"It is not only prayer
that gives God glory but work. Smitting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall,
driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace
you do it as your duty. To go to communion worthily gives God great glory, but a man with
a dungfork in his hand, a woman with a sloppail, give him glory too. He is so great that
all things give him glory if you mean they should."
--Gerard Manley Hopkins
"God wants us to love him eternally with
our whole hearts--not in such a way as to injure or weaken our earthly love, but to
provide a kind of cantus firmus to which the other melodies of life provide the
counterpoint.[. . .]Where the cantus firmus is clear and plain, the counterpoint
can be developed to its limits."
Hopkins' poetry deals with a number of themes dear to Christianity,
including the holiness of martyrs, the struggle of faith in dry times, and the test of
one's vocation. But the theme that he is most famous for is that of God's immanent
revelation of himself through the world. Please note the definitions and basic
introductions provided below.
inscape: "the 'individually
distinctive' inner structure or nature of a thing; hence, the essence of a natural object,
which, being perceived through the moment of illumination--an epiphany--reveals the unity
of all creation" (Harmon and Holman, 5th edition). Every object has an essence
that can be perceived; this essence points to God's design of it and the unified design of
instress: "the force, ultimately divine, that
creates the inscape of an object or an event and impresses that distinctive inner
structure of the object on the mind of the beholder, who can perceive it and embody it in
a work of art" (Harmon and Holman, 5th edition). God's instress reveals the inscape
of an object not only so that it may praise him, but also so that it may be embodied
in works of art, which are also acts of praise to God. In Hopkins' thinking, we do
not create the inscape of an object; God allows us to discover it via
sprung rhythm: Glenn Everet defines sprung rhythm
as "a complex and very technically involved system of metrics which [Hopkins] derived
partly from his knowledge of Welsh poetry. It is opposed specifically to 'running' or
'common' rhythm, and provides for feet of lengths varying from one syllable to four, with
either 'rising' or 'falling' rhythm" (Victorian Web). Hopkins' interest
in poetic rhythm is also important because, in his thinking, poetic stress is aligned with
an object's instress--both express a God-given beauty innate in the object.
Hopkins, in his "The Principle or Foundation," discusses
the spiritual practice of meditation and contemplation. He stressed the purpose and
role of creation: "He [God] meant the world to give him praise, reverence, and
service; to give him glory. [. . .] With praise, reverence, and service it should
shew him his own glory. [. . .] It is an altar and a victim on it lying in his sight: why
is it offered? To his praise, honour, and service: it is a sacrifice to his glory"
(228-229). These three words are important to Hopkins because they show how we are
in interact with God's expression of himself in the world:
- Praise, according to Hopkins, is an act of the mind by which
we understand the importance of what we apprehend. We recognize God's glory for what
- Reverence is an act of intuition and emotion, but more
important, it is a certain stance toward the world. We pay close and long
attention to the world in order to see what God has done there.
- Service implies an act of the will: we are called to respond
according to what we have seen--to teach others, to act differently, or to create works of
art that embody the inscape of God's world.
"As Kingfishers Catch Fire"
lines 1-8: These lines stress the inscape of the creation, its fire
and song. Each creature (biological or geological) speaks of itself, and when it
does, it ultimately speaks of its origins in God.
lines 9-14: So, too, does the just person. The one who is just
exhibits God's grace in himself or herself. Moreover, this is Christ working through
that person, and thus, God speaks to God through us.
This poem simply sets forth the glory of God in all things,
especially things that might not strike us as first beautiful. We are to praise him,
who never changes, for his world with its ever-changing variety.
lines 1-8: The world is full of God's glory, so why do we trample it
under with our industrial damage?
lines 9-14: Even so, we cannot destroy Nature completely because the
Holy Spirit continues to create and birth the world.
lines 1-8: Hopkins tells Christ that he sees a falcon flying on the
wind and that he was moved by the skill and mastery of his flight.
lines 9-14: But things can descend or fall or buckle. The fire of
Christ is a billion times greater than the falcon. We shouldn't wonder that the beauty of
a descent surpasses that of power. The simple work of the farmer makes his plough
shine. The embers from a fire fall and break open to expose their beauty as well.
- Look at the Bonhoeffer quote above. Do Hopkins and Bonhoeffer agree?
Why or why not?
- According to Hopkins, would it be a sin to simply enjoy something for
itself without any consideration of God's glory? Why or why not? Do you agree?
- Does Hopkins' rhythm contribute to or detract from the beauty he
wishes to set forth? Explain your answer with examples.
- Look at Polanyi's theory of tacit knowing below. Can this idea be
applied to Hopkins' assumptions about the world and the glory of God? Why or why
[Hopkins, Gerard Manley. Hopkins: Selected Poetry and
Prose. NY: Knopf, 1995.]
Tacit Knowing and The Glory of God
tacit knowing: "true knowledge involves personal
involvement in knowing, the link between knowing and responsibility. At the bottom
of all human activity are things that are known, but cannot be put into words."
This suggests that tacit knowledge is imparted through mentoring relationships in
which an apprentice is willing to submit to the master's way of doing things in order to
focal and subsidiary knowledge: "an awareness from and
awareness to." focal knowledge represents the activity that we focus on;
subsidiary knowledge represents the latent knowledge that we must have to perform the
task, i.e. bikeracing requires a great deal of subsidiary knowledge that the racer cannot
focus on in the midst of a race but must nonetheless have ingrained.
[Some of these definitions are taken from material developed
by Dr. David Naugle.]
Michel Polanyi observes: "An
art which cannot be specified in detail cannot be transmitted by prescription, since no
prescription for it exists. It can be passed on only by example from master to apprentice
[. . .] To learn by example is to submit to authority. You follow your master because you
trust his manner of doing things even when you cannot analyse and account in detail for
its effectiveness. [. . .] These hidden rules can be assimilated only by a person who
surrenders himself to the extent uncritically to the imitation of another. A society which
wants to preserve a fund of personal knowledge must submit to tradition" (53)