Evelyn Wilson looks at Images of metaphysical transcendence as earth, air, fire, water, and archetypes abound throughout Gerard Manley Hopkins's poetrys. These images grow in textual and spiritual depth.
Images of metaphysical transcendence in either the form of earth, air, fire, water, and/or archetypes abound throughout Gerard Manley Hopkins's writings, including his poems, letters, journals, essays, sermons and correspondence with friends and colleagues.
Most noticeable, these images rhetorically grow in textural and spiritual depth -- visually, audibly, intellectually - and in human and spiritual complexity as Hopkins himself grows intellectually and spiritually, especially in his moral and theological beliefs and in his increasing commitment to God and to his philosophy of incarnation and the universal transcendence of the Trinity-God the Father, Jesus Christ the Son, and the Holy Ghost. For Hopkins, proof of the Creator's incarnation and the transcendence of the Trinity lie in the inscapes instressed (witnessed/realized) in Nature, which encompasses all the creatures, plants, humans, and landscapes, as well as in the external elements of this vast universe-its stars, meteors, comets, planets, and galaxies.
Inscape and Instress, terms invented by Hopkins Significant to understanding Hopkins' poetry and prose, especially his images of transcendence, is Hopkins's usage and meaning for "inscape" and "instress," terms he invented but never formally defined. As a result, argues W. A. Peters, S. J., numerous critics and scholars have either avoided consideration and/or inclusion of these terms in their analysis and evaluations of Hopkins's work or have misinterpreted his intended meanings. Peters provides numerous examples of these instances both in his text and in his endnotes.
Since Hopkins in his journals, essays, and correspondence with friends and colleagues states that "'inscape' is what I above all aim at in poetry" (letter to Bridges dated 15 February 1879); inscape is "the very soul of art" (quoted in Peters, 1). Peters labels these critics and scholars' treatments of Hopkins's poetry, in particular, as "too cursory and superficial and even incorrect." Peters believes that nearly all of them have mistaken "'inscape' for little more than one of many words that Hopkins invented because the English language did not contain any one word representing this objective fact or thing, or because he was dissatisfied with the existing word for reasons of euphony. They have failed to see that this word represented something that was not observed by other men, [and] therefore caused a very personal experience, and so was to stand for something not experienced by others, for which consequently there existed no word, because the need for it was never felt"
(1). Peters thus defines inscape as "the unified complex of those sensible qualities of the object of perception that strike us as inseparably belonging to and most typical of it, so that through the knowledge of this unified complex of sense-data we may gain an insight into the individual essence of the object" (2). Citing specific examples from Hopkins' poems, journals, and correspondence, Peters further concludes that for Hopkins "the inscape of an object was . . . more 'word of God'" and therefore reminded him more of the Creator than a superficial impression could have done" (6); he also notes that Hopkins himself writes that "'this world is word, expression, news of God'" (6).
What is inscape ? Perhaps one of the best illustrations of Hopkins's appreciation of what he calls the inscape of an object [or being]-of "God's utterance of Himself outside Himself is this world" appears in his journal notation following his perception of a bluebell he found to be extraordinarily beautiful
"i know the beauty of our lord by it [n. 133-4]. as we drove home the stars came out thick: i lent back to look at them and my heart opening more than usual praised our lord to and in whom all that beauty comes home [n. 205]. this busy working of nature wholly indepen- dent of the earth and seeming to go on in a strain of time not reckoned by our reckoning of days and years but simpler and as if correcting the preoccupation with and appealing to and dated to the day of judgment was like a new witness to god and filled me with delightful fear." (Quoted in Peters 6).
Here, Hopkins's image of transcendence following his experience with the bluebell seemingly exemplifies how that intrinsic force that "keeps a thing in existence and its strain after continued existence" (Peters 13); that is, the instress of the inscape of the bluebell has allowed him to lose consciousness of time, of himself, of even where he is and what he is doing as he becomes unified with the oneness of the Universe, with God.
This theme flows through many of Hopkins's poems such as "Deutschland." Hopkins clearly pronounces that God is present in everything in this world: "it would be impossible for him but for his infinity not to be identified with them or, from the other side, impossible but for his infinity so to be present to them" (N. 316; quoted in Peters 7).
