Hopkins Lectures 2000

"Meaning motion "- Gerard Manley Hopkins with Heraclitus via Heidegger

Joanny Moulin Université Michel de Montaigne-Bordeaux III FRANCE.

Motion, elan, is to be found at the core of a crucial element of Hopkins Weltanschauung - his representation of time. This idea of movement is a primary notion of his metaphysics.

In his French translation of Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Henry Purcell" (Poèmes 153), Jean-Georges Ritz had chosen to solve the difficulty of rendering these two key-words in the last line, "meaning motion", by "l'élan voulu", which shifts the idea of "motion" towards that of momentum, and that of "meaning" towards desire. This necessary intrusion of creativity in the movement or removal of Hopkins's poem from one language to another made me ponder what exactly is the point of departure of inspiration, and what it is that literally actuates his writing in the first place. For, in many poems, and rather obviously in most of Hopkins's drawings, there seems indeed to be a fascination for movement, and more particularly for instances of movement when it is paradoxically instant, and contradicted. "Élan", or momentum, gives the exact idea of movement as caught in its essence, at the point of inertia when & where it seems to merge into its contrary. Now, if we try and trace this idea in the nooks and crannies of Gerard Manley Hopkins's theoretical writings, it turns out to have been among his major preoccupations. For this particular momentum is to be found at the core of a crucial element of his Weltanschauung - his representation of time. And even more, while the poet gave it a central place in his definition of his being-in-the-world, or, so to speak, his physics, this idea of movement is a primary notion of his metaphysics.


Inscape

It is very well-known that Hopkins, and Hopkins scholars after him, defined his notion of "inscape" as species specialissima (Heuser 37) or species intelligibilis (Duns Scotus 118). In other words by Hopkins, "what I call inscape, that is species or individually-distinctive beauty of style" (Further Letters 373). Without presuming to revise this now time-honoured definition, it is noteworthy that there is scarcely any emphasis on the narrow relationship between "inscape" and movement. In fact, independently of the notions of "stress" or "instress", an "inscape" nearly always becomes manifest through "sidings", that is to say iterations and recurrences. In other words, an "inscape" becomes perceptible in movement, and what Hopkins calls "inscaping", which is the aesthetic act of taking note of the inscape, amounts to pinning down its essential shape. It is like a snapshot, at once instant and global, for which Hopkins uses the verb "stall". Here is an example:

June 13 [1871] - A beautiful instance of inscape sided on the slide, that is / successive sidings of one inscape, is seen in the behaviour of the flag flower from the shut bud to the full blowing: each term you can distinguish is beautiful in itself and of course if the whole "behaviour" were gathered up and so stalled it would have a beauty of all the higher degree (The Journal 211).

But, most of the time, the "instress", which is the force with which an "inscape" becomes apparent, is something else than the movement in which it inscribes itself, and this movement may sometimes hide and at other times reveal-"observe that motion multiplies inscape only when inscape is discovered, otherwise it disfigures" (199).


Hopkins's oeuvre and Movement

From this very simple remark, a quick survey of Hopkins oeuvre shows that nearly all the subjects of his poems have something to do with movement. This is true of his poems as well as of his drawings, except, perhaps, his architectural detail sketches. He has a constant love of clouds, the swirl of waves on the shore, trees in the wind, and other instances where the mobile and the immobile seem to be going hand in hand. In his poems, even "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is perceived as a concrete vibration and resonance. In what is very probably his most famous poem, the very exemplum of "inscape" as the paradoxical point of still motion must surely be the "wimpling" of "The Windhover" (The Poems 69). The trembling of a wing, the shivering of a sail, a wimple is also a piece of religious garment, the veil of a nun. And Hopkins's attention mainly seems to be caught by particular points where the veil of appearances, what John Ruskin called the earth-veil, seems to be moving, shaking, and therefore giving itself away as such. His eye is a scalpel, as Ritz would say (153), and he is mostly attracted by places where an apocalypse is likely to happen, in the etymological sense of the Greek apo-kaluptein, which means to un-cover, to re-move the moving veil of ordinary things to try and see the sacred and the real underneath-"AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion / Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!"

