How did a Catholic priest who died a failure become one of the world's greatest poets? Discover in his own words the struggle for faith that gave birth to some of the best poetry of all time.
Gerard Manley Hopkins deserves his place among the greatest poets in the English language. He ranks seventh among the most frequently reprinted English-language poets, surpassed only by Shakespeare, Donne, Blake, Dickinson, Yeats, and Wordsworth.
Yet when the English Jesuit priest died of typhoid fever at age forty-four, he considered his life a failure. He never would have suspected that his poems, which would not be published for another twenty-nine years, would eventually change the course of modern poetry and influence such poets as W. H. Auden, Dylan Thomas, Robert Lowell, John Berryman, Geoffrey Hill, and Seamus Heaney. Along with his contemporaries Walt Whitman and Emily Dickinson, Hopkins revolutionized poetic language.
And yet we love Hopkins not only for his literary genius but for the hard-won faith that finds expression in his verse. Who else has captured the thunderous voice of God and the grandeur of his creation on the written page as Hopkins has?
Seamlessly weaving together selections from Hopkins’s poems, letters, journals, and sermons, Margaret Ellsberg lets the poet tell the story of a life-long struggle with faith that gave birth to some of the best poetry of all time. Even readers who spurn religious language will find in Hopkins a refreshing, liberating way to see God’s hand at work in the world.
The Gospel in Gerard Manley Hopkins combines his poetry, journals, letters, and sermons, along with some biographical notes, to create the sense of this remarkable poet’s relationship to God and how it deeply influenced his poetry as well as his life. Much as I enjoyed learning more about Hopkins through his letters and more about his faith through his sermons, I was most excited by the poetry itself. The editor, Margaret Ellsberg, has insightful commentary that I found helpful but the experience of the poetry was the greatest gift of this collection. The sheer beauty of the words, rich and, yes, strange, the rhythms and the images were all amazing. I could only read a few at a time and finished feeling word drunk and grateful. …Hopkins is a gift of the incredible beauty and power and potential of language to lift us up and bring us face to face with the world in all its richness, beautiful, life-giving and, yes, sometimes tragic. Hopefully many people will continue to discover the richness of Hopkins’ work through Ellsberg’s well-selected and annotated volume.
The last two books Plough sent to me for review are collections of writings by two very unusual but passionate Catholics, the Jesuit poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (English, 1844-1889) and the unsinkable Dorothy Day (American, 1897-1980). The former was chosen, I believe, because he was widely regarded as a failure while he lived, yet is now considered a giant among Christian men of letters. . . . You may already know that Dorothy Day’s cause for canonization is slowly but actively progressing. My guess is that she will, in the end, be both beatified and canonized. The same might well be said of Hopkins one day. It is relevant, I am quite sure, that both of these powerfully Catholic figures had their share of interior discouragement. Their dark nights were not as severe as Mother Teresa’s, but they were enough to prompt impressive spiritual growth, learning to love not the consolations God sends, but God Himself. We should be thankful that Plough has transplanted into its own garden such exotic yet incomparably hardy Catholic blooms!
Margaret R. Ellsberg put together just the right combination of background story and examples of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ works. She was able to bring the reader into the emotional struggles of [Hopkins] and the tremendous desire of this man to praise God through his unique use of words. By the end of the book I found myself in pain and celebrating at the same time. Thank you for not letting the voices of the past die. I think Mr. Hopkins would be honored by this book.
Hopkins, of course, is probably most well-known for his God's Grandeur, but I thought the letters and journal entries were even more significant for the Christian life than I'd ever appreciated. This is a rich collection that really shouldn't be missed.
I am riveted by both Hopkins and Ellsberg’s brilliant essays about him and his poetry. Without her guidance, I’m not sure how well I’d have done with his poetry. But catching a glimpse of the ecstatic impulse behind the wild play of his words is so moving and gives me courage to venture on. As an object the book is beautifully produced, the paper lovely, a pleasure to hold and read.