Obviously, Hopkins's perception of the individualization of God in and of this world, naturally prompted his usage of personification of the object in his poetry. Based on his definition of inscape, however, Peters believes that Hopkins is actually "Impersonating" the object's inscape as he witnesses its inner essence to be. Consequently, Hopkins is not personifying the object in that he does not deliberately use intellectual construction and design; he is simply using impersonating the object to project its inscape as in the following example from "Deutschland":
hope had grown grey hairs,
hope had mourning on,
trenched with tears, carved with cares,
hope was twelve hours gone. (Peters 8)
In this example, Hopkins's description appears to personify "hope," but it also illustrates what Peters believes to be Hopkins's definition of inscape. Rather than personifying the abstract noun hope, Hopkins is actually impersonating the inscape of hope as he has perceived it.
Hope, a significant image of transcendence
Consequently, Hope becomes a much more significant image of transcendence of suffering that humans must experience on the road to salvation, a necessary condition in experiencing their oneness to the Universe, to God the Creator. In impersonating the inscape of the humans trapped on the ill-fated Deutschland and the experiences and events that occur as the ship sinks, the tragedy itself becomes an image of transcendence of God's presence in the Universe and of his promise of eternal life in a world free from stress and strife. That Hopkins at this point in time had been deeply influenced by Plato's philosophy of the ideal real world adds credability to this interpretation.
In A Critical Essay Towards the Understanding of His Poetry, Peters provides a detailed explication of Hopkins use of impersonation and its application to personification, including specific examples from his poems and journals. That Hopkins does impersonate and thus personify the inscapes he senses and observes in all of Natures's subjects-trees, birds, water, men, animals, and so on-that through these entities he gleams or comes to know the presence of God at the core of each object-that each object is charged with God actually empowers Hopkins as well as his readers to experience or to transcend to a spiritual level of knowing the unknowable through the images of these objects he creates-to transcend the physical world of reality to the reality of the spiritual world to the true essence of God-to experience the Trinity on Earth (Peters 12).
Coming to know the inscape of entities in the Universe is dependent upon instress, "that stress or energy of being by which all things are upheld and strive after continued existence," the power that "ever actualizes the inscape" (Peters 14). Hopkins himself contends that instress refers to the intrinsic force that "keeps a thing in existence and its strains after continued existence" as exemplified in his after experience with the bluebells: Hopkins states, "as in man all that energy or instress with which the soul animates and otherwise acts in the body is by death thrown back upon the soul" (Peters 13).
To simplify, inscape is that inner and outer essence of an entity that can be seen, touched, heard, and/or described whereas instress is the mystical experience, the feelings within us that the inscape or energy of an object stirs within us that all but defies description; it is the instress of the inscape we experience that connects us with the Spirit of our Creator. Peters notes,
In hopkins there remains a clearly marked separation between the activity of the poet and the independent activity of the object; they do not become one in a poetic experience in which the subjective element and the objective element have been fused by the imagination. the emotional activity ascribed to an object by hopkins is real to him and fancied, as real as its inscape. (20).
Hopkins's use of instress as incorporating both the "cause and effect" may be seen in the following quote from his notes on the bluebells:
bluebells in hodder wood, all hanging their heads one way. i caught as well as i could . . . the lovely / what people call / 'gracious' bidding one to another or all one way to another or all one way, the level or stage or shire of colour they make hanging in the air a foot above the grass, and a notable glare the eye may abstract sever from the blue colour / of light beating up from so many glassy heads, which like water is good to float their deeper instress in upon the mind.
In another journal entry, Hopkins writes:
i saw the inscape though freshly, as if my eye were still gowning, though . . . for the constant repetition, the continuity, of the bad thought is that actualizing of it, that instressing of it . . .
