UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Paradox in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins Chaland, Ann


Gerard Manley Hopkins' particular vision of reality derives from his intense and unique intellectual response to the fact of the Incarnation. In his view, the Incarnation so colors the world that each created thing, by virtue of its selfhood, expresses Christ. Hopkins' apprehension of the integration of the finite and infinite in all things, without the loss or diminution of either, creates his vision of a paradoxical world. The problem examined in this thesis is to what degree such a view of life is reflected in, and by, his poetry. There is no examination of purely verbal paradox, except insofar as it reflects or reveals the poet's vision of a paradoxical reality. In the investigation, Hopkins' letters, in particular, those to Robert Bridges and to Richard Watson Dixon, his early diaries, notebooks and journals, as well as his retreat notes, sermons and other devotional writings have been examined and have yielded valuable information about Hopkins' views of life and poetry. The focus of the investigation, however, has been the poems themselves. It is with these that the study was begun, and to these that it constantly returned. From that study, it became apparent that definite themes recur in Hopkins' poetry. When the poems were grouped according to theme, it was found that certain poems center on natural beauty and man's response to it; others on the idea of sacrifice; still others on the problem of suffering, and yet others on the fact of death. An examination of each of the poems in these groups revealed that Hopkins' poetry is his response and solution to the problems posed by his simultaneous awareness of the apparently contradictory elements in reality. In that group whose theme is mortal beauty emerge the paradoxes of the changing creation revealing the changeless creator, of God's simultaneous immanence in, and transcendence of, his works, and of man's consequent difficult, but necessary, response of attachment to, and detachment from, mortal beauty. From those whose theme is sacrifice emerge the paradoxes of the beauty and the merit of the good which the poet voluntarily, but with difficulty, abjures in his own life, and of the denial of self as the highest fulfilment of self. From those whose theme is the problem of suffering emerge, in one group, the paradox of the reconciliation of God's mastery and his mercy, and in another, of the poet's isolation from, and unity with, God. In the first such group, the reconciliation has been facilitated by a prior struggle and enlightenment of the poet. In the second group, the desdlate sonnets, emerges acceptance through indomitable faith, rather than reconciliation. From the final group, whose theme is death, emerges the paradox of the resurrection. This paradox bring Hopkins full circle, for, in the new life, mortal beauty has become immortal. It seems, then, that it is Hopkins' awareness of the duality of the response imposed on him by his perception of these paradoxes, and his efforts to make that response, which give to his poetry its particular tension and intensity. The poetry is the record of the poet's efforts to explain the inexplicable. Although the chronological and thematic progression of response do not always go hand in hand, in the main, they do. There is a definite progression from the poet's happy and untroubled acceptance of the mystery in "Pied Beauty", through his more difficult, yet none the less fully accepted reconciliation in "Carrion Comfort", through his anguish in the desolate sonnets, to his final ringing cry of faith in "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire". In his relentless questionings of the mysteries inherent in his views of a paradoxical world, Hopkins refused to surrender either his intellect or his faith. His poetry testifies to both, and each enhances the other.

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