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He was born at Startford (Essex), the eldest son of nine children. He study to Highgate School and then to Oxford. He was received into the Catholic Church in 1866 and then he entered the Jesuit Order. He was ordained a priest in 1877, and worked in many parishes (also Liverpool and Glasgow). After teaching at the Jesuit Seminary he became professor of Greek at University College in Dublin (where he died).

He was interested in poetry and he wrote for hobby. He tried to innovate poetry in the aspect of sound and images.

Unpublished in his lifetime

His poetry was completely unknown in his lifetime because he never published his verse or even admitted that he wrote its. He thought that his interest in poetry conflicted with his vocation as a priest, and would distract him from his duties; but his superiors encouraged him to write and paint.

Posthumous fame

The first edition of his  poem The Wreck of the Deutschland, edited by his friend and fellow poet Bridges, appeared in 1918, thirty years after his death (à in this year appeared Modernism à vigorous type of composition). Upon its publication Hopkins was immediately perceived as a man born before his time, a 20th -century poet in an earlier age that could not have appreciated the modernity of his talent. His poetry became fashionable and a considerable cult has surrounded his ure since.

Romantic and Victorian background

In his poetry he was influenced by the ideas of John Ruskin and W. Pater. In his highly personal religious way he was still a late Romantic and his mystical and sensual vein directly from Keats and the Pre-Raphaelites.  This poetical influence combined with Hopkins' philosophical interest in the medieval Scottish philosopher Scotus, whose discussion of theology is based on a keen appreciation of the "thisness" of people and things (à the individual forms that people and things take in the physical world).

So his poetry is a mixture of Romantic and Victorian elements. He was interested in religion and philosophy, so his works are very complex (à he anticipated Modernism).

God's presence in the world

Hopkins want to render his experience of God's presence in the world, its "thisness" in ordinary things à he use Keatsian poetry in a devotional or religious mode of literature. His poetry comes close to that of the Metaphysical Poets (à Donne) in finding unusual connections between apparently unrelated things in the world, which indicate the presence of God in all things.

A sensuous religiosity

Hopkins loves the appearance of God in the world, submits himself to it like a courtly lover to his mistress, and finds the meaning of his life in this submission. His own pessimism, and the terrible fits of depression he went through, found relief in the Catholic faith in God's boundless mercy.

Nature as the mirror of God

For Hopkins Nature is a source of inspiration and confortation à not in a pantheistic way but such as a God's creation. Most of his poetry is religious, either because it directly praises or talks to God or because in nature he constantly sees and celebrates God. The physical world is full of God's presence; man should interfere with it as little as possible and feel the joy it freely gives.

His experience in the suburbs of Liverpool and Glasgow convinced him that the industrial and mechanical world was not only ugly but also the product of man's sins, of his getting away from nature and thus from God. Hopkins' poetry thus appears as a religious restatement of Wordsworth's discovery of nature and of Ruskin's campaign against industrialization and mechanization.

A great technical innovator

Hopkins' real innovations are above all technical. He studied Old English and Welsh verse and came to the conclusion that it embodied the true, natural tradition of expression in English (à he refuses the forms that are innatural for the human's speech). His poetry is rich in the alliteration and assonance of Anglo-Saxon poetry. He was also contrary to the smooth and fluent rhythm prevailing in 19th century poetry and tried to model his metres on what he believed was the common rhythm of spoken English. To pursue this he invented a metrical system that he called "sprung rhythm" à it's a stress-based metre where each line of verse is based on a regular number of stresses, or primary accents, and not of syllables, which can vary in number (sprung à sense of dynamism).

The main difficult of Hopkins' poetry is language not metre, since his poems are built on nothing more than the Old English accentual line: a fixed number of stressed syllables and then any number of unstressed syllables in between.

This revolutionary invention was influenced by Old English (for him poetry is a sequence of words taken from the usual language).

Inscape and instress

Hopkins also invented a terminology of his own. Its two main terms are:

Inscape = the distinct pattern of each thing in the universe, giving it its individuality;

Instress = the property to recognise the "inscape", or distinctive pattern, of other beings. In a general sense, this is the quality that distinguishes man as the highest being in the universe; specifically, for the poet this means the effect that the apprehension of each "inscape", or pattern, has on his imagination.

For Hopkins, the "instress" (apprehension, understanding) of "inscape" (individual pattern of things) ultimately leads one to God, for everything in the universe bears God's divine stamp.

Hopkins's originality

He moved away from Wordsworth's ideal of an ordinary language and he produced instead a magical incantation of sound and meaning, of newly-coined words and unusual syntax. On the other hand, modelling his metres on the common rhythm of spoken English, and thus disregarding syllabic regularity, Hopkins was moving in the direction of "free verse" that in few years modernist poets would adopt.


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