Hopkins Lectures 2001

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Albert Schweitzer - a French Perspective

Bruno Gaurier, Winner of the Nelly Sachs Prize for his Translation of the Poetry

Si tu ne crois pas en la parole du monde
Qui te croira ?
Si tu n'aimes pas la matière
Qui t'aimera ?
Si tu n'entends pas son rire
Qui te brisera ? »

« If you don't trust the word of the world
Who will trust you?
If you don't like matter
Who will like you?
If you don't even hear its laugh
Who will break you?

These few lines of the Belgian and French novelist, poet, philosopher, psychoanalyst Henry BAUCHAU here serve as a fitting introduction to this lecture.

Why Hopkins and Schweitzer? I admit it is not so obvious, since Hopkins fits the image of a poet and Schweitzer of a man of action, an actor, we may say.

Since early childhood I have been swimming on the high seas of emotion, music, poetry, always dreaming, one day, to sail across each promised land. I remember my parents speaking to us of the world's great men as examples to follow. Doctor Albert Schweitzer was among them. The question of how to share the best of ourselves; to consider our richness as our non property; to involve ourselves in true life with others, was part of our education, our question.

Life led me by an invisible hand, on the ways of Hopkins and Schweitzer; both are with me, both for both poetry and action.

The link between poet and actor is to be found in all endeavours and commitments and I will try to give some account of this from my own spiritual perspective. All poets involved with life experience the constant sway, tension or unbalance between action and poetry. Poetry and true dedicated action are significantly linked in their respective imagery, in Man himself , who is made in the image and likeness of God.

Question: is there any poetry out of life and action? My answer is: no significantly dedicated action can be developed out of a poetic perspective of our world.


Schweitzer was born 1875, not far from Strasbourg, then occupied by the Germans since 1871. Hopkins was already 31 years of age. Like his father he became a Pastor based in a small village with a nice church, a very good small organ and a kindest music teacher. After his theological and philosophical studies he started medicine, based on his decision to join an African mission. He founded the Hospital of Lambaréné, Gabon, in 1913. He was awarded the Nobel Price in 1953 for the recognition of his outstanding dedication to his Foundation and to all peace movements, for his real commitment in the protection of Nature, for his written works in philosophy, theology, literature (especially Goethe) music (especially Bach). He made hundreds of lectures and organ concerts all around the world to raise money for the Hospital where he was a founder, builder, medical doctor, surgeon, manager of an international medical team, researcher and writer: after the end of the day, between midnight and morning, under clouds, rains and white moons, in company of his pelican and young deer, he wrote, wrote, wrote, both in German and French. Today, not far from the place he slept during short hours, you can see a cross straight on the earth, surrounded by the crosses of his first companions, among whom his wife. The pioneer sleeps there since 1965: he was 91 when he died. However much criticised in his time and shortly after, his foundation, where I am now involved and committed, is now probably the most modern of all western French speaking Africa.


Imagery: according to Schweitzer, the image of God is to be immediately found in every human being, especially those who are in need, material or spiritual; in peace as well, as in love, Nature. According to blessed Duns Scott, the best way to discover God here below is to look to Nature, to all living beings, to the beauty of the world. This was St. Agustin's way was thinking and praying. Nature is precious, it must be protected; nobody should destroy anybody. Instead of destructive actions due to our free will, let us pray to God and give him for the grace to realize the gift he granted us through Nature and love.

Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern»

What I would tend to translate :
«Glory be to God for dappled things

But so soon comes the danger, Hopkins says in his poem Binsey Poplars:

O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew -
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender

To touch, her being so slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball

But a prick will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her,

When we hew or delve:

"After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.

Or in Ribblesdale:

. . . And what is earth's eye, tongue, or heart else, where
Else, but in dear and dogged man? - ah, the heir
To his own selfbent so bound, so tied to his turn,
To thriftless reave both our rich round world bare
And none reck of world after, this bids wear
Earth brows of such care, care and dear concern . . .

