|We all know that Gerard Manley Hopkins was a great poet, a fine
scholar, and a good priest: but how many perceive within his work
the thunder crash of the prophet? The fire-gold within the dark
earth of his work? How many have ears to hear his terrible warnings?
He has all the qualifications of the prophet. We sense that like
the great prophet of Carmel he found himself many times beneath
the broom tree asking God for the sweet release of death. We know
he saw himself as fatally flawed like Jeremiah who said, "I
am a worm not a man" for he has written of the dark and cumbrous
shame beyond healing. In taking Holy orders, and taking them seriously
he follows in the footsteps of the Sons of the prophets who fled
the world and its lures and attractions. Such envy we feel that
here was one that ran from fame as if from an evil thing. And
just as the Sons of Elijah waited for the coming of the woman
who would bear the Messiah, so he, Hopkins was able to look back
from the other side of history and call her the Mary-in-miracle-of-flames.
He had the great gift of calling a spade a spade. He wouldn't
have been too popular at a warm ecumenical gathering. Luther was
"beast of the waste wood" even though his offspring
were "the poor unconfessed". Also, like the prophets
he was not squeamish. Death, disease, running sores, desire, they
were all players in his poems.
But even if we knew none of this; all we would need was the work
itself to hear his prophetic voice:
The times are nightfall; see their light grows less. The times
are winter, see a world undone. They waste they whither worst
as they run.
But then we remind ourselves that he is not an Old Testament
prophet. He is a Christian prophet. And here we are dazzled and
amazed and fear is lessened for somehow he has managed to tame
Jehovah. He tells us an extraordinary thing: Not a doomsday dazzle
in his coming, but kind .. Royally reclaiming his own.
Here is prophecy mixed with alchemy. Yes, we will receive the
wounds of Christ on our body and the wound of Mary in our heart,
but we will receive joy that will lessen the pain. Here is the
true opium of the people. Here is the sweets for bitter.
Hopkins has the habit of casually tossing of some great-undiscovered
truth as if it were received wisdom, which is hardly worth a mention.
Mary is a great mystical mother, yes, but she also lays "The
deathdance in our blood" It is phrases like that, which take
a lifetime to fully understand.
Men have puzzled over Father Gerard for a hundred years."
He was a depressive, read the terrible sonnets," says one
"No the sonnets were religious allegory: his poems are filled
with joy" says another. O but what is the problem? His joy
was so intense because his pain was so great. His light is so
vivid because his darkness's were so complete. His faith was so
great because he had dredged the seabed of doubts.
But the greatest gift that he brought to the school of prophecy
was none of the above: It was simple kindness. He loved men because
he knew them at their worst and their best. Has no one considered
how difficult it would be for a poet to hear the worst of man
by way of the confessional? Yet he came through it with a love
and pity for the common man, which is unrivalled in all of English
Lastly we can say that the marriage of poet and prophet and priest
was a unique event and a miracle, and because it is a miracle
we can stop embarrassing the poor man any longer and understand
that he was a work of God and a gift of grace and for that let
us all say "Glory be to God..."