Finally, after months of priming the proverbial pump with a dozen or so of Hopkins’ more palatable works, I tried my vocal cords at the one his best friend Robert Bridges considered the most formidable and obscure. Being able to time it with the anniversary of the eponymous shipwreck was a bonus.
In the days of my podcast, I did record it once, and I think this YouTube playlist has come to enjoy the same dim popularity. By no means am I quitting my day job, but research, recitation, and writing on GMH, among poets one of the more challenging, has become a beloved pastime.
Better people than I have summarized “Wreck” for popular use, and I have scarcely begun to explore their efforts. The first Google result (viz., https://www.enotes.com/topics/wreck-deutschland) seems acceptable to me. Alice Jenkins wrote a great one. “Of the making of many books there is no end,” Qoheleth famously declared (Ecclesiastes 12:12); likewise of the reading.
“Wreck” was a 35-stanza ode that Hopkins’ Jesuit superior vaguely wished someone would write to commemorate the tragic dashing of a vessel off the coast of Kent. Composed not long after the event, it did not get published until 43 years later, 101 years ago. Like much of his work, it was best avoided in the minds of many, to their detriment.
Hopkins considered the starkness of his own conversion experience as a dramatic reference point for this maritime disaster. Christian theology, based on Sacred Scripture, asserts that God not only can, but does preeminently in the Paschal Mystery, bring good out of evil. Any and all suffering, joined to the supreme suffering of God Incarnate, thus enjoys unimagined capabilities.
The famed “Oxford Movement“ of Anglicans who became Catholic by the efforts of now Saint John Henry Newman was one noteworthy installment in the redemption of a religious heritage. Hopkins frames his own conversion within that larger project, and in this poem he suggests the Deutschland’s destruction can fulfill the same end.
Hopkins paints this picture in marvelous fashion, employing all his poetic prowess. It is rife with killer lines, phrases that pay. How deftly he unites the narration of his poignant experience of God, the emergence of one heroic Franciscan nun summoning the Savior during the dreadfulness, and both of these experiences to England’s return to Catholicism.
I am currently reading “Mined With a Motion” by Marylou Motto, an exposition of certain cherished poetic devices in Hopkins’ works. You won’t get a good book report out of me anymore; I can only trust that my digestion somehow improves my understanding and narration of his poetry, and otherwise enriches my life and ministry.