Hopkins Lectures 2010

Epiphanies and Ecstasy

Fr. Raymond Murray

I never listen to music, especially when I am alone in my room, but a variety of memories come back to me. Something stirs in my soul urging me to grasp something that I can't fully grasp – Love, Truth, Beauty perhaps. A loneliness surrounds me but it is not a gloomy loneliness, although there is an edging of sorrow to it. All a sign of incompleteness. But also a stirring joy. Themes of love and faith border the contemplation.

I think Hopkins expresses that in these lines from St Winefred's Well:

‘The turmoil and the torment, it has, I swear, a sweetness
Keeps a kind of joy in it, a zest, an edge, an ecstasy,
Next after sweet success.

And again as he looks back in Portait of two beautiful young people (brother and sister)

A juice rides rich through bluebells, in vine leaves,
And beauty's dearest veriest vein is tears'.

And memory yes, as I look back in the poem Teagmhas ‘Meeting'.

The lake washes the shore of my memory,
rinses its mouth and gargles,
sucking the haze lying thickly on the mind,
restraining the taut music of the violin,
cleansing its varnished sorrow;
again I am back throwing stones of thought
into Lough Fay,
watching them break easily the surface
and fall slowly silently away,
swimming down to the quiet depth of the fish'.

When I think of it I refer to the spirituality of music in a few places:

‘A girl playing a violin
In a sitting room-
Wet are her blood-painted-fingers
On the smooth sharpness of the strings'.

The musician's vision I will never experience, though I listen to his/her music. Alas the composer has even lost the vision. It lived in a moment of inspiration and departed. But my own imagination, working on that music, my own soul-memory mixing through it, means I am personalizing the music. There is that. And so it is with the composer now. And so it is with the poet's vision – I look back piteously on the vision:

‘Out of the desert of the ages she appears
Long slender body
Bare face with planed eyes
Slow revolving shadow
Classical look of the blind
And it is difficult to believe that she ever existed
That blood once beat in her veined streams
Bubbling up with the little beats of her heart,
That she once had the crouched shoulders of a girl
That her hands were as cold
As I imagine
As ice in a summer stream.

The vision is a moment of inspiration. There is a union. Then a parting. The artist gazes at his/her creation. The poem or the picture gazes back at the artist – like the girl in the poem Foilsiú i bPéint ‘Manifestation in Paint'.

‘Throw, as I said, throw everything at her, do not spare the paint
The fine day is over, futility is victorious
And she will be more alive! She will be independent!
Kind of proud
Free and far above our dejection
Full of disdain for our poor strangeness'.

Again the epiphany, the moment of inspiration, come and gone – we feel our earthly finitude:


Out of the heart of the sun
The sea
Erupted, exploded, burst
Upon the human world,
Souls broke upon the cliffs,
The green stacks
The waves of froth,
The shadows running
Over the feet of time.

The wave rider
Who rose from out the ocean
Against the sun
An eternal moment
And went out
In a blaze of light.

Walk around an art gallery. Look at the pictures. It is always so quiet in an art gallery! The right atmosphere. The pictures set you meditating. Read poetry. Listen to a poem. Give it your full attention. Why ask a question about this piece of music, or about that picture, or about a poem? Will it do any good when you are not the artist? Does anybody understand the self-creation of the other person? Can you relate your meditative vision to another? In artificial language? Tell an untruth? Or go beyond ordinary speech – ah! Then you have a poem – needing a meaning to explain a meaning. Is that the way it is with everybody? The poet escaping through the door, the poet in territory beyond human knowledge.

One listens to a poet, even solemnly, at a poetry reading. Call out to the children and they will open their poetry books. But did you ever try to solve a poetic vision at dinner time? Expect a screech of laughter as if you were a right idiot, or you might be thought of as a very funny person. Fun and more fun. Yes the bardic recitation is permitted. But the reason for the fun is something else.

A little simple story. One day I bought a record The Greek Sound music by Mikis Theodorikis. The names of the tunes were on the sleeve … Bread on the Table … a poetic phrase … in Irish Arán ar an Tábla, also a poetic phrase. ‘Bread on the Table', said I, meditatively, to the girl in the kitchen. She began to laugh. There was material then for a poem.

‘Bread on the Table',
said I to her in poetic fashion,
‘Bread on the Table'.
She began to laugh,
She thought it was funny,
Bread on the Table'.

