Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889).  Poems.  1918.

Editor’s Preface to Notes



AN EDITOR of posthumous work is bounden to give some account of the authority for his text; and it is the purpose of the following notes to satisfy inquiry concerning matters whereof the present editor has the advantage of first-hand or particular knowledge.
  The sources are four, and will he distinguished as A, B, D, and H, as here described.   2
  A is my own collection, a MS. book made up of autographs—by which word I denote poems in the author’s handwriting—pasted into it as they were received from him, and also of contemporary copies of other poems. These autographs and copies date from ’67 to ’89, the year of his death. Additions made by copying after that date are not reckoned or used. The first two items of the facsimiles are cuttings from A.   3
  B is a MS. book, into which, in ’83, I copied from A certain poems of which the author had kept no copy. He was remiss in making fair copies of his work, and his autograph of The Deutschland having been (seemingly) lost, I copied that poem and others from A at his request. After that date he entered more poems in this book as he completed them, and he also made both corrections of copy and emendations of the poems which had been copied into it by me. Thus, if a poem occur in both A and B, then B is the later and, except for overlooked errors of copyist, the better authority. The last entry written by G. M. H. into this book is of the date 1887.   4
  D is a collection of the author’s letters to Canon Dixon, the only other friend who ever read his poems, with but few exceptions whether of persons or of poems. These letters are in my keeping; they contain autographs of a few poems with late corrections.   5
  H is the bundle of posthumous papers that came into my hands at the author’s death. These were at the time examined, sorted, and indexed; and the more important pieces—of which copies were taken—were inserted into a scrap-book. That collection is the source of a series of his most mature sonnets, and of almost all the unfinished poems and fragments. Among these papers were also some early drafts. The facsimiles a and b are from H.   6
  The latest autographs and autographic corrections have been preferred. In the very few instances in which this principle was overruled, as in Nos. 1 and 27, the justification will be found in the note to the poem. The finished poems from 1 to 51 are ranged chronologically by the years, but in the section 52–74 a fanciful grouping of the fragments was preferred to the inevitable misrepresentations of conjectural dating. G. M. H. dated his poems from their inception, and however much he revised a poem he would date his recast as his first draft. Thus Handsome Heart was written and sent to me in ’79; and the recast, which I reject, was not made before ’83, while the final corrections may be some years later; and yet his last autograph is dated as the first ‘Oxford ’79’.   7
  This edition purports to convey all the author’s serious mature poems; and he would probably not have wished any of his earlier poems nor so many of his fragments to have been included. Of the former class three specimens only are admitted—and these, which may be considered of exceptional merit or interest, had already been given to the public—but of the latter almost everything; because these scraps being of mature date, generally contain some special beauty of thought or diction, and are invariably of metrical or rhythmical interest: some of them are in this respect as remarkable as anything in the volume. As for exclusion, no translations of any kind are published here, whether into Greek or Latin from the English—of which there are autographs and copies in A—or the Englishing of Latin hymns—occurring in H—: these last are not in my opinion of special merit; and with them I class a few religious pieces which will be noticed later.   8
  Of the peculiar scheme of prosody invented and developed by the author a full account is out of the question. His own preface together with his description of the metrical scheme of each poem—which is always, wherever it exists, transcribed in the notes—may be a sufficient guide for practical purposes. Moreover, the intention of the rhythm, in places where it might seem doubtful, has been indicated by accents printed over the determining syllables: in the later poems these accents correspond generally with the author’s own marks; in the earlier poems they do not, but are trustworthy translations.   9
  It was at one time the author’s practice to use a very elaborate system of marks, all indicating the speech-movement: the autograph (in A) of Harry Ploughman carries seven different marks, each one defined at the foot. When reading through his letters for the purpose of determining dates, I noted a few sentences on this subject which will justify the method that I have followed in the text. In 1883 he wrote: ‘You were right to leave out the marks: they were not consistent for one thing, and are always offensive. Still there must be some. Either I must invent a notation applied throughout as in music or else I must only mark where the reader is likely to mistake, and for the present this is what I shall do.’ And again in ’85: ‘This is my difficulty, what marks to use and when to use them: they are so much needed and yet so objectionable. About punctuation my mind is clear: I can give a rule for everything I write myself, and even for other people, though they might not agree with me perhaps.’ In this last matter the autographs are rigidly respected, the rare intentional aberration being scrupulously noted. And so I have respected his indentation of the verse; but in the sonnets, while my indentation corresponds, as a rule, with some autograph, I have felt free to consider conveniences, following, however, his growing practice to eschew it altogether.  10