There is yet another acceptation of the word motion which defines the point where poetic desire invests itself into the world, and that is movement as bending, what Hopkins called "entasis". This curving, which seems to indicate a pregnancy of meaning (and which, as such, is indeed a "meaning motion") is what he identified as being the punctum that, in the shape of the blue-bell, for instance, catches his interest-"I know the beauty of our Lord by it [the bluebell]. . . . Then there is the straightness of the trumpets in the bells softened by the slight entasis and the square splay of the mouth" (The Journal 199). And the sketches of architectural details published in The Journal and Papers, which seemed to differ from the other drawings by their motionlessness, can be read as examples of movement in that sense of the term. An oxymoron of motionless motion, "entasis" is then the resolute figure of Hopkins's so particular vision of the world, a kind of veiled vision, in the sense that it is warped, as if there was always some faint bouger or blur in his perception of the Ruskinian veil of the earth.

The world for him was neither unchanging nor utterly ephemeral. Hopkins was neither a poet of the Eternal Return, celebrating cyclical nature, nor a predominantly nostalgic elegiac poet. His faith rather placed him in the position of the nun of the Deutschland calling "

O Christ, Christ, come quickly"

(Poems 123). Hopkins, who once declared himself anti-Hegelian, did not have an accute sense of history and once said "I have no time for the history of the Society or any other history" (Further Letters 131). But he inhabited time in the same way as he inhabited space, conceiving it not so much as a process of becoming, but rather a depth, a material which he pertained to. In the Oxford of the 1860s, he seemed to be affected neither by the influence of his tutor Benjamin Jewett, nor by the then rampant spirit of latitudinarianism and scientific criticism of sacred texts, this was because he did not conceive of time and history in linear, one-dimensional terms. He theorized that some time later, during his Long Retreat of 1881, in a text entitled "Creation and Redemption, the Great Sacrifice", by this short but impressive formula:

Time has 3 dimensions and one positive pitch or direction. It is therefore not so much like any river or any sea as like the Sea of Galilee, which has the Jordan running through it and giving a current to the whole (The Sermons 196).

Time, such as Hopkins understood it here, may be construed as synonymous with the notion of secularity, ot the world in so far as it is temporal, that is, in a state of flux. And the image he chose to illustrate this- the Sea of Galilee, moved in its innermost depth by the current of the Jordan, is yet another representation of the same paradox of motionless motion. This same articulation between change and perennity is to be found in his chosen visions of those points of the world where movement is so slow, or, on the contrary, so fast, that some misgivings, and therefore a heuristics, is brought about as to the truth of things, or the presence of what they simultaneously hide and display. Lightning, which literally fascinated Hopkins at some moments of his life, (as for instance the summer of 1872, the year of his discovery of Duns Scotus), is the most obvious objective correlative of this: a movement so quick that the eye very briefly perceives the apparently static trace of it. Yet with Hopkins, this is at the heart of his poetic experience, and the fourth stanza of "The Wreck of the Deutschland" catches this through a very efficient image, that of the hourglass

Hopkins's oeuvre and Movement

From this very simple remark, a quick survey of Hopkins oeuvre shows that nearly all the subjects of his poems have something to do with movement. This is true of his poems as well as of his drawings, except, perhaps, his architectural detail sketches. He has a constant love of clouds, the swirl of waves on the shore, trees in the wind, and other instances where the mobile and the immobile seem to be going hand in hand. In his poems, even "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is perceived as a concrete vibration and resonance. In what is very probably his most famous poem, the very exemplum of "inscape" as the paradoxical point of still motion must surely be the "wimpling" of "The Windhover" (The Poems 69). The trembling of a wing, the shivering of a sail, a wimple is also a piece of religious garment, the veil of a nun. And Hopkins's attention mainly seems to be caught by particular points where the veil of appearances, what John Ruskin called the earth-veil, seems to be moving, shaking, and therefore giving itself away as such. His eye is a scalpel, as Ritz would say (153), and he is mostly attracted by places where an apocalypse is likely to happen, in the etymological sense of the Greek apo-kaluptein, which means to un-cover, to re-move the moving veil of ordinary things to try and see the sacred and the real underneath-"AND the fire that breaks from thee then, a billion / Times told lovelier, more dangerous, O my chevalier!"