A table beside the sea,
I began to laugh,
A table beside the sea,
Bright tablecloth of sand,
Salt on the tongue,

A table beside the sea.
Bread on the table,
Dry health-giving bread,
We began to laugh,
We thought it was funny,
Bread on the Table.

To write poetry is an act of will. It is not that the poet is lazy but the poet is backward. He is a farmer, a banker, a priest, she is a teacher, a bank manager, a nun, whatever they are, but in the case of poetry they let their oars go with the current. They haven't always time, even for dissipation, or even to lie on their back on the hilltop looking at the sun setting! ‘Unforeseen times', as Hopkins would say – ‘as skies Betweenpie mountains – lights a lovely smile' and again he says

‘After the sunset I would lie,
And pierce the yellow waxen light
With free long looking ere I die'.
(The Alchemist in the City)

Welcome the organizers of the poetry festivals, Viv and company. True patrons of poetry. Their invitations are an encouragement. One cannot refuse. Having received the invitation, the poet comes alive, begins to read poetry again, becomes emotional, is now expecting mystery, love, a recognition of something, a phrase, a word, an eye you might say looking into the back mirror.

Then it happens suddenly – the jolt, the vision, the epiphany, the beating of the heart. The theme, the theory of a poem is there – it will be born, immediately perhaps, tomorrow, or at the end of a year. But that first revelation, that is the great satisfaction, the artist's great heart-lift, and it is only a moment's inspiration. But even when the poet has completed the work, the poet is not satisfied. Whether it is juvenilia or sentimentality or whatever, in the end the work is paltry – that is what I mean in these lines:

‘And I saw the insignificance of the little painter
And the eyes of the saints
And the hands of the saints
Could not easily teach me
For I was without understanding itself'.

What if the artist could make a gigantic effort and break the boundaries, would he/she not then reveal the bare truth? But that is not possible, and if it was that would be the end for the artist. Without the ‘without understanding' the artist would not be engaged in the conflict that reigns between heaven and earth. That is a constant thought with me in some early poems: Ceachtanna, The Artist, Comhairle, Gráscar Méin. Do Rimbaud – purposely there is an intensity of effort in these poems:

Here are two examples:

‘Birth?' said the poet
And paused in his work.
‘I'll break a stone with an angry blow
And I'll sculpture a woman's head,
With streaks of black I'll outline a rose
To pull the soul right out of a flower,
My poetic work is still unborn
And the eye of its womb is blind.

(The Artist)


I pray you Rimbaud,
Raise up, lower down the poetic art,
Let it fall in a faint to break once more the senses' fence,
Tear in two the colour complexion
Tear apart the melody's range
Add a stitch to inconceivable thought.

In free verse the poem's appearance is natural, the rhythm and wording are within. Freedom – the poem grows as natural as a tree; no matter how twisted the branches are the distant vision of the tree is beautiful; one is not wholly aware of it till one steps back. The poem is a picture. It would remind you of a cloud shedding its rain, or it is a deep clear well or it is a little fountain gushing forth its thought. Would there be music in the poetry if it had no pattern? The pattern is a second inspiration – it part releases the first inspiration from its mystery. That is another satisfaction for the poet – like a picture clarifying in the mind, or a print appearing out of corrections on the parchment.

Now I'll mention act three. Back to music. Here we invoke the craft of the smith. Besides being a prophet, a teacher, the poet is a smith. Word smith is a favourite phrase of the critic. The rhythm of the words is beaten out in the mind, the words are tasted in the mouth. It is a nice thought to think of the word itself as a poem – ‘Dánfhocal'. As Hopkins said, ‘I have found my music in a common word' (from poem, ‘Let me be to Thee as the circling bird'). There is a meaning and there is another meaning in the word. There again, a matter of personalization. That is one reason why one can never understand fully a poem or ever expect to. Don't be worried, accept another language –even listen occasionally to poetry in a foreign language that you are not conversant in! But it is not accidental that a poet uses a certain word. ‘My obscure pen', ‘mo pheann doiléir' I said in the poem An File' ‘The Poet' foolishly trying to explain this other craft, word seeking:

‘A thread of word-song
Swam, no hope of threading
As I composed poetry
My head in the air'.
And here is a little poem merely on he wonder of a new word!


This morning I met you
You appeared in the doorway
In the gap between my upper front teeth
It was a miracle that you did not fall.
I met you again in the evening
As I was reading a magazine
You hauled me down on the paper.
Now where is the mystery?
I am taken up with each letter
Would you not have preferred romance?
A humble admission. Sometimes the poet fails in vision and word.


