Prof. Ron Hansen of Santa Clara University delivered a lecture on the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins last night to an audience of a hundred students, faculty, staff, and community members for the second installment of our Catholic Culture Literature Series, "Victorian Catholics: Penning the Grandeur of God." He spoke at length about the great friendship between Hopkins, who converted to Catholicism while a student at Oxford, became a Jesuit priest, and received little attention or praise for his poetry during his lifetime, and his best friend, Dr. Robert Bridges, a nominal Anglican who became a physician and highly acclaimed poet, even so far as to be named England's national poet laureate during the Victorian era. Prof. Hansen read from both Hopkins' and Bridges' poetry, explaining why Hopkins' has lasting value and has grown in popularity over time, while Bridges' has faded into obscurity.
Hopkins' poetry was misunderstood in his own age because of its novelty and inventiveness; his experimentation with rhythm and his concentration on religious themes came across as affected to his contemporaries. Throughout all of Hopkins' work, there runs a theme of praising and giving glory to God for the sacramentality of the world, which he experienced both sensually in creation and spiritually in prayer. Hopkins' poems paint not just the landscape of the world, but the "inscape," or the true identity of things that can be discovered only by looking carefully and paying close attention to the present moment. Hopkins is highly regarded now even by poets who do not value the theology deeply imbedded in poetry, because he invented sprung rhythm, or the device in which only stressed syllables are counted to compose the rhythm of a verse, rather than the total number of syllables, as in iambic pentameter or other more traditional rhythms.
Video of Prof. Hansen's wonderful lecture will be available soon; meanwhile, join us next week on Tuesday, Sept. 20 at 8 p.m. in DeBartolo 141 for David Solomon's presentation on the Ward Family as our Victorian Catholics series continues.