Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) was the most original English poet of the 19th century. He was also, perhaps, the oddest. Some have speculated that he suffered from bipolar disorder. Virtually none of his coevals knew anything about his work. His father, Manley, was a minor poet who raised his son in the Anglican faith. He matriculated at Oxford where he studied with Walter Pater, began a lifelong friendship with Robert Bridges (1844-1930), and decided to convert to Catholicism. He left Oxford (with a first class honors degree) and was received into the Catholic Church by his fellow convert John Henry Newman. He wrote poetry, destroyed some of what he had written, stopped writing for seven years, and became a Jesuit priest. He failed his theology test ensuring, that unlike Newman, he would never rise into the leadership of the church.
He was sent to Ireland where he died at age 44. Were it not for his friendship with Bridges, who was both physician and poet and who became England’s poet laureate from 1913-30, Hopkins poetry might have never come to attention. Bridges actively promoted his long dead friend’s work. Hopkins’ verse is notable for its startlingly original use of metre, alliteration, and language. Hopkins called his rhythmic structure Sprung Rhythm. He said he got this structure from old Anglo-Saxon. His stresses are unique and his poetry is best read aloud rather than remaining mute on the page.
The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo was written around 1879. It’s a wonderful piece that hasn’t received the prominence of some of Hopkins better known poems such as God’s Grandeur and The Windhover. Virtually all of Hopkins’s poetry has a strongly religious spine. But only those deaf to beauty can resist its unique allure.
A fragment of the Echo poem was used in the 2015 movie Solace where it was recited by both Anthony Hopkins and Colin Farrell. I’ve put a clip below of the two actors speaking a few lines from the first half of the poem. The full text is immediately below. I’ve spaced the lines to aid in following the poet’s thoughts. Richard Burton recorded the poem in a style as original was its author’s. His recitation is as fast as a reflex and faster than Usain Bolt. It’s a masterpiece of declamation. Burton Hopkins’ Echo
THE LEADEN ECHO
How to keep—is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere
known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, . . . from vanishing away?
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankèd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.
THE GOLDEN ECHO
There is one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air.
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Óne. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that’s fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets more, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an ever- lastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear, gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks, loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant, girlgrace—
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before death
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then whý should we tread? O why are we so haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged, so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept. Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.—
Yonder.—What high as that! We follow, now we follow.— Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,