UBC Theses and Dissertations

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UBC Theses and Dissertations

Gerard Manley Hopkins' use of nature in his poetry Cafferata, Florence


Since 1930, critics have given wide attention to the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Some of these critics have discussed the nature element in Hopkins’ poetry; but, generally, they have considered the nature imagery as one of the less important elements of Hopkins' work, confining their criticism to general statements, or limiting their discussion to one, or to a very few, of Hopkins' poems. This thesis attempts to go beyond these generalities. By a thorough investigation of Hopkins' use of nature, it attempts to show that nature imagery constitutes one of the major unifying elements of his poetry. Special attention will be given to the discussion of the "terrible sonnets" whose nature imagery may be said to synthesize the anguish of soul which prompted the poet to write these sonnets. Three groups of poems exemplify nature imagery as a unifying element in Hopkins' poetry: Hopkins' simple nature poetry, his poetry of praise, and the "terrible sonnets." In his simple nature poetry, Hopkins, by expressing his concept of the beauty of nature, allows the reader to share this vision of beauty with him. In the poetry of praise, Hopkins uses nature imagery to express one consistent theme, or "underthought"-- the grandeur of God and man's consequent duty of praise. The "terrible sonnets" celebrate God's power, His justice and His mercy. These seven poems of poignant beauty are Hopkins' expression of the terrible sufferings of the spiritual "nights" in which the only source of hope is God's mercy. The nature imagery in each of these groups is closely connected with Hopkins' poetic theories of inscape and instress. Hopkins considered that the essence of the object is to be found in its individual distinctiveness. Closely connected with the teachings of Duns Scotus, this philosophy provided Hopkins with a basis for his theories of inscape and instress, the key concepts of Hopkins' poetry. In inscape, the intuitive glance which follows the sensuous perception of the object allows the beholder to see its individually distinctive essence. The word "instress" is used by Hopkins to mean two different principles. At times, "instress" is used to express the principle of actuality of the object; at other times, to define the total effect which an individual inscape produces upon the one who sees it. Hopkins' poetic techniques are a natural result of his theories of inscape and instress. In an effort to express inscape accurately he sought to reproduce in his poetry exactly what he saw and what he heard. He called into play all the resources of language, of nature imagery, of poetic techniques and of prosody which he could command; and he produced a poetry which is at once dynamic, original, and beautiful. An understanding of Hopkins' theology of nature is also basic to the correct interpretation of his poetry. To Hopkins, all nature is a manifestation, an "utterance" of God; each separate object "utters" God in its own individual way. This sacramental view of nature was the result of Hopkins' unique ability to see things at once on both a natural and a supernatural level. He expresses the "underthought" of God, or of man's relations to God, by means of the "overthought" of nature. Nature imagery is, therefore, one of the principled unifying elements of Hopkins' poetry.

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