Gerard Manley Hopkins: "what I do is me"

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves - goes itself, myself it speaks and spells,
Crying What I do is me: for that I came."

I say more, the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is -
Christ - 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.

Born into an artistic middle-class family, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) won a scholarship to Balliol College, Oxford, where he was a "star" before converting to Catholicism under the influence of the Oxford Movement and Cardinal Newman.

Hopkins entered the Society of Jesus and lived and worked thereafter as a priest, mostly teaching until his early death from typhoid fever. The poetry was communicated to friends but two attempts at publication were rejected. Nothing was known until 1918, when Hopkins' boyhood friend, Robert Bridges, then poet laureate of England, collected the poems and published a volume.

To sum up Hopkins' major poetry in a few words: Christian and nature mysticism expressed in a uniquely rich, passionate and complex voice. Many poems are clearest when read aloud. Hopkins heightened his awareness and expanded his capacity for expression by combining a delicate and sometimes passionate sensual sensitivity with ascetic adherence to the disciplines of his vocation. From medieval theologian/philosopher Duns Scotus, Hopkins learned the concept of haecceitas (hike-chai-tes) or "thisness," an individual nature that inheres in a person but that cannot be described to others, discussed in 11 of the Introduction to the Researches.

According to A. Heuser, The Shaping Vision of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1968), 27, 70, the sonnet "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame" has an upward motion in degrees of "pitch" like that of a musical theme and that climbs an "instress" or "shaping force ... within creatures of nature and art." ("Instress" was a term Hopkins invented.) Hopkins is singing of "the doing-be ... the Scotist praxis, the positing or pitching of the whole self in personal act of will."

"All degrees in nature reach out to utter self in willed activity. Self-willed tension or selving at any degree in the scale is uttered to be answered by doing, as pitch in being gives instress in activity. One type answers another. Hence, kingfishers flash to feed on dragonflies in a moment of exchanged fire; stones tumble into wells at a moment of ringing."

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