There is yet another acceptation of the word motion which defines the point where poetic desire invests itself into the world, and that is movement as bending, what Hopkins called "entasis". This curving, which seems to indicate a pregnancy of meaning (and which, as such, is indeed a "meaning motion") is what he identified as being the punctum that, in the shape of the blue-bell, for instance, catches his interest-"I know the beauty of our Lord by it [the bluebell]. . . . Then there is the straightness of the trumpets in the bells softened by the slight entasis and the square splay of the mouth" (The Journal 199). And the sketches of architectural details published in The Journal and Papers, which seemed to differ from the other drawings by their motionlessness, can be read as examples of movement in that sense of the term. An oxymoron of motionless motion, "entasis" is then the resolute figure of Hopkins's so particular vision of the world, a kind of veiled vision, in the sense that it is warped, as if there was always some faint bouger or blur in his perception of the Ruskinian veil of the earth.

The world for him was neither unchanging nor utterly ephemeral. Hopkins was neither a poet of the Eternal Return, celebrating cyclical nature, nor a predominantly nostalgic elegiac poet. His faith rather placed him in the position of the nun of the Deutschland calling "

O Christ, Christ, come quickly"

(Poems 123). Hopkins, who once declared himself anti-Hegelian, did not have an accute sense of history and once said "I have no time for the history of the Society or any other history" (Further Letters 131). But he inhabited time in the same way as he inhabited space, conceiving it not so much as a process of becoming, but rather a depth, a material which he pertained to. In the Oxford of the 1860s, he seemed to be affected neither by the influence of his tutor Benjamin Jewett, nor by the then rampant spirit of latitudinarianism and scientific criticism of sacred texts, this was because he did not conceive of time and history in linear, one-dimensional terms. He theorized that some time later, during his Long Retreat of 1881, in a text entitled "Creation and Redemption, the Great Sacrifice", by this short but impressive formula:

Time has 3 dimensions and one positive pitch or direction. It is therefore not so much like any river or any sea as like the Sea of Galilee, which has the Jordan running through it and giving a current to the whole
(The Sermons 196).

Time, such as Hopkins understood it here, may be construed as synonymous with the notion of secularity, ot the world in so far as it is temporal, that is, in a state of flux. And the image he chose to illustrate this- the Sea of Galilee, moved in its innermost depth by the current of the Jordan, is yet another representation of the same paradox of motionless motion. This same articulation between change and perennity is to be found in his chosen visions of those points of the world where movement is so slow, or, on the contrary, so fast, that some misgivings, and therefore a heuristics, is brought about as to the truth of things, or the presence of what they simultaneously hide and display. Lightning, which literally fascinated Hopkins at some moments of his life, (as for instance the summer of 1872, the year of his discovery of Duns Scotus), is the most obvious objective correlative of this: a movement so quick that the eye very briefly perceives the apparently static trace of it. Yet with Hopkins, this is at the heart of his poetic experience, and the fourth stanza of "The Wreck of the Deutschland" catches this through a very efficient image, that of the hourglass

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 (52).

But what the metaphor of an inner streaming encapsulates here is no longer merely the concept of time, but the poet ipse, his life, his whole being-in-the-world. He is moved matter, momentous stasis, defined by this very paradox-(1) "Fast, but" (2) "mined with a motion", (1) "steady . . . / But" (2) "roped with, . . ./ a vein / . . . a pressure, a principle". And the verb "comb", such as Hopkins uses it here, in its intransitive form, stands for that paradox. In The Journal (223, 235), it means precisely the "inscape" of waves in their state of flux, as in figure 12: "Waves. 'Study from the cliff above, Freshwater Gate, July 23' (1863)". The linguist will have noted by the way that this word, in one of its meanings, is also synonymous with the Welsh "cwm" (the name of a village near St Asaph, and St Beuno's Seminary), and it means the curves and movements on the surface of a hilly countryside, as in "In the Valley of the Elwy": "Lovely the woods, waters, meadows, combes, vales" (68).

