Hopkins Lectures 2003

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Hart Crane and Hopkins - two visionary poets, witnesses of their time

Chantal Bizzini

Chantal Bizzini examines how Hart Crane heard The Wreck of the Deutschland and was amazed that Hopkins could come so near a transfiguration into pure musical notation.

Chantal Bizzini Paris, France

Gerard Manley Hopkins, Victorian English poet and Jesuit priest, and Hart Crane, the Dionysian American Modernist: how can one imagine two more different directions, two more different lives? We learn, from the Letters of Hart Crane and the two recent Hart Crane biographies by Paul Mariani (14, 15, 291-292, 342, 353, 375) and Clive Fisher (365), that Hart Crane came to visit Yvor Winters for Christmas 1926. Winters read aloud for him Hopkins's Wreck of the Deutschland.

It was a real discovery for Hart Crane, who wrote: Until now, I hadn't realized that words could come so near a transfiguration into pure musical notation - at the same (time) retaining every minute literal signification! what a man and what a daring! (Hart Crane to Mrs.T.W.(Aunt Sally) Simpson, Dec. 5, 1926, Letters III, Mariani, 292)

Hart Crane could by no means "wean" himself from Hopkins's poems, (Mariani, 292) and ultimately hoped that the thought and phrasing Hopkins's would enter into one of his poems, which happens, says Mariani (342), at last in Quaker Hill, the sixth section of his epic The Bridge,- composed between June-July 1927-Dec. 1929. Mariani asserts that the words to yield/That patience allude directly to Hopkins's Patience, hard thing! ; I quote Hart Crane:

Listen, transmuting silence with that stilly note
Of pain that Emily, that Isadora knew!
While high from dim elm-chancels hung with dew,
That triple-noted clause of moonlight-
Yes, whip-poor-will, unhusks the heart of fright,
Breaks and saves, yes, breaks the heart, yet yields
That patience that is armour and that shields
Love from despair-when love forsees the end-
Leaf after autumnal leaf
break off,
descend-
descend-
(lines 65-72, final lines)

My purpose will be to try to complete the one-way conversation initiated by Hart Crane into a dialogue, shedding light on the complex and somewhat paradoxical echoes we hear when putting Hopkins's and Crane's works side by side. How can we understand that to read, to write and to try to reveal Hopkins was, for Crane, to read, to write and to reveal himself? Both Hopkins and Hart Crane were visionary poets acknowledging or searching for a higher order by the way of visions shaped in their poems through dynamic diction. Both of them yearned for a transcendence drawing a new link - Brian Arkins explains, referring only to Hopkins - between language and the world of objects. Both were witnesses of their time, re-thinking the world and questioning their epochs. Hopkins and Hart Crane to a great extent shared the same English poetic tradition.

We can start to draw this family-tree with the Elizabethans, John Donne in his "tense and economic austerity," and Shakespeare, whose "The Tempest" is a source of sea imagery for both poets, - as is Coleridge's "Ancient Mariner." Shakespeare also furnished a rich vocabulary, examples of metrical experimentation, and astounding work with metaphor. Thematically, Hopkins and Crane shared with Shakespeare a preoccupation with the problem of earthly evil. Milton's influence also asserts itself in their treatment of evil, although in Hart Crane's poetry this influence manifests itself in a more constant personification of evil and is linked to a more Nietzschean world view whereas in Hopkins' poetry, the problem of evil manifests itself in a more abstract preoccupation with free will. Keats, with his sensuous love of nature and mortal beauty, is the romantic who binds our poets together. Hopkins wrote "To what serves Mortal Beauty" and Crane personified Mortal Beauty by Helen in his poem "For the Marriage of Faustus and Helen". Next, we cannot avoid mentioning Walt Whitman in whom Hopkins discovered profound and spiritual affinities : Hopkins was drawn to Whitman - he even confessed that Whitman's mind was more like [his] own than any other man's living but he considered him a 'scoundrel' (Letters V, 155). (Valley, 96). Yet, as Clara J .Valley says, as soon as Bridges mentioned Whitman to Hopkins he would read no more Whitman (Valley, 97), to keep from his influence.

