Themes in Henry Purcell

Beautiful Creation / creativity

The obvious theme is the beauty of created things, including people. There is no question that Hopkins finds Purcell's music beautiful, though he does not say in what way. Somehow, the beauty of the music gets transferred into the image of a bird's flight, so clearly there is some sort of soaring, ecstatic quality to it. When we compare his poem with The Windhover, this may make more sense.


Purcell's uniqueness is conveyed not just by the use of ‘especial' (a usage also seen in Binsey Poplars with its ‘sweet especial scene'), but also by the difficult term ‘sakes of him'. Hopkins admits he has forced his own meaning on to the word. He explains it is the image a thing has outside of itself, and he gives the example of the echo of a voice:

  • An echo is and is not the voice
  • Purcell's music is and is not Purcell
  • The concept of uniqueness lies not just in a thing itself, but in the manifestation of that thing.

This is not dissimilar to our modern notion of what it means to be ‘faking it'. If a declaration of feeling, for example, is not really from a person's uniqueness / soul, then it is a fake; but a true declaration reflects the unique nature of the person who utters it.

Hopkins' own poetry is a good example. It clearly comes from his very being, and, even if he is ‘straining', it is a genuine part of Hopkins' being, not a production to impress an audience (which he did not always have, anyway).

Investigating Henry Purcell
  • Can you see the difference between individuality and subjectivity?
  • Do you think you know ‘the real you'?
  • Can you think of anyone else who knows ‘the real individual, unique you'?
  • How would they know it?
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