Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems In Musical Adaptations
Gerard Manley Hopkins Poems In Musical Adaptations
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The Wreck Of The Deutschland



 The Deutschland, a German steamship, ran aground in the North Sea off the Kentish Knock in the early hours of 7 December 1875. In North Wales Gerard Manley Hopkins was asleep in his bed at St Beunos Theological College. He read about the Deutschland disaster on the 11 December.

57 passengers perished as a result of the ship going off course in treacherous weather and hitting a sandbank. Eventually rescue ships led by the Liverpool set out from Harwich 22 miles away. Among those who lost their lives were five Franciscan sisters expelled from Germany under anti-Catholic laws. The Times reported that one of the five nuns was heard to be calling 'O Christ, Christ, come quickly'*.

Hopkins mentioned that the nun's words were on his mind to a superior who replied that someone ought to write a poem about the incident. This was enough encouragement for Gerard and a new period of poetic creativity began for him.

The resulting poem is not primarily a narrative but rather an ode that takes the wrecked Deutschland as a symbol of man - fallen and shipwrecked on the sea of life and speaks of our relationship with Christ, our redeemer and God. Hopkins experimented with a new rhyming scheme that he termed 'sprung' rhythm. The Wreck Of The Deutschland is considered by many to mark the beginning of Modern poetry.

play song verse 24
play audio
 Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling 'O Christ, Christ, come quickly':
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.

The body of Enrica Fassbender, the tall nun whose last words had been reported in the Times, was never recovered. The bodies of the four other sisters were taken by train to Stratford and then in procession down the Mile End Road to be laid out overnight in the Church of St Francis opposite the house in which Hopkins grew up. They were buried on 13 December in St Patrick's Cemetry in Leightenstone.

Their deaths are commemorated annually in a memorial service held on 6 December by the Wheaton Franciscans in the USA - the destination of the five sisters before disaster struck.

*Sean Street points out that her words are a paraphrase of the penultimate words of the Bible:
 Surely I come quickly. Amen.
Even so come, Lord Jesus.
Revelations 22.20 KJV

BBC Radio 4 Random Edition 25 January 2006
( The Story of the Wreck of the Deutschland )
Presented by Peter Snow & Produced by Andrew Green

Poems And Prose Of Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selected With An Introduction And Notes by W. H. Gardner
Penguin Books, First Published 1953 ISBN 0-14-042-015-0


Essential reading for dedicated Hopkins' fans
The Wreck Of The Deutschland
Sean Street
Souvenir Press Ltd, March 12, 1992 ISBN 0-28563051-2

Sean Street's web site
© Iulia Clow 2006