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  • Hopkins
  • Jeffrey B. Loomis (bio)

On the publishing horizon are several Hopkinsian books of likely key importance—especially, the new multi-volume Oxford University Press editions of Hopkins' Collected Works—including poems, journals, sermons, and letters. Meanwhile, however, the probably central new Hopkinsian monograph of 2006 is James I. Wimsatt's Hopkins's Poetics of Speech Sound: Sprung Rhythm, Lettering, Inscape (Univ. of Toronto Press). Wimsatt's book is one of the rare volumes about Hopkins providing truly helpful discussions of Hopkins' sprung rhythm, and doing so with very ample detail but no needlessly obscure probing of the most esoteric technicalities. Still, Wimsatt's work assuredly highlights just how vital sprung rhythm was for Hopkins, as he sought "to reconcile the irregular rhythms of speech with the regular rhythms of verse" (p. 125).

Noting how previous scholarship has privileged the analysis of Hopkins' "discursive content" (p. 12), Wimsatt resolutely believes it imperative for us to recognize that the Highgate-reared Jesuit, while definitely not "disregard[ing] coherent verbal meaning" (p. 131), was still very firmly convinced, like Julia Kristeva, that "poetic language" primarily proves "affective" (p. 127), and, like Steven Katz, that "verbal music" provides for poems a "sensory meaning" preceding any paraphrasable semantics (p. 8).

Wimsatt's contributions are both unusual and apt enough so as truly to freshen our understanding. Besides, they are made more interesting yet by his ablity to relate Hopkins' notions about the poetic act at least partly to similar notions from such a diverse array of writers and thinkers as Parmenides, Plato, Scotus, Schiller, Nietzsche, Valéry, T. S. Eliot, Auden (and even, briefly, Lacan).

Among new Hopkins discussions not of monograph length, probably the most theoretically encompassing is Dennis Sobolev's "Being and Contemplation in the Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins" (English 55 [Spring 2006]: 37-63). Unlike Wimsatt, Sobolev surely belongs to that majority of analysts concentrating upon Hopkins' discursive text. Sobolev resembles Wimsatt, however, by wanting definitively to counterargue earlier Hopkins critics. To Sobolev, these folks often prove far too anxious to hail Hopkins' writing as a mere engine for transporting sermonic doctrine. Unlike scholars to whose poetic analyses he would impute quasi-evangelistic purpose, Sobolev himself definitely aims not to treat Hopkins' texts as preachments. Hopkins, Sobolev claims, might "intuit . . ." a "divine 'subtext' of nature," but such intuitions the priest-poet finds only available to him "sometimes" (p. 45)—since "divine presence is both contained in the material world and radically different from it" (p. 47). [End Page 313]

Sobolev uses Hopkins' various specimens of writing quite cogently as support for his case, and he also would seem potentially justified in accusing some Hopkins interpreters of occasional excessive religious zeal. On the other hand, his contentions suffer from some vagueness—given, especially, that he does not directly quote from any of these reputed offenders against critical decorum. And he might also be refusing honestly to evaluate, for example, critics who are sacramentalists. Why does he assume such persons to be unaware of hiddenness obscuring sacrament's "inward . . . grace"?

While none of the other recent articles about Hopkins' work has either the physical length or the philosophical weight of Sobolev's essay, widely ranging topics, to be sure, have inspired much diligent and insightful recent research. For instance, HQ 33, nos. 1-2 (Winter-Spring 2006) features Arnd Bohm's study of a specific modern poet's response to our Jesuit bard ("Richard Eberhart's Take on Hopkins," pp. 28-33). That same journal issue also features Noel Barber's historical study of "Hopkins and the Irish Jesuits" (pp. 34-54).

One of the most expansive and astute recent explorations of a topic is Emily Taylor Merriman's "'Words, Those Precious Cusps of Meaning': Augustine's Influence on the Thought and Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J.," found in the compilation Augustine and Literature, ed. Robert P. Kennedy, Kim Pfaffenroth, and John Doody (Lexington Books, 2006), pp. 233-254. Merriman thoroughly probes Hopkins' own contact with Augustine's texts and with their mediation by other Christian thinkers such as Cardinal Newman. She also attentively peruses previous critics' analyses of Hopkins' Augustinian echoes and affinities. Meanwhile, Merriman, in "Corresponding Grace: Hopkins...


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