Page 6, 2nd December 1949

2nd December 1949
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In The

Living Tradition

Immortal Diamond. Studies in

G. M. Hopkins. Edited by Norman Weyand, SJ. (Sheed and Ward. 21s. pp, 451.) Reviewed by

FR. CHRISTOPHER DEVLIN, 5.3.

ABOUT a quarter of a century ago. Hopkins burst like a bomb in literary circles. Ever since then. there has been a continuous flow of " bomb-stories " from victims or near-victims of

the explosion. This has tended to make the name of Hopkins into a bore. It must he emphasised. therefore, that the book here under review is in an entirely different class. Here-if the metaphor may be stretched a little-we have a thoroughly scientific attempt by 11 American Jesuits to gather together all the bits of evidence, to study them in the laboratory, and to learn lessons for the future.

This applies particularly to the group of Essays, 2, 3. 4, 8, and M. Over them all, both in length and importance. towers No. 4, by Fr. W. J. Ong, " Hopkins's Sprung Rhythm and the Life of English Poetry." The reviving channel of English Poetry, according to Fr. Ong. has always lain, not in the dream-image of Spenser, hut in the dramatic declamation of the natural orator. "Take breath, and read it with the ears," Hopkins had said of his verse; and here we have a profound study, ranging from Old English to Elifit. of the way in which a trained passion or emotion can heighten the rhythms of contemporary speech. One is sorry that Fr. Ong does not deal with Hopkins's outstanding example of this. "Caradoc's Soliloquy." His conclusion. that Pound and Eliot achieved the freedom for which Hopkins was confusedly striving, invites thoughtful questioning. Might not Hopkins have said of Eliot what he said of

Whitman: " rhythmic prose ? " Upon this. and upon the deliberate restraints in Hopkins's verse, the Essay by Fr. la/. T. Noon on " The Three Languages of Poetry," has much that is helpful and illuminating.

Eliot often excels where Hopkins fails --in the meditative pause that instils intuition, rather than in the dramatic arrest by which Hopkins excites muscular accompaniment of his meaning. Eliot's verse needs always the spur, Hopkins's the curb. It may have been Eliot's achievement of mental music that he was aiming at when he spoke of " changes of cadence from point to point." This makes one turn early to Fr. J. L. Bonn on " GrecoRoman Verse Theory and Gerard Manley Hopkins "; but one is disappointed. Not that the disappointment is Fr. Bonn's fault: the conclusion of his severely astringent inquisition seems unescapable: " As a theorist in Greek metric. Hopkins holds no great place." But interest remains aroused: what was the inner secret of the explosion?

IT is the merit of most of these Essays that they keep one's nose

on the trail the whole time. An English reader may start in alarm at Fr. MacGillivray's suggestion " that Hopkins be used as a model for a creative writing group." But his Essay is full of kindly wisdom. It makes one realise that Hopkins in America is not a fashionable mites, but an accepted part of a living tradition. They aim at absorbing him in a way that, as far as I know, no poet in England, except Edith Sitwell, has been able to do. Will they succeed? There are no signs of it yet; but there are signs of an Elizabethan love of words and of a thirsty humility which remind one that Totters Miscellany " was a prelude to the age of Shakespeare. The readiness is all."

The Essays on individual poems form a useful corollary to the main theme. Fr. Watson certainly made me realise that the " Eurydice," which I have hitherto disliked, is at least a fine mint for striking phrases; he brings out the bristling effect extremely well. Fr. Schoder on " The Windhover " is exhaustive and aggressive, but he is unfair to Empson; surely, on his own interpretation, the " AND" of line 10 is the effort to resolve an ambiguity: Hopkins must have known that the word " buckle " which precedes it was glaringly ambiguous. The other essays, apart from some interesting new biographical material. cover familiar ground, theological or controversial, and are edifying or informative as the topic requires. The books has various adjunctsthe newspaper accounts of the wrecks, a complete bibiography. anti an " interpretative glossary "-which. together with the high intrinsic value of some of the essays, should make it invaluable to those who study Hopkins as a " set subject."




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