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Gerard Manley Hopkins a Study of His Ignatian Spirit (reviewed)

(ad reflects Hopkins in general, as the book reviewed is out of print, though can be found used on Amazon)

Hopkins' Life as a Priest and Poet Revealed

"Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Study of His Ignatian Spirit" by David A. Downes tends to be hidden in the literary sections of Catholic libraries. Too bad. It is a treasure for understanding one of the English language's premier modern spiritual poets.

Mine was a gift from my professor at a secular university who noticed my appreciation of Hopkins. As a new convert to Christianity, and a young college student, I read "God's Grandeur" and "Pied Beauty" and fell in love with Hopkins' style and syntax, and found his view of God much like my own.

There is no separating Hopkins' poetry from his faith. He was not writing about faith, but about his faith. There is nothing academic or third-person about his beliefs, even though, as a thinker, and as a scholar of poetry and theology, he was superb.

"A Study of His Ignatian Spirit" brings us the spiritual path of a Jesuit priest, one who converted as an adult. Nothing impacted his life compared to his belief in Jesus Christ. Like a modern evangelical Christian, his faith was entirely personal, but, concurrently as a Roman Catholic, he walked with God in the communion of other Catholics, sharing a common theology and commitment to Rome.

To understand Hopkins, it is necessary to understand the force behind the Jesuits, St. Ignatius, the founder of the Society of Jesus. Not merely a casual believer, one who believes without his faith engaging the rest of his, Hopkins was fully engaged. Redemptive grace, humility, love for God, were all keynotes of Hopkins' life, and evidence comes through his work.

As a poet, Hopkins' body of work is small, although extraordinarily influential in his concept of sprung meter. As an Oxford grad, and as a priest under Cardinal Newman, he did not see faith in God as an afterthought, or as a polite salute to a cultural religion to which was conscripted. He converted after much deliberation as an adult. There was no force other than the persuasion of God causing the conversion, and so his submission was likewise absolute.

Downes shows us excerpts from letters, essays and personal notes of Hopkins' himself, as well as with those he corresponded. We see his level of thought, of faith, views of what poetry means to him and what it can do. We see process and insight.

Hopkins' is looked at next to T. S. Eliot, John Donne, and other major faith-driven poets.

* Elected Silence: Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1844-1889
* Ignatius and Hopkins
* Ignatius and the Wreck
* The Ignatian Spirit of the Priest-Poet
* The Desolate Self of the Terrible Sonnets
* Hopkins and the Meditative Tradition
* Postscript
* Notes
* Selected Bibliography
* Index

Well-researched and documented as of 1959, "Gerard Manley Hopkins; A Study of His Ignatian Spirit" is valid today, 50 years later, because of his thorough yet concise focus on this aspect of spiritual process. It shows the authenticity Hopkins' faith in God wore on his soul and life, with poetry being just one part. It shows Hopkins in a full spectrum, as more than the poet, useful for scholars hoping to grasp the complete man.

I fully recommend "Gerard Manley Hopkins; A Study of His Ignatian Spirit" by David A. Downes. Finding it may be difficult, but it is worth the effort. Only 194 pp., but rich with a man's life.

Anthony Trendl
editor, HungarianBookstore.com

(see my post on his influence on my poetry described briefly)
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