‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’ – Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland

Gerard Manley
Hopkins’s poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, was nominated
by Charles Walker, a sixth-form student from London, who admires the
passion and intensity of its language.

The Wreck of the Deutschland was written in 1875: Hopkins was inspired
by the death of five Fransiscan nuns when a German ship was shipwrecked,
and the poem is dedicated to their memory.

These are the
first five stanzas of the introductory section of the poem, in which
Hopkins describes his own relationship with God and Christ.

God! giver of breath and bread;

World’s strand, sway of the sea;

Lord of living and dead;

Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,

And after it almost unmade, what with dread,

Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?

Over again I feel thy finger and find thee.

I did
say yes

O at lightning and lashed rod;

Thou heardst me truer than tongue confess

Thy terror, O Christ, O God;

Thou knowest the walls, altar and hour and night:

The swoon of a heart that the sweep and the hurl of thee

Hard down with a horror of height:

And the midriff astrain with leaning of, laced with fire of stress.

frown of his face

Before me, the hurtle of hell

Behind, where, where was a, where was a place?

I whirled out wings that spell

And fled with a fling of the heart to the heart of the

My heart, but you were dovewinged, I can tell,

Carrier-witted, I am bold to boast,

To flash from the flame to the flame then, tower from the grace to
the grace.

I am
soft sift

In an hourglass – at the wall

Fast, but mined with a motion, a drift,

And it crowds and it combs to
the fall;

I steady as a water in a well, to a poise, to a pane,

But roped with, always, all the way down from the tall

Fells or flanks of the voel, a vein

Of the gospel proffer, a pressure, a principle, Christ’s gift.

I kiss my hand

To the stars, lovely-asunder

Starlight, wafting him out of it; and

Glow, glory in thunder;

Kiss my hand to the dappled-with-damson west:

Since, tho’ he is under the world’s splendour and wonder,

His mystery must be instressed, stressed;

For I greet him the days I meet him, and bless when I understand.

Further Reading

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in 1844 and died in 1889. After university, he studied to be ordained as a Jesuit priest, and spent three years in North Wales, which is where he wrote The Wreck of the Deutschland. He had written poetry as a boy, but burnt it, believing that it was incompatible with a career in the priesthood. The Wreck of the Deutschland was his first poem after having decided to resume writing.

Hopkins wrote quite a small number of mostly short poems, many of them sonnets. Many of these poems, in particular those written in Wales, celebrate the glory of nature and God’s presence in it; others, written later in Hopkins’s life (often called the ‘Terrible Sonnets’, or ‘Sonnets of Desolation’) record his depression and desperate struggles with his religious faith.

Hopkins is quite an unusual poet in a number of ways. He published very few of his poems in his lifetime, and had little contact with other poets of the day. His language seems radical compared to that of his contemporaries, but it was based very much on his personal reading of the medieval philosopher Duns Scotus. He also invented his own verse form based on the rhythms of speech (‘sprung rhythm’), which you can see in The Wreck of the Deutschland and many of his other poems. But his subject matter, celebrating the essence and being of the natural world, might remind you of Romantic poets, and his thoughts on the relation between God, faith and the world – both intellectual and passionate – might also remind you of metaphysical poets like John Donne and George Herbert.

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