Conservation and renewal of nature

Conservation in the time of Hopkins

The concept of conservation was not really formulated in Hopkins' day (the National Trust, for example, was not founded until some ten years after his death, about the time when the first of America's National Parks were being set aside). The Romantic poets, such as Wordsworth, had been writing largely before the Industrial Revolution, so that they did not witness industrialisation's mass destruction of natural scenery. Other poets preferred to ignore it, such as Browning, Tennyson or Matthew Arnold. However, Hopkins could not, especially when he was sent to industrial parishes in Liverpool and Lancashire.

The vulnerability of Nature

Because the idea of conservation had yet to be properly articulated, Hopkins generally ties in his comments on this subject to another theme, The ugliness of modern life, as in God's Grandeur. However:

  • in Binsey Poplars he does focus on the vulnerability of nature and the thoughtlessness of humans, especially when it comes to chopping down trees (something we are much more aware of today)
  • in Ribblesdale, a poem not analysed in this guide, Hopkins chides humans that they
    ‘thriftless reave both our rich world bare..'

    when they should be stewards and spokespeople for the earth:

    ‘what is Earth's eye, tongue...but in dear and dogged man?'

  • the poem Inversnaid also demonstrates awareness of the earth's vulnerability, though Hopkins does not yet see any sign of the erosion of its wildness. His plea there is to let nature be.

An alternative view

To balance the pessimism of some of these poems, God's Grandeur has the hope that nature can renew itself, or rather, that God renews his Creation through the Holy Spirit:

‘And for all this nature is never spent'.

God is able to undo the evil that humans do. And, as God's Creation, it has the

‘dearest freshness deep down things'.

As a slightly ironic proof, poplars still grow at Binsey to this day.

Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.