Fr. Milward cited the 1875 poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” which commemorated a naval disaster that killed dozens of people, including five Franciscan nuns. This poem “looks through the outer appearance of disaster to the reality of some divine providence at work.”
Hopkins’ poetry is comparable to “the greatest language of William Shakespeare,” the priest said.
Regis student Alex Dohn, a junior studying marketing, told CNA he likes Hopkins because “he incorporates God in his poems through nature.”
Dohn echoed a common theme at the conference.
Fr. Joseph Feeney, S.J., a professor of English at St. Joseph’s University in Philadelphia, said Hopkins was “an environmentalist poet.”
“He celebrated nature, he grieved for the destruction of nature, and he urged the preservation of nature.”
One of the poet’s “quite distinctive” perspectives includes the “interplay between the environment and himself.”
He was “fascinated with the very shapes of nature” and had “a sense of the ‘selfhood’ of a thing in nature.”
“People normally don’t transfer selfhood over to individual stones, or individual dragonflies,” Fr. Feeney explained.
Austin, who performed Hopkins’ poetry for the conference, emphasized the importance of listening to the poet’s works.
“You shouldn’t so much read him, as hear him,” he remarked.
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When a performer of Hopkins has the right pacing, the poet’s imagery will carry along the listener “even though it’s a heightened form of language and it’s not the one that he or she would normally be used to listen to.”
Austin’s album “Back to Beauty’s Giver,” made in 2003, contains 27 of Hopkins’ poems. The work is “reckoned to be the most complete audiobook of Hopkins poetry,” he added, and “most people seem to feel that it’s the best.”
Kevin J. Jones is a senior staff writer with Catholic News Agency. He was a recipient of a 2014 Catholic Relief Services' Egan Journalism Fellowship.