Hopkins Lectures 2001

Hopkins Imagery: Physical or Metaphysical ?

Parmenides'"being" and Hopkins' "being"

Sakiko Takagi Tokyo, Japan


In 5th c. BC in Italy, many found Parmenides' concept of being new, outrageous and shocking, unbelievable even, because people had thought only of physical phenomena, physics. Gerard Manley Hopkins was so impressed with his theory that he dremained close to it throughout his life.

I want to give my speech in two parts. First, on the history of Being starting from Parmenides; and secondly, on Hopkins' being related to it. But before I begin, I must tell you that there are two kinds of Being. Being with large B, and being with small b. Large Being involves the whole world, the whole universe as an object. The world exists, the world is, and believers in God connect its cause with the providence of God. With small being, we can think anything we see around us, such as a pencil, or a leaf. When we see a pencil or a leaf, even if we can't see being, we, know that a pencil or a leaf is the proof of being.

Now, let us begin with Parmenides.

Parmenides, a philosopher of the 5th century B.C. in Italy, came up with his idea of being in the form of epic in heroic hexameter following Homer and Hesiod. His concept about being shocked people, because so far people had thought or sang only of physical phenomena, physics. So they found it new, outrageous, and unbelievable. In the fragments left by Parmenides, Goddess of Justice dramatically tells truth.

There are only two methods of inquiry, number one, the way of being, number two, the way of not being. The way of being affirms that being is, there is being, so it could be called a possible road, while the other way denies that there is such thing as being, so it could be called an impossible road. We cannot know nor tell nor do anything with what is not. Then, what is Parmenides' being like? I collected the epithets from the translation by G.S.Kirk, J.E.Raven and M.Schofield in The Presocratic Philosophers. (A) Uncreated, imperishable, whole, of a single kind, unshaken, perfect, one, continuous, not divided, alike, draws near to what is, without beginning or ceasing, remaining the same and in the same place, on its own, will remain fixed, like a bulk of a ball, lying uniformly within its limits. Are these enough to give you Parmenides' concept of being? Anyway, by telling us that "is" or "being" is the only way to truth, Parmenides opened a way towards abstract thinking, metaphysics for the first time in the long history of mankind. Famous Greek philosopher, Plato identifies being with an "idea" in Japanese idea.(B) He thinks that everyone has an idea in his mind as a measure, standard, or criterion for goodness, beauty, bigness, and so on. He raised the idea to the highest possible good that we could think of, aim at, and fly towards.

Aristotle (C), Plato's disciple, succeeded Plato's idea, starting his observation of natural phenomena around him. He calls idea eidos in Greek and forma in Latin, and concludes that various combination of eidos and material makes things in the world. After his study of heavenly bodies, he declares that there should be an unmoved mover. It would be noesis or intelligence, the good having no substance as the final cause.For a long time Greek was a local language, so the philosophical works were not introduced to Western Europe. St. Augustine came from Africa to Rome and he came to know the philosophy of Aristotle through Muslim scholar Averroes. (D) As an ardent Father himself, he thought that the mover must be God, who is the first one to move the world and to blow eidos or being or spirit into material.In the 11th century the crusade caused social upheaval covering European and Asian continents, when Greek textbooks were translated into Latin.

Three eminent Fathers appeared almost at the same time in the 1th' century. They were Franciscan father, St. Bonaventure (1221 - 74), Dominican father St.Thomas (1225 - 74), and Franciscan father St. Scotus (1265- 1308). They were as a matter of course under strong influence of Aristotle, with Bonaventure rejecting, Thomas and Scotus accepting with favor.(E) Saint Bonaventure accepted Augustine's belief in God, which was not so far away from the theory by Aristotle. Only God, pure reality, could give birth to things towards the final cause. Thomas Aquinas (F), on the other hand, made a successful fusion of Aristotelian philosophy and Christian theology, declaring God be esse, the first effective cause, the good, and will. (G) Scotus became a university master in Paris, when Bonaventure was head of the Franciscan order. He says that we will not be able to know God face to face, but we are able to know God through the intelligible things. For categories received through senses will be common with categories in thinking God.

To show how devotional these three fathers were, we can find them in The Divine Comedy by Dante (1265 - 1327), which is said to have modeled after The Itinerary to God by Bonaventure. I'm sorry to say that in that book, Thomas criticizes Parmenides for giving negative or affirmative too easily in the enquiry of truth.So much is a long history of being and a summery of it all.

Now I want to have Hopkins come back to the second part of my speech. Hopkins had come across Parmenides before becoming a Jesuit. He was so impressed with his theory that he does not seem to have run far away from it all through his life. Even after reading the works of Augustine and the 13th. century fathers, he never adhered to any of them as persistently as to Parmenides. Even with Scotus who Hopkins admired so much, he seemed to have stopped mentioning in connection with inscape and being or haeceitas soon.Let us examine what Hopkins comments on Parmenides' lines. (H).