An dán a shíl mé bheith slán
a bhí umhal
d'éirigh sé trom

Fuair sé bás.
ghasáil sé é féin.


The poem I thought was safe and sound
that was pure and humble
grew heavy

It died.
It gassed itself!


Hopkins like many poets, like early Christian Greek philosophers, is taken up with the theme of divinity seeping into all things, brightening in all things, divinity continually creating and living in its own creation. ‘A strain of the earth's sweet being in the beginning/ In Eden garden.' (Spring). ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God … There lives the dearest freshness deep down things' (God's Grandeur) and

Yes – ‘all this freshness fuming' (Morning midday and evening sacrifice)


‘Yet God (that hews mountains and continent,
Earth, all, out; who, with trickling increment,
Veins violet and tall trees makes more and more)'. (St Alphonsus Rodriguez)

And – haven't we all a great desire to praise God in creation?

‘I plod wondering, a-wanting , just for lack

Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack

There/God to aggrandize, God to glorify.-' (The Candle indoors)

The manifestations of divinity are the startling epiphanies we experience. One is, as Hopkins would say, ‘mined with a motion' (I am soft sift). Christ's life is full of epiphanies, we even celebrate them in feast days – the showing forth of God in the visit of the Magi, in the baptism of Our Lord, in the marriage feast of Cana – to mention our major ones – how lavish the flow of wine in that epiphany at Cana but it is the wine of the hour to come, the lavish flowing of Jesus' blood-love on Calvary. The God-revealing is more and more heightened by a great creation renewal, the Son of God becoming man to embrace the old creation and the risen glorified Christ intensifying with fresh divinity the old creation including, of course, humanity, however wretched, ‘for Christ plays in ten thousand places,/Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his/To the Father through the features of men's faces'. (As kingfishes catch fire …) --- Yes, to what serves mortal beauty now? ‘God's better beauty, grace.'

And again:

‘I walk, I lift up heart, eyes,
Down all that glory in the heavens to glean our Saviour;
And, eyes, heart, what looks, what lips yet gave you a
Rapturous love's greeting of realer, of rounder replies?'
(Hurrahing in Harvest)

And again:

‘His mystery must be instressed, stressed (I kiss my hand).
Epiphany, wonder, rapture – ‘meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder'
(Henry Purcell)

Hopkins wrote in capital letters just in case one missed the point: ‘That Nature Is A Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection.

‘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'.

In a Notebook, Hopkins writes: ‘All things are therefore charged with love, are charged with God, and ‘if we know how to touch them give off of sparks and take fire, yield drops and flow, ring and tell of him'. Hopkins sees through creation to the other side,

‘There on a long and squared height
After the sunset I would lie,
And pierce the yellow waxen light
With free long looking ere I die
'. (The Alchemist in the City)

These manifestations of creation and salvation, and divinisation, Hopkins expresses in his visions, his epiphanies, and these experiences sometimes burst into ecstasy. Of course the ever familiar:

‘He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him'
. (Pied Beauty)

And this not only learned from early Christian Greek philosophers. Love bound St Francis to the things of creation and opened his eyes to the truth of God in creation. He came to realize that the Incarnation sanctifies all creation. In Jesus not only does the fullness of divinity reside, but in him is subsumed all creation as well. Earth, water, fire and air, all four cosmic elements, are not just God's creation; they are made holy by Jesus Christ, in whom the elements of the universe are further sanctified. Everything spoke to Francis of the infinite love of God. Trees, worms, flowers by the side of the road – all were for him saints gazing up into the face of God. Creation became the place to find God, and, in finding God, Francis realized his intimate relationship to all of creation. He came to realize, and so did Gerard Manley Hopkins, that creation is a theophany, a manifestation of God – the world is charged with the grandeur of God. Everything bows down before the divine.

Now Gerard Manley extend to you an INVITATION to share – will you come with him and with me, share some of his epiphanies and yes, don't be shy, burst into ecstasy? Let your emotions run like the ‘marbled river, boisterously beautiful, between/Roots and rocks is danced and dandled, all in froth and water-blowbells, down'.

Come! Enjoy the Magnificat into Spring:
‘And azuring-over greybell makes
Wood banks and brakes wash wet like lakes
And magic cuckoocall
Caps, clears, and clinches all-
This ecstasy all through mothering earth
Tells Mary her mirth till Christ's birth
To remember and exultation
In God who was her salvation'.
(The May Magnificat)

Respect and love for the divinized creation. Oh I know you wouldn't kill a fly! You wouldn't despise a so-called weed. See God, as Francis did, reflected on every level of creation, from stars to sun and moon to tiny earthworms and lambs, to all your sisters and brothers on earth. See Beauty itself impressed on all levels of creation. Feel for all things on earth. Our hearts centred on God cannot help but see God incarnate in every person, creature, flower, earthworm and tree.

