Hopkins minus religion

In the boxing match this week where it’s me vs. Hopkins, I am most definitely losing. Not only am I 5’0 and harmless, I feel like I’m also at a disadvantage not having much background knowledge in Christianity. Poetry also is not my strong suit to begin with – I don’t think I’m horrible at it, but it’s definitely not something I could do for too long. So Hopkins is basically beating up a rag doll this metaphorical boxing match.

(Tangent: I think this boxing thing is coming from the fact that I watched Southpaw the other night. Shirtless, sweaty, brooding Jake Gyllenhaal is all I need in life and more.)

Hopkins was obviously a deeply religious man and his love for God seeps through the lines of his wordy, complex poem. He wasn’t writing for anyone other than himself and he didn’t care for fame. He wrote purely out of love for the medium and, of course, for God. In reading Hopkins, it would be impossible to separate the two – he chose priesthood over poetry, after all. Without religion, his poetry probably wouldn’t exist.

But what if we did separate the two? Would it be possible to read Hopkins without having any knowledge about Christianity? What would his poetry look like without considering his religious background? Would there be any point to looking at Hopkins’ poetry without it? There is a lot of natural imagery in his poems – what is the significance of that and how does it play with religion? Questions, questions, questions…


  1. Darn, sad I missed this discussion. This is a very interesting question, with or without Jake Gyllenhaal!

    From my own perspective that is based largely in lack of knowledge about Hopkins beyond what we got in lecture and a little bit of internet searching, it does seem to me that there are some poems one could get a lot out of even if one didn’t know very much about Christianity. As you noted, the ones about nature come to mind, such as “Binsey Poplars.” I think “Hurrahing in Harvest” is similar. And the poems about struggle and difficulty, such as “I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day” and “No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief” talk about feelings that many people can share, even if they are not Christians (or not religious).

    But I sure did get a lot more out of his poems after hearing the lecture and learning of some of the religious views he is expressing therein, such as the idea of “Pied Beauty” showing a kind of prismatic reflection of God in the “dappled’ nature of many things.

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