heaven is above all. 32He bears witness to what he has seen and heard, yet no one receives his testimony. 33Whoever receives his testimony sets his seal to this, that God is true. 34For he whom God has sent utters the words of God, for he gives the Spirit without measure. 35The Father loves the Son and has given all things into his hand. 36Whoever believes in the Son has eternal life; whoever does not obey the Son shall not see life, but the wrath of God remains on him.
1There was a man of the Pharisees, named Nicodemus, a ruler of the Jews: 2The same came to Jesus by night, and said unto him, Rabbi, we know that thou art a teacher come from God: for no man can do these miracles that thou doest, except God be with him. 3Jesus answered and said unto him, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born again, he cannot see the kingdom of God. 4Nicodemus saith unto him, How can a man be born when he is old? can he enter the second time into his mother's womb, and be born? 5Jesus answered, Verily, verily, I say unto thee, Except a man be born of water and of the Spirit, he cannot enter into the kingdom of God. 6That which is born of the flesh is flesh; and that which is born of the Spirit is spirit. 7Marvel not that I said unto thee, Ye must be born again. 8The wind bloweth where it listeth, and thou hearest the sound thereof, but canst not tell whence it cometh, and whither it goeth: so is every one that is born of the Spirit. 9Nicodemus answered and said unto him, How can these things be? 10Jesus answered and said unto him, Art thou a master of Israel, and knowest not these things? 11Verily, verily, I say unto thee, We speak that we do know, and testify that we have seen; and ye receive not our witness. 12If I have told you earthly things, and ye believe not, how shall ye believe, if I tell you of heavenly things? 13And no man hath ascended up to heaven, but he that came down from heaven, even the Son of man which is in heaven. 14And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, even so must the Son of man be lifted up: 15That whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have eternal life. 16For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. 17For God sent not his Son into the world to condemn the world; but that the world through him might be saved. 18He that believeth on him is not condemned: but he that believeth not is condemned already, because he hath not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. 19And this is the condemnation, that light is come into the world, and men loved darkness rather than light, because their deeds were evil. 20For every one that doeth evil hateth the light, neither cometh to the light, lest his deeds should be reproved. 21But he that doeth truth cometh to the light, that his deeds may be made manifest, that they are wrought in God. 22After these things came Jesus and his disciples into the land of Judaea; and there he tarried with them, and baptized. 23And John also was baptizing in Aenon near to Salim, because there was much water there: and they came, and were baptized. 24For John was not yet cast into prison. 25Then there arose a question between some of John's disciples and the Jews about purifying. 26And they came unto John, and said unto him, Rabbi, he that was with thee beyond Jordan, to whom thou barest witness, behold, the same baptizeth, and all men come to him. 27John answered and said, A man can receive nothing, except it be given him from heaven. 28Ye yourselves bear me witness, that I said, I am not the Christ, but that I am sent before him. 29He that hath the bride is the bridegroom: but the friend of the bridegroom, which standeth and heareth him, rejoiceth greatly because of the bridegroom's voice: this my joy therefore is fulfilled. 30He must increase, but I must decrease. 31He that cometh from above is above all: he that is of the earth is earthly, and speaketh of the earth: he that cometh from heaven is above all. 32And what he hath seen and heard, that he testifieth; and no man receiveth his testimony. 33He that hath received his testimony hath set to his seal that God is true. 34For he whom God hath sent speaketh the words of God: for God giveth not the Spirit by measure unto him. 35The Father loveth the Son, and hath given all things into his hand. 36He that believeth on the Son hath everlasting life: and he that believeth not the Son shall not see life; but the wrath of God abideth on him.
A quatrain is a 4-line stanza, usually rhyming.
A 3-line unit of verse, usually forming part of a sestet. Sometimes it rhymes within itself, sometimes it has the same rhyme scheme as a following tercet.
Christians whose faith and practice stems from the Reformation movement in the sixteenth century which resulted in new churches being created as an alternative to the Roman Catholic Church.
The Bible describes God as the unique supreme being, creator and ruler of the universe.
1. Sometimes used to denote all Christians
2. Used specifically of the Roman Catholic church.
2. A decision about guilt, and / or the passing of sentence by the person presiding over a court of justice.
3. In the Bible, God's verdict on human behaviour especially on the Day of Judgement at the end of time.
A person whose role is to carry out religious functions.
The Christian Bible consists of the Old Testament scriptures inherited from Judaism, together with the New Testament, drawn from writings produced from c.40-125CE, which describe the life of Jesus and the establishment of the Christian church.
The immersion in or pouring over of water, in the name of God the Father, Son and Holy Spirit, to signify the washing away of away of sin. Baptism in Christian churches marks the acceptance of the baptised child or adult into the church.
A term used by Gerard Manley Hopkins to denote the uniqueness of a person or piece of Nature, such as a landscape, a cloud formation or waves on the sea. It is the artist's trained perception to grasp this uniqueness of form and being.
A term invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins to denote the way an inscape impinges itself on the mind of the perceiver, and the emotional colouring produced.
In English Literature, it denotes a period between 1785-1830, when the previous classical or enlightenment traditions and values were overthrown, and a freer, more individual mode of writing emerged.
The 6-line stanza of a Petrarchan sonnet, occupying the last six lines, sometimes divided into tercets or couplets. It often resolves the problem posed in the octave or comments significantly on it.
An image or form of comparison where one thing is said actually to be another - e.g. 'fleecy clouds'.