On the contrary, Crane would read Whitman - and Hopkins - hoping to soak in their works. The poetic tradition shared by Hopkins and Hart Crane reveals common thematic preoccupations. Both of them had a taste for Nature; but whereas Hopkins was an artist-naturalist, says Norman MacKenzie (84-7, 105-10, 196ff, 211-17) - his sonnets show that he was enraptured by the observation of nature - in Hart Crane's poetry we cannot find such minute attention to the unique creations living in nature. Nevertheless we can draw a parallel between Hopkins's "heaven of desire" --"The Wreck"'s st. 26 - and Hart Crane's prairies, hills, mountains, forests, and valleys: a paradise disclosed by Walt Whitman - Cape Hatteras, lines 182-197 - where Crane has the revelation of God in Nature. In his epic, The Bridge, Hart Crane represents nature as the living body of America, a lovable body to encounter, a land to discover, passing through, where people are on a quest for an ironically Promised Land. Hopkins pictures nature as submitted to perpetual change through death, in the poem Spelt From Sibyl's Leaves : Our evening is over us; our night whélms, whélms, and will end us" (line 7) Crane also imagines nature submitted to a deep metamorphosis, at the beginning of his Cape Hatteras section of The Bridge: Imponderable the dinosaur In both poems night and day tend to represent good and evil, the double aspect of the world and of the deed. Significantly enough, it appears that Hopkins's poem, which seems closer to Crane's "Voyages" - composed before Crane had heard of Hopkins - is his very early Vision of the Mermaids. Voyages will display a kinetic vision whereas in his Vision, Hopkins will describe a mythological scene from a rock as an optical illusion. In both poems we hear ringing knells recalling the world deep/Down (lines 113-114).

Despite this announced Death, both poems describe an island: Hopkins's isle of roses(line, 29) is echoed by Crane's Belle Isle (VI, lines 25, 28); Hopkins's swimming splendor (line 15) is echoed by floating flower (line 20), Hart Crane's water-lily-flakes/Christening entrancingly in beryl lakes (line 13) is echoed by poinsettia meadows of her tides (II, line 13). Hopkins's vision is swallowed by the sea and he finally stole away (line 140), never to see it again. Crane takes part in the Voyages though, in search of a visionary eternity of love. Hopkins turns away from illusion and towards myth, in an attempt to explain the forces at stake in real situations, when Man faces God; whereas Crane enters the mythical vision trying to incorporate his life into myth, thereby creating a new myth. The sadness of Hopkins's Mermaids of seamen whelm'd in chasms of the mid-main (line 120) conveys to us the motif of the shipwreck, a significant motif in both Hopkins and Crane's poetry. To Hopkins's Wreck of the Deutschland we can compare Crane's Voyages. But whereas Hopkins recounts the real tragedy from the perspective of a poet, safe on land, Crane, in his Voyages, takes part in an imagined wreck and its following redemption. Hopkins ultimately narrates a religious experience and tries to explain the relation of God to the world. > Crane, in his unorthodox way, imagines a paradaisacal island where, after passing through death, lovers can land. The lover's hands clasped together will not be separated, Crane imagines, whereas the hands of four nuns who really died during the wreck of the Deutschland, Hopkins's lovers of Christ, will be found clasped in prayer. Nevertheless, the loss of the physical body of the lover, in Crane's Voyages, can be compared to the nearly amorous description of Sydney Fletcher Bristol-bred's dead body in Hopkins's Loss of the Eurydice:

Look, foot to forelock, how all things suit! he
I strung by duty, is strained to beauty,
and brown-as-drowning-skinned
With brine and shine and whirling wind." (lines 77-80)

Hopkins and Hart Crane both adapted the image of the harp to their representation of the world. But whereas Hopkins in his Sermons (239) draws a parallel between the world and a harp which Gods plays on, Crane in "Atlantis", represents the harp, the bridge itself,- the Brooklyn Bridge with its vertical cables - as the instrument which the winds play on, lending "a new myth to God". "As though a God were issue of the strings", God appears to be borne from his praise. Hopkins, celebrating God, gives back to Him the beauty issued from the harp, and this praise, acquires then an immortal and supernatural beauty.

One unmistakable link between the two poets seems to be the thought that man must endure adversity throughout his life. For both poets, Christ and the passion he suffered on the cross, is the centre of all. Through His example man knows that spiritual joy on earth comes only through suffering. But whereas in Hopkins's poetry Christ manifests himself in particular situations - through the tall nun of "The Wreck", for example, Christ appears in Crane's "Lachrymae Christi", from White Buildings, as a Christ-Dionysus:

Thy face
From charred and riven stakes, O
Dionysus, Thy
Unmangled target smile (lines 42-45)

Crane posits an ever-suffering syncretic god whose name changes through time. In no way does Crane tend, as does Hopkins, to exemplify Catholic creed, but he links figures of suffering together. But the character that appears as the Saviour in Hart Crane's Bridge is Walt Whitman. The poem "Cape Hatteras" can be compared with Hopkins's "Wreck." These poems being composed in two parts, the first part of Hopkins's Wreck- the poet's religious experience - corresponds to the second part of Hart Crane's Cape Hatteras: a prayer to Walt Whitman. The second part of the Wreck: the narration of the wreck, corresponding to the first part of Cape Hatteras: the deed of the heroes and the new Iliad, the apocalyptic fraternal massacre, echoing Hopkins's: From's life's dawn it is drawn down Abel is Cain's brother and breasts they have sucked the same (st. 20, lines 7-8).

