- Gerard Manley Hopkins
Although only one new full-length book largely devoted to Hopkins has reached my reviewer's desk this year, I find it highly worthy. Written by a New Zealander who was partly educated in Scotland and has now published his work with an Anglo-American press, Tim McKenzie's Vocation in the Poetry of the Priest-Poets George Herbert, Gerard Manley Hopkins, and R. S. Thomas (Edwin Mellen, 2003) comes with no special advance fanfares and none of the resultant high expectations those fanfares might produce. Yet the book proves teeming with information and insight (the author includes large amounts of helpful detail, for example, concerning both Protestant and Roman Catholic sacerdotal and Christological traditions [pp.7-46, 185-230]). Meanwhile, McKenzie seems exceptionally engaged in his investigations, despite those investigations' considerable weight—involving the poetic canons and ideational schema of three complex poets, in three very different historical eras.
In fulfilling so well his strenuous intellectual goals, McKenzie enlightens us enormously. First, he explores the many dimensions of Herbert's Reformation-era, Bible-centered pastoral approach—as this approach affected both Herbert's life at the chancel altar and his labors at his writing desk. Next, McKenzie shows us just how consistently Hopkins committed himself—through theological theory and (far more importantly) through strenuous priestly service and poetic meditation—to a "desperate, decisive" sacramental "affirmation" of "cosmic and personal coherence . . . in and through Christ" (p. 19). And, finally, McKenzie introduces us to the intriguing modern Welsh poet R. S. Thomas—whose constant questionings of his priestly function and its interrelationship with his poetic art expressed far more consistent doubts [End Page 359] about such issues than did the laments voiced by Hopkins.
Indeed, the few quibbles I have with McKenzie arise when he, at least to my mind, briefly seems to be overemphasizing (pp. 26-27) Hopkins' expressions of doubt—especially as these were voiced in "the terrible sonnets of desolation." Even, however, after first crying out a slightly wry "Touché," when I found McKenzie (p. 154) judging me too optimisticabout those same late Hopkins sonnets,I ultimately admire almost everything he says. His poetic analysis (while it could be a bit more fully explicative) generally redounds with fairly complex, basically very commonsensical, and always distinctively eloquent wisdom. He displays exemplary scholarly discipline (for his fourteen-page bibliography, as the book's copious footnotes reveal, has definitely been deeply consulted). And we find in his study, over and over again, such cogent and sensibly-expressed summations as these: "God is not simply absent in the terrible sonnets, but everywhere present, in baffling and disturbing ways" (p. 147); "Even Hopkins' most scholastic poetry flows from his experience and represents his desperate search for a system to live by" (p. 238); "The priest-poet's inability to abandon either of his vocations suggests that the vocations share, finally, a common direction" (p. 233). Reading such well-stated (and always also well-supported) observations, I cannot but judge McKenzie's monograph a fine contribution.
By an odd serendipity, I suspect that McKenzie may well be distantly related to another Hopkinsian, Norman MacKenzie, whose long career of producing stellar scholarship made him, for many years, the dean of Hopkins seers, until his sudden death last year. The second book-length Hopkinian publication of this biennium is a collection of articles made into a Special Issue, for Winter-Fall 2004, of HQ (31, nos. 1-4). Essays by many distinguished Hopkins scholars appear here, in a volume that was to have been a Festschrift before MacKenzie's untimely passing, but instead became a memorial volume, still honoring him.
This excellent collection of solidly researched and well-presented studies includes such deft work as Rachel Salmon's revelatory account (pp. 11-30) of reading "The Wreck of the Deutschland" from the theologically defamiliarizing vantage point of Judaism. Meanwhile, equally vital pieces trace, each from a slightly variant angle, Hopkins' well-known Christian univocalism.
R.K.R. Thornton, for instance, delineates (pp. 31-41), with much clarity and common sense, the Jesuit poet's "basic" ever-Incarnational thematics; his quest after an "ur-language" (p. 38); and his combination...