.- The deeply religious poetry of the Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins was the focus of a conference where participants praised the nineteenth-century poetâs craftsmanship and environmentalism, saying he and Bl. John Henry Newman were ârevolutionaries in their time.â
âHis poetry is beautiful, and inspiring. Itâs full of deep thought and observation of nature, and the presence of God in every living thing and even in inanimate objects,â said Richard Austin, an English-born actor presently living in Halfmoon Bay, British Columbia.
Austin, one of the presenters at the international Gerard Manley Hopkins Conference, held at Regis University in Denver March 25-27, said the poetâs work is particularly important at a time when mankind appears to be becoming more devoted to a âcult of the selfâ and is distancing itself from an âideal of connectionâ to God and spirituality.
Hopkins saw poetry as âspeech purged of dross, like gold in the furnace,â he told CNA on March 26.
The poetâs 1877 work âGodâs Grandeurâ focuses on the beauty of creation. It begins:
âThe 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.â
Regis University professor Victoria McCabe told CNA that the Hopkins Conference has had 16 meetings, including events at the Gregorian University in Rome, Oriel College in Oxford, the Milltown Park Jesuit Institute in Dublin and at Gonzaga University in Spokane, Washington.
The conference launched after three Catholics, âpassionate readersâ of Hopkins, envisioned a gathering of scholars, poets, students and parishioners to help widen interest in the poet and to serve the people of God.
Hopkins, who lived from 1844 to 1889, was born in England to Anglican parents. In 1866 he was received into the Catholic Church by another prominent convert, Bl. John Henry Cardinal Newman. Hopkins joined the Society of Jesus the next year and was ordained to the priesthood in 1877.
He spent the last five years of his life teaching in Dublin at Newmanâs Catholic University of Ireland, which served Irish Catholics who had been denied an education.
Conference speaker Fr. Peter Milward, S.J., a professor emeritus of English at Sophia University in Tokyo, said Newman and Hopkins both represent the âsecond springâ of Catholicism in England.
âNewman was great in the medium of prose, and then heâs followed by Hopkins in the medium of poetry. The two complement each other.â
Both men were ârevolutionaries in terms of their time,â he said. While Newman proposed an âessentially Catholic spiritâ in the Anglican Church, Hopkins created innovative poems filled with âdeep spiritual inspiration.â
Fr. Milward cited the 1875 poem âThe Wreck of the Deutschland,â which commemorated a naval disaster that killed dozens of people, including five Franciscan nuns. This poem âlooks through the outer appearance of disaster to the reality of some divine providence at work.â
Hopkinsâ poetry is comparable to âthe greatest language of William Shakespeare,â the priest said.
Regis student Alex Dohn, a junior studying marketing, told CNA he likes Hopkins because âhe incorporates God in his poems through nature.â
Dohn echoed a common theme at the conference.
Fr. Joseph Feeney, S.J., a professor of English at St. Josephâs University in Philadelphia, said Hopkins was âan environmentalist poet.â
âHe celebrated nature, he grieved for the destruction of nature, and he urged the preservation of nature.â
One of the poetâs âquite distinctiveâ perspectives includes the âinterplay between the environment and himself.â
He was âfascinated with the very shapes of natureâ and had âa sense of the âselfhoodâ of a thing in nature.â
âPeople normally donât transfer selfhood over to individual stones, or individual dragonflies,â Fr. Feeney explained.
Austin, who performed Hopkinsâ poetry for the conference, emphasized the importance of listening to the poetâs works.
âYou shouldnât so much read him, as hear him,â he remarked.
When a performer of Hopkins has the right pacing, the poetâs imagery will carry along the listener âeven though itâs a heightened form of language and itâs not the one that he or she would normally be used to listen to.â
Austinâs album âBack to Beautyâs Giver,â made in 2003, contains 27 of Hopkinsâ poems. The work is âreckoned to be the most complete audiobook of Hopkins poetry,â he added, and âmost people seem to feel that itâs the best.â