One of the most prominent aspects of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s language is how vibrating his poems are when recited. And this comes from using repetition, alliteration and assonance, a feature already touched upon here. (full overview and general thoughts about the book here)

Another linguistic element that frequently appears in his sonnets is represented by coined words, such as: “leafmeal”, “quickgold”, the verbs “justices”, “twindles”, and many more. But perhaps the most known one is the verb “to selve”, which means to express one self and the essence within. This is the heart of his theory of “inscape”, best illustrated in the poem “As kingfishers catch fire”. “Inscape” is another coined word, being the interior equivalent of “landscape”, and it symbolizes one’s own complex characteristics and the inner order that moulds them in a distinctive and well-balanced configuration. The poem states that everyone “does one thing and the same”, which is expressing themselves through the simple act of just existing and acting according to their nature: 

 “Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me”

We can see the opposite phenomenon in “Binsey Poplars”, where the man “unselves” nature. This poem expresses Hopkins’ mourning over the cutting of trees (“My aspens dear, […] / […] / All felled, felled, are all felled; / […] / Not spared, not one“), extended to the larger scale destruction of nature (“Oh if we but knew what we do / When we delve or hew – / Hack and rack the growing green!”). The trees are not the only one affected by man’s action, the very essence of the surroundings has inevitably changed, even if the damage done was minimal (“Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve / Strokes of havoc unselve”). This sorrow the author is feeling at the sight of mutilated nature stems from his rejection of the new industry focused civilization, which is irreparably marring the world, making past beauty forever lost to future eyes (“After-comers cannot guess the beauty been”).

This condemnation of industrial and economic activities is also found in the poem “God’s Grandeur”, since these are the roots of the departure of man from God, and subsequently from nature, which bears the mark of man’s laborious exploits (“Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; / And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil”). However, there is hope, as nature has the power of renewal with the coming of each day, through the grace of God”

  “And for all this, nature is never spent; […]
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs- “

Hopkins’s escapism into nature and the happiness this brought him are very well exemplified in the poem “Inversnaid”, a very picturesque depiction of an autumn landscape near Glasgow. It touches again on the theme of nature conservation as it is, making it a poem ahead of its time. In the current context of environmental debates and global weather changes, his final plea of leaving nature unspoiled becomes more relevant as ever:

 “What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.”

For a bleaker snapshot of Hopkins’s work, and my favourite poems by him, feel free to check out this article – PLBC – 02.2 – As kingfishers catch fire – Death and Depression

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