‘What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wilderness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet'
. (Inversnaid)

So also Hopkins weeping for the Binsey poplars felled, 1879 – ‘After-comers cannot guess the beauty been'.

‘My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank'.
(Binsey Poplars)

Poets respect creation. Here are a few verses, English translation, from a bardic poem in Irish, probably 16th century, on the cutting down of an ancient tree, a venerable thorn tree on a hilltop likewise evoking creation and indeed salvation:

‘Shapely bough of a ruddy hue, I am sad it has gone under a wisp; woe to him who has not thought of the sufferings of Christ, since I have found occasion to weep for this branch.

It has been cut away, our utter ruin! The comely thorn that was a storehouse for the bird; a thorn like it never grew from the soil; to me until death it will be cause of tears' (cf. Bergin, Irish Bardic Poetry)


Respect all humanity, no slurs – don't you remember our uncouth epithets like ‘barbarians'? See beauty even in a gloomy day

‘Meaning motion fans fresh our wits with wonder'. – I hope so

There is always a seepage of divinity with creation, and wonder; wonder is ongoing and creation has created creators. Pádraig Pearse got emotional about that ‘The beauty of the world maketh me sad', and made a mistake, he said it would pass – it doesn't – there is an eternal dimension to every moment, but beyond this world. Here is Hopkin's joyful sadness:

‘A juice rides rich through bluebells, in vine leaves,
And beauty's dearest veriest vein is tears'

(On the Portait of Two beautiful Young People)

Let us get away from the joyful sadness. Come on! Come on! Burst into ecstasy! Glean our Saviour!

The heart rears wings bold and bolder
And hurls for him, O half hurls earth for him off under his feet'.

(Hurrahing in Harvest)

And a little ecstasy at MOONRISE

‘This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily

Parted me leaf and leaf. divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber'. (Moonrise)

Ecstasy! Could we not arrange it! A chorus to speed in frenzy through some of his ecstasy poems, like To what serves mortal beauty? and Spelt from Sibyl's leaves and That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection, rising to crescendos and climax – a chorus shouting out, accompanying ‘The Windhover' in his ecstasy, artists splashing recklessly ‘Pied Beauty' – what praise then for him who fathers-forth!

Have you had enough now?

‘Enough now; since the sacred matter that I mean
I should be wronging longer leaving it to float
Upon this only gambolling and echoing-of-earth note –
What is … the delightful dene?
Wedlock. What is water? Spousal love.'


You were invited by Gerard Manley Hopkins to share his epiphanies and occasionally break into ecstasy, you were invited to understand that you and all in heaven and earth are infiltrated by God and enlivened by Christ. Now Hopkins sends you away with a command:

‘Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty's self and beauty's giver'. (The Golden Echo)

Yes, yes,

‘The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt, ah! to fleet

Never fleets more, fastened with the tenderest truth

To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is in all youth!' (The Golden Echo)

And can the poet be a prophet? Since I quoted the Maiden's Song from St Winefred's Well, here is the prophecy from the drama - paradoxically one could say that the fragmented play was completed:

‘As sure as what is most sure, sure as that spring primroses
Shall new-dapple next year, sure as to-morrow morning,
Amongst comeback again things, things with a revival,
Things with a recovery.
Thy name Winefride will live.

Hopkins's prophecy of a revival of interest in the saint's story, the pious teenager who resisted unwanted advances by a suitor who then cut off her head – brought back to life by her saintly uncle Beuno – a spring arose from the spot where her severed head fell – yes Holywell, the pilgrimage from 660AD uninterrupted to this day – even today some 30,000 pilgrims a year still come to Winefred's shrine. I like to mention it in memory of my mother – Kathleen Winifred! For me a beautiful golden echo!

‘A care kept. _ Where kept? Do tell us where kept, where.-
Yonder. –What high as that! We follow, now we follow.-
Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,

Links to 2010 Hopkins Lectures

Wisdon of Cardinal Newman || The Wreck of the Deutchland || Epiphanies and Ecstasy in Hopkins Poetry || African Writers and Influence of Hopkins || Hopkins Musical Notation || Translating Pied Beauty into Finnish || Language