I was introduced to the work of Gerard Manley Hopkins last semester, and it is absolutely delightful. While other metaphysical Christian poets are theological and challenging, Hopkins is more whimsical. His poems express a sincere wonder and gratitude for the small and the everyday things of life.
Hopkins held what might be called a philosophy of particulars. While many philosophers and thinkers (Plato, not the least of them) are interested in what makes things the same—the universals—Hopkins pays attention to the little details that make things different. He takes careful note of how things affect each other in particular ways. He notes how the small things that make a person, animal, or flower unique bless the world in their own ways; he spends an entire poem describing the beauty of “dappled things” in “Pied Beauty.” He is determined to be thankful, and the glory of it permeates his writing.
Hopkins revels in the sound of the language. In some of his poems, he relies on the reader’s intuitive understanding behind the sounds of the words, rather than their definitions. At moments, I was reminded of reading Lewis Carroll’s “Jabberwocky” and knowing what was being said not because I knew what the word’s meant, but because of the images conjured in my mind by the sounds. I found I enjoyed the poem “Inversnaid” more when I stopped worrying about whether or not I actually knew what the words meant.
But my favorite poem by Hopkins, and, I think, a good example of his work, is “God’s Grandeur.” Here, Hopkins draws out how he sees the world. Through all the pain and darkness, the glory of God shines through the little things, subtle but uncontainable. The poem calls us to see where God’s glory is bursting through the seams of our reality at every turn: “The world is charged with the grandeur of God. / It will flame out, like shining from shook foil; / It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil / Crushed …”