  Apart from questions of taste—and if these poems were to be arraigned for errors of what may he called taste, they might be convicted of occasional affectation in metaphor, as where the hills are ‘as a stallion stalwart, very-violet-sweet’, or of some perversion of human feeling, as, for instance, the ‘nostrils’ relish of incense along the sanctuary side’, or ‘the Holy Ghost with warm breast and with ah! bright wings’, these and a few such examples are mostly efforts to force emotion into theological or sectarian channels, as in ‘the comfortless unconfessed’ and the unpoetic line ‘His mystery must be unstressed stressed’, or, again, the exaggerated Marianism of some pieces, or the naked encounter of sensualism and asceticism which hurts the ‘Golden Echo’.—  11
  Apart, I say, from such faults of taste, which few as they numerically are yet affect my liking and more repel my sympathy than do all the rude shocks of his purely artistic wantonness—apart from these there are definite faults of style which a reader must have courage to face, and must in some measure condone before he can discover the great beauties. For these blemishes in the poet’s style are of such quality and magnitude as to deny him even a hearing from those who love a continuous literary decorum and are grown to be intolerant of its absence. And it is well to be clear that there is no pretence to reverse the condemnation of those faults, for which the poet has duly suffered. The extravagances are and will remain what they were. Nor can credit be gained from pointing them out: yet, to put readers at their ease, I will here define them: they may be called Oddity and Obscurity; and since the first may provoke laughter when a writer is serious (and this poet is always serious), while the latter must prevent him from being understood (and this poet has always something to say), it may be assumed that they were not a part of his intention. Something of what he thought on this subject may be seen in the following extracts from his letters. In Feb. 1879, he wrote: ‘All therefore that I think of doing is to keep my verses together in one place—at present I have not even correct copies—, that, if anyone should like, they might be published after my death. And that again is unlikely, as well as remote.... No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness. I hope in time to have a more balanced and Miltonic style. But as air, melody, is what strikes me most of all in music and design in painting, so design, pattern, or what I am in the habit of calling inscape is what I above all aim at in poetry. Now it is the virtue of design, pattern, or inscape to be distinctive and it is the vice of distinctiveness to become queer. This vice I cannot have escaped.’ And again two months later: ‘Moreover the oddness may make them repulsive at first and yet Lang might have liked them on a second reading. Indeed when, on somebody returning me the Eurydice, I opened and read some lines, as one commonly reads whether prose or verse, with the eyes, so to say, only, it struck me aghast with a kind of raw nakedness and unmitigated violence I was unprepared for: but take breath and read it with the ears, as I always wish to be read, and my verse becomes all right.’  12
  As regards Oddity then, it is plain that the poet was himself fully alive to it, but he was not sufficiently aware of his obscurity, and he could not understand why his friends found his sentences so difficult: he would never have believed that, among all the ellipses and liberties of his grammar, the one chief cause is his habitual omission of the relative pronoun; and yet this is so, and the examination of a simple example or two may serve a general purpose:  13
  This grammatical liberty, though it is a common convenience in conversation and has therefore its proper place in good writing, is apt to confuse the parts of speech, and to reduce a normal sequence of words to mere jargon. Writers who carelessly rely on their elliptical speech-forms to govern the elaborate sentences of their literary composition little know what a conscious effort of interpretation they often impose on their readers. But it was not carelessness in Gerard Hopkins: he had full skill and practice and scholarship in conventional forms, and it is easy to see that he banished these purely constructional syllables from his verse because they took up room which he thought he could not afford them: he needed in his scheme all his space for his poetical words, and he wished those to crowd out every merely grammatical colourless or toneless element; and so when he had got into the habit of doing without these relative pronouns—though he must, I suppose, have supplied them in his thought,—he abuses the licence beyond precedent, as when he writes (no. 17) ‘O Hero savest!’ for ‘O Hero that Savest!’.  14
  Another example of this (from the 5th stanza of no. 23) will discover another cause of obscurity; the line
‘Squander the hell-rook ranks sally to molest him’

means ‘Scatter the ranks that sally to molest him’: but since the words squander and sally occupy similar positions in the two sections of the verse, and are enforced by a similar accentuation, the second verb deprived of its pronoun will follow the first and appear as an imperative; and there is nothing to prevent its being so taken but the contradiction that it makes in the meaning; whereas the grammar should expose and enforce the meaning, not have to be determined by the meaning. Moreover, there is no way of enunciating this line which will avoid the confusion; because if, knowing that sally should not have the same intonation as squander, the reader mitigates the accent, and in doing so lessens or obliterates the caesural pause which exposes its accent, then ranks becomes a genitive and sally a substantive.
