Sample Questions

  1. ‘How does Hopkins use nature to transmit a moral message to his reader? Is he successful in doing so?’
  2. Firstly, talk about the theory of ‘inscape’. Research Duns Scotus. ‘Inscape’ has a theological precedent behind it. Do you find Hopkins’ adaptation of Scotus’ theories convincing? If not, why not?

    Describe how Hopkins captures the ‘inscape’ of his subjects. Look specifically at those poems where the religious content seems to overpower the natural: "The Windhover", "Spring", "As Kingfishers Catch Fire", and "Starlight Night". The focus must be on the ‘join’ between the natural and the religious section of the poem. If Hopkins can make this join seamless (as he does in God’s Grandeur), then the poem works. If not (look at the thump! of the word "Christ" in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"), the Hopkins is using his poetry for didactic purposes which only lessen its impact.

    Look at the later poetry. Hopkins is in deep depression, fighting off the depression which has dogged him since coming to Ireland. Hopkins’ didactic message here is directed as much towards himself as towards the reader (remember that for Hopkins, writing was an immensely personal act – he never imagined that his work would be published). Hopkins’ message is: do not give in to despair. If he had listened to some of his advice in "Spelt From Sybil’s Leaves", then perhaps he would not have descended into the depths he reached in the final days of his life.

  3. Hopkins was so busy trying to perfect his own religious life, he had no awareness of those around him. Discuss.

Hopkins’ religious beliefs overpower much of his best poetry. Firstly, look at the title above and consider how Hopkins foregrounds religion to the detriment of nature. Then apply this theory to his poems about people. The poems you should consider in most detail are: "Felix Randal", "Harry Ploughman", "Hurrahing in Harvest" and "The Wreck of the Deutschland". How much does Hopkins allow the reader to develop a personal relationship with the characters in these poems? Harvest time is a celebration of communal contentment, so why does Hopkins make no mention of any other human beings in Hurrahing in Harvest?

Consider the role of the parish priest in the community. Hopkins was an itinerant preacher, moving many times in his lifetime. Many critics have claimed that it was his homosexuality which prevented him from attaching himself too strongly to his parishioners. One could argue just as strongly that it was his overpowering sense of religious duty, and the fact that he felt compelled to spread the Word in as wide an area as possible, which made him hold back from becoming involved on a personal level with his parishioners.

Hopkins writes humanity out of his poetry. If he had had as much insight into the world of people as he had into the natural world, his life would have been a much happier one, and his poetry would have gained the warmth that it lacks whenever he moves away from the natural world into the world of his fellow beings.

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