Gerard Manley Hopkins Goes To Germany

Gerard Manley Hopkins is widely admired for his strange, tortured poetry and his vibrant use of sprung rhythm, but not many people know of his passion for German cuisine, which I’ll come to in a minute.

Most people who ever read Hopkins will know his  powerful use of language, such as the beautiful yet sinister  Spring and Fall:

Margaret, are you grieving 
Over Goldengrove unleaving? 
Leaves, like the things of man, you 
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you? 
Ah! as the heart grows older 
It will come to such sights colder 
By and by, nor spare a sigh 
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie; 
And yet you will weep and know why. 

gerard manley hopkinsGrim stuff, from the pen of a man beset with inner demons, torn between the person he was and who he felt he should be.  Torn between his disapproving family and his decision to become a Jesuit.  Torn between his homosexuality and the strictures of a prudish Victorian society, a world where even the pre-eminent art critic of his time, John Ruskin, was so innocent that he didn’t know women had pubic hair, having seen only marble statues his entire adult life.

Although Hopkins visited Switzerland, it’s less widely known that he travelled throughout Germany, developing a taste for the robust cooking styles of that region and even wrote a short unpublished book on the various regional recipes he encountered during his time there.

But there was little relief for Hopkins, a truly tortured man, and his time spent in Dublin was perhaps the worst of all.  It did nothing to help his state of mind, but for all his troubles, his self-doubt, his Catholic self-flagellation and his conflict, he left behind a magnificent legacy of language.  Even if you cared nothing for poetry, it’s impossible not to be staggered by his inventive and often startling use of language.

Glory be to God for dappled things —
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

What schoolchild hasn’t been astonished by the  virtuosity of The Windhover, a poem in which Hopkins the tortured self-hating homosexual Jesuit meets Hopkins the joyous pagan revelling in the splendid rawness of nature?

I caught this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding
Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding
High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding
Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,–the achieve of; the mastery of the thing!

I mentioned that his time at Trinity was Hell on Earth for him and it was with good reason.   The locals didn’t like him because he was English.  They made a mock of him for being so short, but most of all, he wasn’t able to buy his beloved German sausage anywhere in the entire city.

And that was why he wrote his most celebrated poem of anguish: No Wurst There Is None.

3 thoughts on “Gerard Manley Hopkins Goes To Germany

  1. Ah Bock, a good coddle and he would have been grand. Mind you he probably wouldn’t have got that in Trinity.

    On a side note – The Windhover is Brendan Gleeson’s favourite poem, or at least it was when he was teaching English for the leaving cert.

  2. Thank you for reminding me how much I got out of Hopkins a million years ago in LC English!

    But wasn’t he in Newman’s Catholic University, rather than Trinity?

Leave a Reply

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.