  Here, then, is another source of the poet’s obscurity; that in aiming at condensation he neglects the need that there is for care in the placing of words that are grammatically ambiguous. English swarms with words that have one identical form for substantive, adjective, and verb; and such a word should never be so placed as to allow of any doubt as to what part of speech it is used for; because such ambiguity or momentary uncertainty destroys the force of the sentence. Now our author not only neglects this essential propriety but he would seem even to welcome and seek artistic effect in the consequent confusion; and he will sometimes so arrange such words that a reader looking for a verb may find that he has two or three ambiguous monosyllables from which to select, and must be in doubt as to which promises best to give any meaning that he can welcome; and then, after his choice is made, he may be left with some homeless monosyllable still on his hands. Nor is our author apparently sensitive to the irrelevant suggestions that our numerous homophones cause; and he will provoke further ambiguities or obscurities by straining the meaning of these unfortunate words.  16
  Finally, the rhymes where they are peculiar are often repellent, and so far from adding charm to the verse that they appear as obstacles. This must not blind one from recognizing that Gerard Hopkins, where he is simple and straightforward in his rhyme is a master of it—there are many instances,—but when he indulges in freaks, his childishness is incredible. His intention in such places is that the verses should be recited running on without pause, and the rhyme occurring in their midst should be like a phonetic accident, merely satisfying the prescribed form. But his phonetic rhymes are often indefensible on his own principle. The rhyme to communion in ‘The Bugler’ is hideous, and the suspicion that the poet thought it ingenious is appalling; eternal, in ‘The Eurydice’, does not correspond with burn all, and in ‘Felix Randal’ and some and handsome is as truly an eye-rhyme as the love and prove which he despised and abjured;—and it is more distressing, because the old-fashioned conventional eye-rhymes are accepted as such without speech-adaptation, and to many ears are a pleasant relief from the fixed jingle of the perfect rhyme; whereas his false ear-rhymes ask to have their slight but indispensable differences obliterated in the reading, and thus they expose their defect, which is of a disagreeable and vulgar or even comic quality. He did not escape full criticism and ample ridicule for such things in his lifetime; and in ’83 he wrote: ‘Some of my rhymes I regret, but they are past changing, grubs in amber: there are only a few of these; others are unassailable; some others again there are which malignity may munch at but the Muses love.’  17
  Now these are bad faults, and, as I said, a reader, if he is to get any enjoyment from the author’s genius, must be somewhat tolerant of them; and they have a real relation to the means whereby the very forcible and original effects of beauty are produced. There is nothing stranger in these poems than the mixture of passages of extreme delicacy and exquisite diction with passages where, in a jungle of rough root-words, emphasis seems to oust euphony; and both these qualities, emphasis and euphony, appear in their extreme forms. It was an idiosyncrasy of this student’s mind to push everything to its logical extreme, and take pleasure in a paradoxical result; as may be seen in his prosody where a simple theory seems to be used only as a basis for unexampled liberty. He was flattered when I called him , and saw the humour of it—and one would expect to find in his work the force of emphatic condensation and the magic of melodious expression, both in their extreme forms. Now since those who study style in itself must allow a proper place to the emphatic expression, this experiment, which supplies as novel examples of success as of failure, should be full of interest; and such interest will promote tolerance.  18
  The fragment (see facsimile, a and b) is the draft of what appears to be an attempt to explain how an artist has not free-will in his creation. He works out his own nature instinctively as he happens to be made, and is irresponsible for the result. It is lamentable that Gerard Hopkins died when, to judge by his latest work, he was beginning to concentrate the force of all his luxuriant experiments in rhythm and diction, and castigate his art into a more reserved style. Few will read the terrible posthumous sonnets without such high admiration and respect for his poetical power as must lead them to search out the rare masterly beauties that distinguish his work.  19


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