So, keeping this poem in mind, let us enter the way Schweitzer copes with Nature as fully itself and as a full image of God:

By respecting life and Nature, we enter into a spiritual relation with the world and we meet Piety in a very simple, but deep way

In one of his letters to the Hungarian Pastor Lantos-Kiss, he continues the following:

The real idea of respect to life is a late flower appearing on the branch of the doctrine of love , such as it was preached by our Lord Jesus

In one of his lectures about Goethe in Frankfurt, he stated:

The young Werther feels broken in his heart by the burning powers hidden in Nature, who do not produce anything able to avoid destruction of himself and his surroundings. It is a painful enigma to live within a world where the creative will at the same time destroys and the destructive will at the same time creates

Desmond Egan gives a name, or maybe an image to such anti-nature human process in his collection The Hill of Allen : progress: listen:

progress towards where
towards what value

progress away from
whatever Ireland is
whatever culture is
whatever the spirit is
whatever we really are
whatever would last. *

Three images here, among so many more: (1) dappled things for the glory of God, or what I receive from the German Psalm: Morgenstern, morning star; (2) late flower on the branch of love; (3) a certain fake interpretation of what real progress is, appearing as one of the human means of destruction.*

Human Being.

When speaking of people, Hopkins has names always, and images for each of the names of the people he loves, grates, respects, admires, depicts:

A brother and a sister:

. . . The fine, the fingering beams
Their young delightful hour do feature down.

Harry, the Ploughman:

See his wind-lily locks-laced;
C hurls grace, too, child of Ammanstrengh, how it hangs or hurls
Them -

Felix Randal:

big-boned and hardy-handsome.

The same way Schweitzer, when thinking of the beloved people of Africa he dedicates the whole of his life, says:

We must discover that we all are also human beings and that we must consider, even with difficulty, that any other as such has the moral and ethic capacity to build a true Humanity

Action and dedication

How any human being appears to others is how he is and acts and develops in relation with others. Such is his image to others.

One line, so well known in Hopkins' Poetry, shows how it works, from As kingfishers catch fire :

What I do is me: for that I came.

The image of me, of who I am isme in action. This image of my self, of my inscape is what I do, the landscape of my action.

In the epilogue of his book My life and my thought , Dr. Albert Schweitzer says:

"When you play an active role in this world, you no longer live for your own self only. Moreover you feel deeply connected to all lives around you, you acknowledge their future as your future, you bring them the best assistance possible, you feel the highest achievement and completion for the sake of their sacred lives"

In his book Aus meiner Kindheit und Jungheit he writes:

Viel Kälte ist unter den Menschen, weil wir nicht wagen, uns so herzlich zu geben, wie wir sind.

"True coldness lies under the people, because we do not dare to dedicate ourselves from the deep of our hearts, like wise we are"

What I do is the image of my self. Coldness is under non commitment. Coldness is the absence of dedication.

Let us just conclude this as following:

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his going graces;
Acts in God's eye that in God's eye he is -
Christ . . .


In his letter dated 26 th May '79, coming to Emily Brontë's Wuthering Heights connected with his Henry Purcell, Hopkins explains what he means in this poem: how a seabird can be recognised by the opening of his wings, a voice by its echo, a face by its reflection, a body through its shadow, a man through the sound of his name, his fame, his memory. Memory, remembrance partly raise from and through sound. Sound, a real total image of the world as it goes: thunder or nursery lullaby, smooth words of love or desperate shout claiming salvation, like in the poem "No worst" .

Speaking about the genius of Luther, Schweitzer describes his highly developed gift to explore deeply the contents of language and sound. The great Doctor had such a gift when writing about Bach, he states:

".the genius to read on the lips of the people and reproduce their language both naturally and smartly."

" Wie schön leuch't uns der Morgenstern»,

«Glory be to God for dappled things».

Such is the poetical music of Bach, says Schweitzer. Gerard Manley Hopkins celebrates the same in Purcell:

Have fair fallen, O fair, fair have fallen, so dear
To me, so arch-special a spirit as heaves in Henry Purcell.

In this letter he continues:

' . . . and that is something distinctive, marked, specifically or individually speaking, as for a voice and echo clearness; for a reflected image light, brightness; for a shadow-casting body bulk; for a man genius, great achievements, amiability, and so on ."

Sprung rhythm is the image of a natural language, of nature, of natural sound. The sound of your voice is the image of your self, the clearness of your eyes the window of your heart.

"Sprung Rhythm is the most natural of things. For (1) it is the rhythm of common speech and of written prose, when rhythm is perceived in them. (2) It is the rhythm of all but the most monotonously regular music and refrains and in songs written closely to music it arises."