Hopkins's theoretical vision of the world, his physics, is in keeping with his metaphysics. And once again it is mathematics, and more precisely non-Euclidian geometry, which provides the analogy. For if Hopkins envisioned the Atistotelian realm of physics under the species of a four-dimensional space, he figured out that of metaphysics as a geometrical space with a dimension tending towards the infinite:

As besides the actual world there is an infinity of possible worlds, . . . differing in all degrees of difference from what now is down to the having nothing in common with it but virgin matter, each of which possible worlds and this the actual one are like so many "cleaves" or exposed faces of some pomegranate (or other fruit) cut in all directions across: . . . so there is a infinity of possible strains of action and choice for each possible self in these worlds (or, what comes to the same thing, in virgin matter) and the sum of these strains would be also like a pomegranate in the round, which God sees whole but of which we see at best only one cleave. . . . Rather we see the world as one cleave and the life of each person as one vein or strain of colour in it
(The Sermons 151).

True, God does not have an image-"Deus autem non habet phantasma nec est aliquid phantasma nec est aliquid phantasibile" (Duns Scotus 14), and the metaphor of the pomegranate is a projection of the poet's vision onto a three-dimensional space. But what is more important is how the poet postulates an infinite metaphysical universe, of which this world is only a "cleave", a section, and imperfect and partial vision. It is only another commonplace, but it places the central paradox of motionless motion in an axiological polarity, movement being on the side of evil. The same idea is developed again in his commentary of a passage in Revelation (The Sermons 198), where movement belongs to the Enemy of God. And here again one finds the image of the Sea of Galilee, and of a sea digesting the stream of a river. Yet, this apparently banal commentary of Revelation takes on further interest when Satan is later described as the agent of stasis, and the cause of arrested movement. And this written meditation ends by completely reverting the polarity the polarity, threby depriving the reasoning of its logic on both sides of the divide, but globally gives rise to a very interesting riddle. The paradox is summed up in two contradictory statements: (1) "Satan . . . gave nature all an impulse of motion" et (2) "God gave things a forward and perpetual motion". In poetry, a clear formulation of the same is to be found in "Pied Beauty" (69-70): "He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him". This theory is not surprising under the pen of a Greek scholar like Hopkins, and its oxymoronic definition of the godhead is very close to the Greek concept of logoV, the definition of which Heidegger repeated, saying:

But Logos does not originally mean discourse, saying. The word means nothing that is immediately related to language. Lego, legein, in Latin Legere, is the same word as our col-lecting; "reading", as lecture, is only a sort of collecting. That word means: putting one thing next to another, bringing them together, nay: gathering; in such an operation things are all at once distinguished from one another (132).

This is essentially the definition of a concept which paradoxically unites the one and the other, identity and difference, motionlessness and motion. In Hopkins's poetic practice, this is rendered by the frequent use of antilogies to qualify the divine. For instance: "Thou art lightning and love, I found it, winter and warm" (54). But also, it helps to understand apparently enigmatic poems, such as "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire" (105-6). For the Heraclitean concept of fire is very close to that of logos, of which it is a metaphor: it is at once the flux, the perpetual movement of the world that goes on and off permanently, and also its contrary, since it is just as well inside and outside time:

This world in its order, the same for all
neither god nor man has made it
but it always was is and will be
eternal fire that goes on and off regularly (Heraclitus 153).

This paradoxical definition of logos shows that there is probably no logical gap between the beginning and the end of "That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire" (105-6), and that, contrarily to what the biographer Norman White has suggested , the codas do meet the same issue as the body of the sonnet, by while operating, as it were, a change of perspective which enables the poet, after having said the flux of the world, to proclaim Redemption:

In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, | since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, | patch, matchwood, immortal diamond,
Is immortal diamond (106).

It is strikingly characteristic of Hopkins that he likes to hyphenate pre-Christian classical tradition with Christianity. And he could have declared what Heidegger was later to assert in speaking of Heraclitus, that "logos is Christ. Just as Heraclitus also speaks of logos, the Greek reached as far as the very doors of absolute truth, which is the revealed truth of Christianity" (Heidegger 135). And this intuition that in this paradox lay a definition both of God and of the world was also that of Hopkins, as also is this consideration on the nature of logos, or the word, according to which it is at once Word and world, inside and outside God:

God's utterance of himself in himself is God the Word, outside himself is this world. This world then is word, expression, news of God. Therefore its end, its purpose, its purport, its meaning, is God and its life or work to name and praise him (The Sermons 129).