And in another,
this access is either of grace, which is 'supernature,' to nature or of more grace to grace already given, and it takes the form of instressing the affective will, of affecting the will towards the good which he proposes . . .. it is to be remarked that choice in the sense of taking of one and leaving of another real alternative is not what freedom of pitch really and strictly lies in. it is choice as when in english we say 'because i choose,' which means no more than . . . i instress my will to so-and-so. (Quoted in Peters pp. 13-14)
In Hopkins's attempt to make known his feelings of instress in objects, he utilizes not only verbs. similes and metaphors but also alliteration and assonance as in the following:
flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
wave with the meadow, forget that there must
the sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come. (Deutschland)
A workable definition for Hopkins's intended usage of "inscape" and "instress"
In Peters's excellent discussion and analysis of Hopkins's poems and his implied meanings of inscape and instress in his writings, I believe he presents a workable definition for Hopkins's intended usage of "inscape" and "instress" in his poems and that his respect for Hopkins's perception of the world in which he lived should remind readers that in examining Hopkins's work, especially his images of transcendence, that Hopkins is a serious, intellectual man who took life, his poetry, and his spiritually seriously and that his work deserves careful attention and respect, that Peters's definitions of inscape and instress are indeed relevant in the examination of Hopkins' writings and his beliefs in Spiritual transcendence.
The complexity of Hopkins's works, especially his experimentation and love of language, his incorporation and experimentation with the writing techniques of other writers and philosophers including the early classical ones, and failure to fully understand Hopkins's intended meanings for instress and inscape may partially explain the multiple and varied interpretations and evaluations of Hopkins the man, Hopkins the poet, Hopkins' poetry, and Hopkins's place in literature among other poets.
Certainly, in comparing Hopkins's earlier work with his later, the most noticeable change is his decreased usage of similes for more sophisticated metaphors, a topic that several of his critics have discussed. Another change is in the types of metaphors he selects that seem to include universal archetypes as first proposed by Carl Jung (1875-1961), founder of analytical psychology, who believed there existed a "collective unconscious, a genetic myth- producing level of the mind common to all men and women, and serving as the well-spring of psychological life" (Fontana 30). In his examination of mythological motifs and primordial images, he came up with seven major archetypes:
the wise old man, the trickster, the persona, the shadow, the divine child, the anima and animus, and the great mother.
Hopkins and the collective unconscious Since Jung noted the usage of these archetypes in international myths and legends, he believed that they did indeed stem from what he came to call the "collective unconscious" and began using them in analyzing his patients. As writers became more and more familiar with the concept of archetypes, they began using these in their writings to further enhance their characterizations. While Hopkins would have had no access to Jung's theories, he still seems to have tapped into the "collective unconscious" in many of his poems.
In "The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe," the "Great Mother" archetype appears. Hopkins refers to Mary as the "world-mothering air" without whom man would be as spiritually dead as he would be physically dead without life-giving air, for it is she who "Gave God's infinity/ Dwindled to infancy."
Here, she obviously represents the archetype of feminine mystery and power, the Queen of heaven. She is "divine, ethereal, and virginal" and exudes all those traits and qualities that Hopkins holds close to his heart; she also represents the mother of childhood who nourishes, supports, and protects (David Fontana 38). As Hopkins creates this image of transcendence, he proclaims Mary's " presence" and "power" to be greater than that of a goddess'. He acknowledges that "God's glory" travels "Through her" and flows from her.
In the following lines, his description of Mary may well equate to his love and feelings for his own mother, perhaps even to his grief of separation from his mother when he chose to become a Catholic in spite of his parents' objections:
she holds high motherhood
towards all our ghostly good
and plays in grace her part
about man's beating heart,
laying, like air's fine flood,
the deathdance in his blood;
yet no part but what will
be christ our saviour still.
Continuing the Great Mother motif, Hopkins states that Mary has given new life not only to Christ but to all of us:
men here may draw like breath
more christ and baffle death;
who, born so, comes to be
new self and nobler me
in each one and each one
more makes, when all is done,
both god's and mary's son.
Hopkins continues his life-giving image of air as he moves into the breath-taking description of the sky, distinctly marked with light images that intensify feelings of warmth, and the coolness of life-giving water as we caress his words:
Again, look overhead
How air is azured;
O how! Nay do but stand
where you can lift your hand
skywards: rich, rich it laps
round the four fingergaps.
yet such a sapphire-shot,
charged, steeped sky will not
stain light. yea, mark you this:
it does no prejudice.
the glass-blue days are those
when every colour glows,
each shape and shadow shows.
blue be it: this blue heaven.
