Page 6, 19th June 1953

19th June 1953
Page 6
Page 6, 19th June 1953 — HOLD-UP ON THE ROAD TO PARNASSUS
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HOLD-UP ON THE ROAD TO PARNASSUS

But Gerard Hopkins is on the way to Immortality

e HOPKINS READER, selected by John Pick (Oxford University Press, 21s.).

N English poet may be said to have arrived among the Immortals when he has passed thc examining board of the Oxford & Cambridge Higher Certificate (or whatever its new name is). Hopkins, of course, has already been tried out by university boards in America and in the purlieus of our industrial towns.

But the final seal of acceptance is not set till the Oxford University Press issues a slim black volume called Hopkins Poetry and Prose. English masters at all the secondary schools will then corner their bankrupt librarians, crying: "Order me twenty—or fifty—or even a hundred copies of this chap Hopkins."

That will be the British equivalent of the laurels and pantheons of the Continentals and a much more truly symbolic ceremony it is. For from now on the poet's shade is realty enthroned in the pale halls of Dis; he i3 Rhadamanthus to pass whose ambiguous questionings golden lads and lasses must sweat in fearful homage; he is Pluto, whose dead hand directs vast sums of cash—for school textbooks, it is reliably averred, are the only sort of books nowadays that really pas.

Eyewash

MATURALLY, with so much at 1 Nstake, there is need for much caution. Hopkins has not yet arrived. The present volume, A Hopkins Reader, may be looked on as a step towards the final issue. It is a comprehensive selection from his poetry and prose; and the task has been entrusted, appropriately, to the capable hands of Dr. Pick.

Yet there is still room for doubt whether Hopkins will really arrive after all. There are currents against him which may set in more strongly now that he is proposed as a "Standard Poet."

He shot up to fame in the jumpy and quixotic thirties at a time when oddity was an asset; when the watchword was "intellect immediately at the tips of the senses": when the sudden shaft of complex brilliancy was preferred to sustained perfection on a single level.

But the standards of the thirties may not continue much longer in favour. Already they seem to have brought English poetry to a dead end. If our verse is to be restarted in the tradition of "current speech

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Ask your Doctor about Burson . . . the Two-Way Steetch manic Stockings that give the firmest, MDR comfortable suppon for varicose veins and aching legs, heightened," might it not be better to admit that Rudyard Kipling is more fruitfully in the tradition than Gerard Hopkins? But once Hopkins is deprived of his halo as an innovator, he is put back in his own period. and his title to fame is that of a brilliant Victorian experimenter. But to be a "Standard Poet." is it enough to be a brilliant experimenter?

Experimental

IT might be argued along these lines that Hripkins would have been a better poet if he had been a better Jesuit; he would then have had more respect for the proper subordination of means to ends.

He eloquently urged his friends that poetic talent was a means to give

By Fr. Christopher DEVLIN; S.J.

glory to God, and that publication was a necessary additional means to thc end : "To produce is of little use unless what we produce is known. is widely known, the wider known the better, for it is by being known that it works, it influences. it does its duty, it does good. We must try, then, to be known, aim at it, take means to it."

But he exempted himself from his own rule. There is a good deal of eyewash in his letters about the wishes of superiors and the impossibility of publication in his own case. But he was deceiving himself. He was finding excuses for his own self-will and ultra-sensitivity. With a little legitimate persistence. and a little accommodation to the needs of the average intellect. he could easily have had his poems published. The result would have been a lot of superficial ridicule balanced by a profound and growing admiration, both of which would have inestimably benefited his work.

But the trouble was that he never made up his mind about using his talent for the glory of God.

He found in himself the desire to write and, as its natural accompaniment and incentive, the desire to be known. The desire to write he could not resist, but the desire to be known he treated as a private dragon which he slaughtered remorselessly, instead of as a serviceable beast which could do good work if properly taken in hand. He kept cutting its head off, but the faithful beast kept growing fresh ones.

When he did finally come to terms with it and resolve to produce a great work, it was too late. He spent himself in experimenting fresh means of expression, and never reached the end proposed. He was not detached enough from his Muse to be able to manage her. "For each man kills the thing he loves."

A Holy Man D UT the Society of Jesus has anLP other rule for men of his fine temper—a private and somewhat mystical rule about preferring failure to success so as to come closer to God through Our Lord in His Passion. That was the rule he was trying to keep.

To say that he kept it in a muddled imperfect way is merely to say that he kept it heroically, for it is not the sort of rule that anyone could keep in a clear-cut intelligible way. He is thus much more remarkable, really, as a man who reached holiness than as a poet who didn't reach Parnassus. Hence, although his poems will continue to he cherished by a few, it is perhaps his letters that should find a wider and more sympathetic public.

In this Reader the letters are disarranged under headings, but they have the advantage of being no longer segregated under the names of their recipients.

In re-reading them one is struck by many things—not least by his delightful wit and sense of humour. He must he laughing now at the circumspect approach of the presentation committee with the gilded wreath.




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