As Hopkins alludes to man's passion for speed (st.11), Hart Crane evokes the biplane newly discovered which, as it opens space, is aimless and changes itself into a dragon covey, echoing Hopkins endragonèd seas, in afiery kennel (line 98) marauding (line 100), screaming (line 101), space gnawing, as the elements in The Wreck roared (st.17; line 5) and gnashed (st.21, line 5). It links the diabolic force of the biplane with The Apocalypse as it also appears in Hopkins's poem. Crane shows it falling as Icarus fell, or Lucifer: the biplane sinks (line 143), in combustion, into crashed dispersion (lines 153-154). The address to Christ by the poet, in Hopkins's poem, stanza 30 to the end, is paralleled in Hart Crane's by an address to Walt Whitman. The poet makes allegiance to the pact Whitman brought to men; and then, within nature, he hears God's and Christ's voice:

Heard thunder's eloquence through green arcades
Set trumpets breathing in each clump and grass tuft-'til
Gold autumn, captured, crowned the trembling hill! (lines 195-197)

The trumpets are those which will blow the day of the Last Judgment and the "crowned hill" recalls Christ's sovereignty, both present in Hopkins. Whitman achieves there his character as an intercessor, giving man a new span of consciousness named The Open Road (line 221), which echoes Hopkins's Christ "fetched in the storm of his strides". He brings man, by way of his life and his writings, the rainbow arch (line 223), new ark, as it seems. This rainbow arch is Whitman's brotherhood, derived from evangelic love and which must redeem the fratricidal war declared by the blind Icarus or Lucifer I alluded to.

Hopkins exposes man's arrogance in his Wreck, describing him as forgetful of death and as blind to his mortal condition. In this poem he re-enacts Christ's sacrifice in the death of the five nuns. His final prayer to Christ ends with a wish for his country's conversion to Catholicism so that Christ may re-enter his kingdom. One last thing is that both The Wreck and Cape Hatteras, acquire a dynamic structure through their asyndetic expression, the heavy use of appositions. In no other poem does Crane tend to shape his vision by creating words by means of composition: star-glistered (line 32), cloud-templed (line 94), larval-silver (line 103), space-gnawing (line 104)..no doubt he tried here to equate Hopkins's first experiment of sprung rhythm. The movement of both poems tends to give a new order or peace to what can be seen as chaos, but its manifestation means man's frailty under God's wrath, his need to submit to the re-enactment of Christ's passion as an exemplary deed, redeeming all men, and reasserting the link between man and God. This order or harmony is also conveyed by means of the energy due to the conversion of natural matter into architectural form, and the contemplation of this structure becomes a religious act. (Frank, 107-108)

The figure of Christ, God made man, runs through the description of the tortured bodies of men ; in their suffering minds, both poets were profoundly moved by transient male beauty (Pratt, 225, 227). Hopkins and Hart Crane name many men in their poems. The humble birth of these men and their suffering generally identify them with Christ. manwolf", for Hart Crane authentic life seems, on the contrary, to be the life of the outcast, the man who had colt's eyes , ranger traveller stranger son, my friend as the mother names her son at the end of Indiana, the third of the Three Songs of The Bridge. In Tom's Garland, Hopkins seems to consider humble people happy when they are quiet and patient, everyone having his trade in the huge body of the State. With this poem, seen in the light of his 1888 letter to Bridges (Feb., 10, 1888), Hopkins can be seen as a paternalist, a conservative even a reactionary, as Geoffrey Hill says (16). We know that Hopkins spent time with poor people and that his faith was that Christ allowed us to take part in the resurrection and that when the final trumpet will sound, the lowest of men will be reborn as a diamond forever. But Hopkins's 'Communist' letter - August, 2, 1871 - and even his poems, convey a broader reflection upon man's suffering and a real concern with the reality of the poor's day-to-day life. What the comparison between Hopkins's violent sentence against the Socialists and Levellers in his 1888 letter and his 'Communist' letter of 1871 means is more than an evolution of his thought, it is a constant preoccupation, a deep concern of a man that allowed contradictions to appear in his meditating mind. Hart Crane never wrote about politics, and we can agree with Harold Bloom in affirming that he was distrustful of every creed or ideology (xix). He also had a need to prove himself against his father, who is pictured in The River section of The Bridge as the owner of a cannery, which indubitably was an image of social and capitalist success: His need for erotic raptures and quest for realized homoeroticism, says Bloom (xiii, xvi), made its way through his identification with Faust and an idealization of the outcasts, together with a need to consider the Native Americans and their ancient civilization, African Americans and jazz music usual symbolic figures of oppression, an irreducible part of American History. Hopkins's considers man's work as a threat against nature and the communion between God and man, even if he recognizes the necessities of industrial expansion. Crane seems to have accepted technical progress, and even infused poetic beauty in modern industrialized landscapes, where he needed to mingle and lose himself in an anonymous crowd. Writing a poem about the unemployed or about the rail-squatters, runaways, hobos, is nevertheless a symptom of social problems and an answer to the degradation of society. Hopkins and Hart Crane gave voice in their work to the language of those who have no voice in society, of the clandestine, even the language of those subjected to torture. Their effort to write in a syntax close to speech for Hopkins, or colloquial for Crane, is undermined by the complexity of the situation they have to describe. They seem both to reach the threshold of the understandable. The poets Hopkins and Crane inform us of a crisis in the poetical voice. They both have recourse to imagination, creating a dynamism by the choice or invention of compound words, metaphors and shaping visions that strive for transcendence. But imagination threatens to break the bridges to reality and to other men. We can however distinguish between the Cranian logic of self-expanding metaphor leading to the inescapable loss of the self, and, I would say, the cubist Hopkinsian metaphor, introducing a violence in the process of reading, due to the abrupt rhythms, striking images, and cutting diamonds against loss.