In his comment upon the Psalm 150, St Agustin states:

".According to the opinion of most musicians, there are three sorts of sounds: they are produced by the voice, the blow, the pulse and impulse. The voice when a man sings without accompaniment, the blow produced by the sounds of the flute, the pulse and impulse hits the harp, the drum, or all similar instruments." *


Albert Schweitzer fully committed himself in all movements dealing with the problems of the cold war and the atomic bomb. He was closely liaised with Einstein on this issue particularly, among others. In his mind, the imagery of peace is to be benchmarked through its contrary: danger, bomb, war. His statement is simple, clear and short:

If prints of an effective Right of the people are to be found in our cultural legacy, then those nations who proceeded to experimental explosions must unconditionally deny them soonest.

In President Eisenhower's speech given 7 th November 1957.we find such words: the world today needs a huge spring towards peace rather than a huge spring towards the sidereal space.

The nuclear war does not know any winner, but only losers.

What about the negotiations supposed to reach a full renunciation or all atomic weapons?

His imagery for war is barbarism, the true negative reality of each human being, i.e. worst things which cannot be invented by any animal; spring towards a new life like Spring in Nature for the way how to reach peace. The image of war is man and his free will, the image of peace is the new governance of the Spirit.

Going to Gerard Manley Hopkins, of course we all think of the poem dedicated to Peace:

"When will you ever, Peace, wild wood dove, shy wings shut . . .

Peace is compared to a wood dove: the one coming back from nowhere to give the bough to Noah. Peace is connected with patience, with the simplicity of a bird who broods and sits. The Hopkins' imagery of peace is love, charity, compassion. At the end of The Wreck of the Deutschland he prays:

"With a mercy that outrides
The all of the water, ark
For the listener; for the lingerer with a love glides
Lower than death and the dark;

. . .

The French poet René CHAR, who also was a member of the Resistance during World War II under the name of Captain Alexander, had some words and images of anxiety about the future of this world: The image of prophecy is given through foresters. The image of war through storm and implacable foes.

The Foresters.
They have come, they said, to warn you of the arrival
of the storm, your implacable foe.
We thanked them and sent them once more on their way."

In another poem, Rémanence, René Char asks >

De quoi souffres-tu?

De l'irréel intact dans le réel dévasté. De leurs détours aventurés cerclés d'appels et de sang. De ce qui fut choisi et ne fut pas touché, de la rive du bond au rivage gagné, du présent irréfléchi qui disparaît. D'une étoile, la folle, rapprochée et qui va mourir avant moi.»

«.What are you grieving?

I grieve for the untouched unreal in the wrecked real. Their ventured diversions bound in blood and distress. What they chose and did not touch, from the edge of the spring to the shore fetched. The thoughtless present time vanishing. The neighbour foolish star called to pass before me.

Wie schön leucht uns der Morgenstern? Our Morning Star, where? As a conclusion I would like to give the floor once again to Saint Agustin in his comment on Psalm 150:

You, musician, are the trumpet, the drum, the strings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins is the trumpet, the psaltery, the harp, the drum, the choir, the strings, the organ, the cymbal of jubilation, which sound and reverberate and tune all together You, Gerard Manley Hopkins, are all this: you are the true jubilation of poetry.

You, Doctor Albert Schweitzer, are all this: you are the true jubilation of the best of Humanity in action. Poetry deals with the eternal question how to be and live in and cope with the most dangerous and the best among this world. You both live in poetry. For this you came, our Morning Stars.



1. In : « The problem of Ethics in the evolution of human thinking ». Translation BG.

2. August 9, 1961. Translation BG.

3. Translation BG.

4. In « The Hill of Allen ».

5. Letter already quoted. Translation BG.

6. Translation: BG

7. Translation from the German: BG

8. From Hopkins' Introduction to his Poem collection published by Bridges 1918.

9. Translation from the Latin and the French: BG

10. From «Peace or atomic war», 1958. Translation: BG

11. Stanza Nr.XXXIII.

12. The Inventors, in «Les Matinaux», translator only known under his initials : M.W.H.,

13. Rémanence, in the collection «Le Nu perdu». Translation: BG.

14. Translation : BG.

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