The Greek may roughly be expressed by things are or there is truth. Grammatically, it = it is or there is. But indeed have often felt when I have been in this mood and felt the depth of an instress or how fast the inscape holds a thing that nothing s so pregnant, and straightforward to the truth as simple yes and is. Hopkins used to watch things around him intently. Trees, leaves, flowers, birds, and so on. I think he wanted to know the reason why they existed. Why were they born, grow after their kinds and don't become too big nor have an extraordinary color nor fly too high into the sky to come back, and why do they die at last? He now understands when there is a flower, it means it is and it says yes It says, "Yes, I'm here in the world in answer to the truth."

As it is filled with the truth, and directly connected to the truth, it can be called a flower. The most striking thing about this thesis of Hopkins' is that he often uses unfamiliar word group, such as foredraw, foredrawing, and foredrawn. Actually he uses the associate words eight times in three pages out of four of the short commentary.(I) Hopkins translated Parmenides' fragments 8, 11.12?13 as follows; "Nor yet is there any force of faith will grant that from Being can ever come anything side by side with it." Here he says that faith will not grant any other thing to come out from Being. Both for Parmenides and Hopkins it is nothing but a matter of belief, religious question. Immediately after that, Hopkins adds that "it (Being) is the unextended, foredrawn."To know what Hopkins means with faith, thought, Being and foredrawn, we must look into the next sentence.

(J) To be and to know or Being and thought are the same. In short we get proposition (a): Being is thought. Hopkins also comments that Parmenides will say that the mind's grasp? the foredrawing act? that this is blood or that blood is red is to be looked for in Being, the foredrawn, alone, not in the thing we named blood or the blood we worded as being red." By addition and substitute, we get proposition (a'); Being and the foredrawn is thought. This, if you remember, is very close to Plato's idea of being. So Hopkins writes, (K)His feeling for instress, for the flush and foredrawn, and for inscape / is most striking and from this one can understand Plato's reverence of him as the great father of Realism. This sentence also gives us hints to what he has in mind concerning small being. By using `for' three times he seems to have three things in his mind. They are, 1. instress 2. flush and foredrawn 3. inscape. We use prefix fore of foredraw in time, space and superiority. So the possibilities of the meaning in regard to fore are ` to draw before hand, or `to draw forward, or `to draw primarily'.

Also, we use a prefix `in' of inscape and instress for something within. Even though Hopkins does not mention anywhere, I think he intends to apply these meanings to things and small being. With instress, we can think that stress within Being pushes a thing to grow. With flush and foredrawn, we can surmise the thing's condition filled with being and foredrawn to God. And with inscape, we can think of an expression of the interior sight of Being, which is again foredrawn or curved to God.(L) I would like to show the above interpretation in a pattern, which becomes analogous to the pattern by Bonaventure, only his pattern looks like ascending steps.

Hopkins' pattern gives an omega shape, linking Being and being. This could be a solution to the philosophical and theological problem at that time.And with this pattern I think I can also explain his predilection for fret, furl, hurl in his journals and poems. Small being of plants and animals are hurled to grow in this world, and flushed or filled during their lifetime. As they are always foredrawn and glorify God, they have fretted or furled shapes, the insight of Being as their testimony. They bow, fall, and be furled to Being in the end.Inscape resembles Bonaventure's species, but when I try to employ Hopkins' image of foredrawn towards God in heaven, I seem to be lost. So I'd like to switch the direction of dynamics in regard to the foredrawn from upward to downward. As a modern priest poet, Hopkins must have known that Being is round in metaphysical imagery. Still, he sometimes seems to identify it with the planet earth. Where can we find the clue?

In The Wreck of the Deutschland, stanza 7, he says (M),

Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden's knee

He calls Christ's destination in Galilee a grave, which was prepared in Mary's womb. It is the place Christ was born from and was buried into. (N) As he mentions in the last line of his commentary on Parmenides that men sprang from slime, we are mortal and were born out of dirty mud. We should take the way of truth in order to return to the earth or Being after Christ. Only through him we could be drawn to God. When the heart of the poet in hiding stirred for a bird, he may have asked the wild excellence of the windhover to become an armor for the poet to fight, as many scholars interpreted. Id' like to take `here' to be the earth or Being or hiding. The poet commands the fascinating quality of the bird to bend, to collapse, to be violently, dangerously drawn to Being again, if Christ really incarnates as a bird. Having already started the hidden life, the poet prays the bird to prove to be Christ, so that he could ask others, embers, to imitate Christ's deed and join the redemptive procession.Many of his poems in latter period seem to have downward attention. Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves, Tom's Garland, Harry Ploughman, That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection, and The Shepherd's Brow, they are all in the downward mood. This inclination may be attributed to his distress caused by various discordance among the Jesuit order, difficulty of getting favorable audience both to his poetry and his sermons as well as his physical disturbances. But when we think over the relation between the world and Being, we must say that he had to cast his eye downwards. For, small being of a thing is foredrawn to large Being, which has already beer. foredrawn to God through Christ.

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Gerard Manley Hopkins and Inscape