The question is: are they on the way to clearing away illusions? We can read negativity at work in both their works -not nihilism. Hopkins and Hart Crane died, exhausted by the conflict between reason and hope, between hope and despair, life and death, light and night. One important thing remains : they both refused soothing consolation, and were probably right to protest, as in Job's lament, against the injustice in a world created by God.

References

Arkins, Brian. "Style in the Poetry of Hopkins". Studies, An Irish Quarterly Review, 1997, Summer ; 86 (342) : pp. 135-44.)

Bloom, Harold. Introduction. The Complete Poems of Hart Crane, The Centennial Edition, ed. Marc Simon, New York & London, Liveright, 2000.

Crane, Hart. The Complete Poems of Hart Crane. The Centennial Edition, Edited by Marc Simon, New York & London, Liveright, 2000.

The Letters of Hart Crane 1916-1932, ed. Brom Weber. Berkeley & Los Angeles : University of California Press, 1952.(Letters I).

Letters of Hart Crane and his Family, ed. Thomas S.W.Lewis. New York : Columbia University Press 1974. (Letters II).

O My Land, My Friends : The Selected Letters of Hart Crane, ed. Langdon Hammer and Brom Weber New York and London : Four Walls Eight Windows, 1997. (Letters III).

Fisher, Clive. Hart Crane, A Life. New Haven and London ; Yale University Press, 2002.

Frank, Ellen Eve. "'The Poetry of Architecture': Gerard Manley Hopkins", in Literary Architecture: Essays Toward a Tradition, 1979 by The Regents of the University of California. University of California Press.

Modern Critical Views, G.M.Hopkins, ed.Harold Bloom Chelsea House Publishers, New York, New Haven and Philadelphia, 1986. Hill, Geoffrey.

The Lords of Limit. London, A.Deutsch, 1984. Trans. into French : " Racheter les temps". Introduction.

G.M.Hopkins, Le Naufrage du Deutschland suivi de Poèmes gallois, sonnets terribles. Paris; Orphèe, La Différence, 1991.

MacKenzie, Norman. A Reader's Guide to G. M. Hopkins. Thames and Hudson, 1981.

Mariani, Paul. The Broken Tower. The Life of Hart Crane. New York & London ; Norton, 1999.

Pratt, Linda Ray. "Poetic Style and Linguistic Controversies of 1875".

Saving Beauty, Further Studies in Hopkins, ed. Michael E. Allsopp and David Anthony Downes Garland, Publishing Inc. New York & London, 1994. Valley, Clara J. " 'Why Did You Not Say "Binsey Poplars" was like Walt Whitman?' Whitman's "self" and Hopkins's "selving".

Saving Beauty, Further Studies in Hopkins, ed. Michael E.Allsopp, and Garland, Publishing Inc. New York & London, 1994.

Links to Hopkins Literary Festival 2003

|| Scottish View of Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins || Explore other areas of The Hopkins Archive || Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Climb to Transcendence || Hart Crane and Gerard Manley Hopkins | How Father Hopkins SJ Prays || Oscar Wilde and Gerard Manley Hopkins || Flannery O Connor and Hopkins || Levelling with God || || || Polish writer Norwid and Hopkins influence || Walker Percy and Gerard Manley Hopkins ||



Louis MacNeice and Gerard Manley Hopkins
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