Commentary on The Wreck of the Deutschland

Subject matter

Shipwrecks are something that fascinate many - hence the popularity of Robinson Crusoe and the Titanic films. Some of Shakespeare's plays have shipwrecks: The Tempest, The Winter's Tale, Twelfth Night, to name a few. More significantly with Hopkins, his father had been in marine insurance, and accounts of shipwrecks must have been talked about a good deal in the Hopkins' household. Hopkins appears very confident in writing about the details. A few years later, he was to write a second shipwreck poem, The Loss of the Eudydice.


The poem is technically an ode, that is to say, it is addressed to someone or celebrating someone. Here, the poem is initially addressed to God, but it celebrates the Franciscan nuns. In form, it is a Pindaric ode, a complex sort of ode developed by the Greek poet, Pindar, whom Hopkins would have studied.

The poem is divided into two main parts.

Part the First

This consists of the first ten stanzas, and tells something of Hopkins' own conversion, laying out the grounds for his theodicy (attempt to reconcile the existence of tragedy and suffering with belief in a God who is both loving and powerful).

Part the Second

This consists of twenty-five stanzas. In them, Hopkins describes the shipwreck itself, taking details from The Times newspaper of Saturday, December 11, 1875. He then focuses on the leading nun, wondering what she was seeing and saying just before her own death. He seems to come to an understanding of her final cry, which leads him in to applying his theodicy to that situation. From there he can think about the others drowned, and then to a wider picture of God's will for England.

Structural division

In fact, the poem can be broken down beyond the two main sections, into smaller sections forming groups of roughly five stanzas:

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