Thursday, August 21, 2014

A Trip to New York Every Month (or every other)?!

If I could, I would go for the October, November, January, and March sessions. Julia Yost, presenting "Anglo-Catholic Modernism: Writing Religious Beauty in the Modern Era" is a PhD candidate at Yale University in English. She wrote about Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ in First Things earlier this year, exploring the supposed inverse relationship between his priestly vocation and his poetry:

Hope, of course, is totally crosswise with the critical consensus on Hopkins. Among academic critics, it is an article of faith that there is not “One Hopkins,” but rather two: There is Hopkins the Poet, and there is Hopkins the Priest. Hopkins the Poet (of whom academic critics, pace Hope, cannot get enough) wrote Hopkins’s Nature Sonnets of the 1870s. Hopkins the Priest (who they wish had never been born) wrote Hopkins’s so-called Terrible Sonnets of 1884 and following.

The Nature Sonnets are full of the quirky, technicolor “Hopkinsian” vision, hymning “all things counter, original, spare, strange; / Whatever is fickle, freckled.” They are quirky to the point of self-parody, perhaps, but commonly celebrated as a major literary achievement, an eruption of Modernist poetics fifty years early.

Whereas the Terrible Sonnets, written during the miserable five years in Dublin that would kill him at forty-five (open sewers, typhoid), are done in black-and-white. They warn starkly of “two flocks, two folds—black, white; right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind / But these two.” Everybody is in one “flock” or the other, bound for heaven or for hell. Every action tends either to salvation or to damnation. (Hopkins was a Jesuit, back when that meant something.) These poems are less vibrant than the Nature Sonnets, less baroque, less original, less “Hopkinsian” in short.

So you can paint by numbers the common critical picture of Hopkins’s artistic decline. The more dogmatic, the less poetic. You can be a Poet or a Priest, orthodox or original, a dogmatist or an artist.

Now, of course these binaries are nonsense. Biographically speaking, Hopkins had been a Priest when he wrote the Nature Sonnets, and he was still a Poet when he wrote the Terrible Sonnets. Of course the Terrible Sonnets are less colorful than the earlier works—but they are no less poetic and original. Hopkins’s much-lamented dogmatism was what allowed him to discern divine design in unlikely places. This vision was the wellspring of his originality, and it was operating in Dublin as impressively as before—perhaps more so.

I would presume that Julia Yost will mention Hopkins in her January 17 lecture at the Catholic Artists Society lecture series.

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