Monday, July 28, 2014

Sunset of rosy juices

Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Jesuit priest remembered largely for his innovative approach to writing poetry, was born 170 years ago today. He sometimes kept note-books, which, later in his life, became more like diaries. His diary entries are often dull (a few of them simply contain the one word, ‘Dull’!), though his daily obsession with describing the sky and the weather does lead him to wax rather lyrical. One sunset he describes, for example, as ‘of rosy juices and creams and combs.’

Hopkins, the oldest of nine children, was born on 28 July 1844, at Stratford near London into a high Anglican family. He was educated at Balliol College, Oxford, during the time of the Oxford Movement, and chose to enter the Roman Catholic church in 1866. Two years later, he became a Jesuit priest, and, famously, destroyed all the poems he had written up to that point. He spent the next years training at various Jesuit houses. It was not until 1875 that he began writing poetry again, inspired by a German ship - with nuns aboard - that sank in a storm. The Wreck of the Deutschland would become one of his most famous poems.

After being ordained in 1877, Hopkins worked with the poor in Liverpool, Manchester and Glasgow, then studied some more in London, before teaching classics at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire. In 1884, he was elected fellow of the Royal University of Ireland, and lectured in Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin. He died, aged only 44, from typhoid fever in 1889, by which time he had not published any of his poems. It was only in 1918, that a first volume of Hopkins’s poems appeared, thanks to a friend, another poet, Robert Bridges. ‘His experimental explorations,’ Wikipedia summarises, ‘in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse.’ Further information is also available from The Poetry Foundation, The Victorian Web, a New York Times book review, or The London Review of Books.

Hopkins’s papers were first edited by Humphrey House in 1937, and published by Oxford University Press in one volume - The Notebooks and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins. It contained a journal and selections from diaries and other writings. In 1947, three more journal note-books came to light; and, in 1952, after the death of Hopkins’s last surviving brother, further papers were found, all of which led Oxford University Press to consider a new and more comprehensive edition. Humphrey House was called on to put the new edition together, but then he died, and so the task of completing the book  - The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins - was given to Graham Storey. It was published in 1959, and contains one chapter of about 70 pages called ‘Early Diaries (1862-6)’, and another of about 130 pages called ‘Journal (1866-75)’. Other chapters contain Hopkins’s essays and lecture notes, as well as his drawings and music.

In the early note-books, Hopkins sketches out poems, shows a playful interest in words, and often describes the clouds and sky. Most of the entries are just notes, and few of them are dated. In the later years, his journal does become more diary-like, but his interest in the sky continues unabated with many a poetical turn of phrase about the weather.

2 August 1867
‘Dull and cold; before sunset the west opened in yellow from the earth-line upwards, with a sharp edge to the blanket of clouds; then bright sunlight scattered on the trees.’

17 August 1867
‘West wind, which I heard someone describe as ‘lumpy and rolling heavy’, with a little rain on it; otherwise fine; near sunset drifts of small graceful white-rose and scaly clouds.’

17 August 1868
‘Dark, soft, and wet.’

7 January 1868
‘Fine and freezing; snow at night.’

23 January 1868

23 December 1869
‘Yesterday morning I was dreaming I was with George Simcox and was considering how to get away in time to ring the bells here which as porter I had to ring (I was made porter on the 12th of the month, I think, and had the office for a little more than two months). I knew that I was dreaming and made this odd dilemma in my dream; either I am not really with Simcox and then it does not matter what I do, or if I am, waking will carry me off without my needing to do anything - and with this I was satisfied.’

24 September 1874
‘Very bright and clear. I was with Mr. Rickaby on the hill above the house. All the landscape had a beautiful liquid cast of blue. Many-coloured smokes in the valley, grey from the Denbigh lime-kiln, yellow and lurid from two kilns perhaps on the shoulders of a hill, blue from a bonfire, and so on.

Afterwards a lovely sunset of rosy juices and creams and combs; the combs I mean scattered floating bats or rafts or racks above, the creams, the strew and bed of the sunset, passing north and south or rather north only into grey marestail and brush along the horizon to the hills. Afterwards the rosy field of the sundown turned gold and the slips and creamings in it stood out like brands, with jots of purple. A sodden twilight over the valley and foreground all below, holding the corner-hung maroon-grey diamonds of ploughfields to one keeping but allowing a certain glare in the green of the near tufts of grass.’

The Diary Junction

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