Memoir & Biography · Non-fiction · Poem of the Week

Understanding Hopkins

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The Gospel In Gerard Manley Hopkins | Edited by Margaret R. Ellsberg | Plough Publishing House | 2017

Buy: Amazon | Plough Publishing

As an adorer of Hopkins’ work, I knew it would be impossible to not like this biography/expository anthology that includes not only Hopkins’ poems but his journal entries, spiritual writings, letters, and sermons as well.

Each section begins with an introduction by Ellsberg that moves chronologically through Hopkins life. These introductions are somewhat literary, so they do take concentrated reading, but the insights that Ellsberg bring to the table are worth it. Ellsberg doesn’t give line by line interpretation, nor does she give a detailed biography of this Immortal Diamond’s life. Instead she illuminates the bigger picture of what Hopkins sought in his work and life, and how his understanding of the world coalesced with his spiritual calling in order to forge the literary genius that has shaken history. With this deepened view the reader has the opportunity to read Hopkins’ words as if from the pulse of his own heart.

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I especially appreciated Ellsberg’s remarks on Hopkins’ vision of “selving” things to the glory of God (in contrast to the individualism that Wordsworth was conveying within the same time frame), and how his understanding of the Eucharist inspired his unique vision of Christ incarnate through creation. Hopkins’ story is often seen as a sad one since he died, depressed, at age 44. Ellsberg does Hopkins a great service by reflecting on the hope he had even at this time and how it helped birth his genius.

I recommend this relatively short read to not only any lover of Hopkins’ work, but anyone who wants to see Christ more clearly in the world around them as Hopkins did. I would not be surprised if he possessed this vision more clearly than anybody else in history.

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