In his introduction to The Sermons and Devotional Writings, Christopher Delvin says that it was a theological idiosyncrasy of Hopkins's to thus equate the world with the Word, and therefore to Christ as Word made flesh. And it is a thesis that the poet backs with a rather personal vision of temporality. For Hopkins as for Duns Scotus, the Word was made flesh even before the creation of the world, and that belief is what keeps him on the look-out for the slightest movement which could indicate His presence in the world, and be the prelude to theophanic meetings.

The "meaning motion" of the spirit that blows in Henry Purcell's music, the flash of meaning, "purple-of-thunder", is also that veil of the earth or Word of God, which in the world is both motion and emotion, that catches the poet's vision and show an ephemeral "inscape" that the poem may sometimes record. To understand this relationship between the evanescent and the durable implies Hopkins's vision of a space-time where the poet conceives of himself as in an eventful duration. To this notion of the world as "comb", that is to say at once mobile and immobile, comes the reply from a deity at once worldly and atemporal. Yet for Hopkins as for Duns Scotus, metaphysics seems to follow physics according to one and the same line of thought held together by the notion of movement:

. . . [quod] Deus est subjectum in metaphysica et [quod] Deum esse non probatur in metaphysica sed in physica, quia nullum genus substantiarum separatatum potest probari esse nisi per motum, quod pertinet ad physicam (Duns Scotus 10).

It would not be very difficult to show how this essential paradox is compatible with the poetic use Hopkins makes of the Word, and his ideal of a "heightened language" could be defined as a tongue of which the ordinary movement is kneaded and travailed, in syntax, rhyme, rhythm and sound, even, at times, to the limits of intelligibility.


Bibliography

Duns Scotus, John (ca. 1266-1308), Philosophical Writings, 1987, Indianapolis: Hackett, 1993.

Heidegger , Martin, Introduction à la métaphysique, 1953. Trad. Gilbert Kahn, Paris: Gallimard, 1967.

Héraclite. "Fragments", Les Présocratiques, Jean-Paul Dumont, ed, Paris: Gallimard, 1988.

Heuser, Alan, The Shaping Vision of Gerard Manley Hopkins, London: Oxford University Press, 1958.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley, The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918, Gardner, W.

H. & MacKenzie, ed, London: Oxford University Press, 1967.
---, Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Including his Correspondence with Coventry Patmore,
Claude Colleer Abbott, ed. London: Oxford University Press, 1956.
---, The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges, Claude Colleer Abbott, ed, London:
Oxford University Press, 1935.
---, Poèmes :
1862-1868 ; 1876-1889, Ritz, Jean-Georges, trad., intro. & notes, Paris: Aubier-Montaigne, 1980.
---, The Journals & Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins,
H. House, ed, London: Oxford University Press, 1959.
---, The Sermons and Devotional Writings of Gerard Manley Hopkins,
Chris. Delvin, s.j., ed, London: Oxford University Press, 1959, xiv + 371pp..

MacNeice, Louis, Collected Poems, 1966, London: Faber, 1979.
---, Modern Poetry, London:
Oxford University Press, 1938.

Ritz, Jean-Georges, Le poète Gérard Manley Hopkins, s.j., 1844-1889; l'homme et l'_(6Jo_(12Uuvre, Paris: Didier, 1963.

Ruskin, John, Modern Painters, Vol. V, 1888, London: J. M. Dent, 1905.
White, Norman, Hopkins; A Literary Biography, 1992, Oxford: Clarendon, 1995.

Links to Hopkins Literary Festival 2000

St Augustine and Gerard Manley Hopkins || Creativity in Hopkins World || Czech Perspective on Hopkins Poetry || Eugenio Montale and Hopkins Poetry || German Perspective on Hopkins Poetry || Heraclitus and Hopkins ||
GM Hopkins in Kildare
|| Hopkins and the Resurrection || Spansih Perspective on Hopkins Poetry ||