Sunday 17 December 2017

Poetry - Ulick O'Connor: Hopkins' insight into inner self

Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins

Last week, Father John Sullivan SJ was beatified by Pope Francis, the last step on the road to sainthood.

Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, another Jesuit, who taught at University College, 86 St Stephen's Green, in the 1880s, reached the top of the tree in poetry.

Unlike Fr Sullivan, however, Hopkins, who had come over from England, found himself isolated and ill at ease from both sections of the community, unionists and nationalists.

Yet despite the loneliness of the life he led in Dublin, Hopkins (pictured) has left behind poetry which is among some of the finest verse in the language.

Hopkins experienced devastating bouts of depression in his last years. He died alone at the age of 45 in a top room at University College overlooking St Stephen's Green.

But he has left us, in his poetry, a profound insight into his inner self.

Take the poem reprinted here. What other poet has evoked despair as Hopkins has done, with his image of a man hanging by his fingertips on the cliff of life?


No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,

More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.

Comforter, where, where is your comforting?

Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?


O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap

May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small

Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,

Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all

Life death does end and each day dies with sleep

Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844-1889

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