The firey images that follow these lines-"fire, the sun would shake/ . . . Flashing like flecks of coal, / Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt," -light and lift our spirits higher as we move into Hopkins's proclamation,
through her we may see him
made sweeter, not made dim,
and her hand leaves his light
gifted to suit our sight.
In addition to the archetype of the Great Mother who births, nourishes, protects, and loves, the archetype fire appears in this poem that places Mary in the spotlight to remind us that through Mary's gift of Christ, sin is destroyed, we are liberated, cleansed, purified, we are liberated from darkness-from death to a life ever-after; we are one with the Spirit, with Christ, with God.
In "Ad Marian," Hopkins impersonates the inscape of the month of May as Spring's daughter. In so doing, we again see the archetype of the Great Mother who is as vital "as Dew unto grass and tree." To May, this "much proud maiden," Hopkins sings,
to thee we tender the beauties all
of the month by men called virginal
and, where thou dwellest in deep groved aidenn,
salute thee, mother, the maid-month's queen!
Hopkins continues his praise of May who
. . . came when a line of kings did cease,
princes strong for the sword and slaughter,
that warring, wasted the land's increase,
and like the storm-months smote the earth
till a maid in david's house had birth,
that was unto judah as may, and brought her
a son for king, whose name was peace.
The elements of fire, air, water, and earth and the Great Mother archetype blend to form an image of transcendence into the spiritual essence of God. Unique is Hopkins's reference to the "storm-months" which reminds us of the power of God-of man's reliance on the elements of earth.
Other archetypes that appear in Hopkins's work include the victorious soldier, represented by Christ usually; the Trickster, sometimes represented by God; the Shadow, usually represented by Hopkins especially in his moments of deep depression; the Anima, represented by the mermaid and the kingfisher. Other devices Hopkins uses to create images of transcendence include not only fire, water, air, and earth but also symbols of color. Perhaps the most recurring color Hopkins uses is blue, a highly spiritual color as it suggests "the infinity of the sky and space, and the robe of the Queen of Heaven," the Virgin Mary (Fontana 144). While it is impossible at this time to present in depth Hopkins's application of these devices to create images of transcendence, it is important to point out that a study of this type might lead to a better understanding of Hopkins and his work. Emerging from this brief study is that Hopkins' images of transcendence reveal as much about himself as they do his philosophical and religious beliefs. Certainly, his search for self-identity, his love for and trust in God, his sense of joy and sadness in the universe, his self-doubt, and his concerns for the destructive path humanity seemed to be following form the core of a majority of his poems as evidenced in such titles as "Let Me Be to Thee as the Circling Bird," "Moonrise," "God's Grandeur," "The Starlight Night," Pied Beauty," "Hurrahing in Harvest," "To Seem the Stranger," "Nondum (Verily Thou art a God that hidest Thyself)." Forming an even deeper connection between Hopkins's poems and evolutionary process to self and universal discovery is his unintended use of archetypes and other symbols. Hopkins's poems are as complex as is he, but they are intellectual poems that merit our attention, for they also reveal something about us and make us question who we are and where we are traveling in this vast universe. Bibliography Boyle, Robert.
Hill, P. Metaphor in Hopkins. U North Carolina, 1961.
Egan, Desmond. (1990) The Death of Metaphor, Newbridge: Kavanagh Press. Downes, David A. (1959) Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Study of his Ignatian Spirit. New York: Bookman, Fontana,
David. (1994) A Visual Key to Dreams and Their Meaning. San Francisco: Chronicle Books,
Heuser, Alan. (1958) The Shaping of Gerard Manley Hopkins. U.S.: Oxford UP.
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Poems and Prose of Gerard Manley Hopkins. (1998) Ed.
W. H. Gardner. Great Britain: Penguin Books.
Hopkins, Gerard Manley. (1966) A Collection of Critical Essay. Ed. Geoffrey Hartman. Englewood Cliff, NJ: Prentice Hall.
Peters, W.A.M. (1948) Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Critical Essay Towards the Understanding of his Poetry. Oxford: Basil Blackwell.
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