THE POEMS OF GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS. Fourth Edition based on the First Edition of 1918 and enlarged to incorporate all known poems and fragments. Edited by W. H. Gardner and N. H. Mackenzie. 362 pp. Oxford and New York : Oxford University Press, 1970. ISBN 0-19-281094-4 (pbk.)
For anyone who is interested in Hopkins, and everyone should be, this is the standard and authoritative edition. It gives us the only complete and accurate text which for the first time puts the poems in their true chronological order.
The poems have been arranged in four sections : Early Poems (1860-1875?); Poems (1876-1879); Unfinished Poems, Fragments, Light Verse, &c. (1862-89); Translations, Latin and Welsh Poems, &c. (1862-67). The book contains a useful and informative Introduction and Foreword, and is rounded out with very full Notes, a series of Appendices, and Indexes of titles and first lines. It is also beautifully printed on excellent paper, stitched, and bound in a sturdy glossy wrapper.
Hopkins had a unique sensibility, and brought something very special and of great value into English poetry. He seems to have had the ability to enter into the intelligence and feelings and spirit of all life forms, whether animal or plant or even landscape, to resonate with the indwelling divinity within them, and to somehow magically bring the miracle of their vibrant being over into his poems.
Hopkins is in fact a striking example of the fully human sensibility as described in the works of Heidegger and the great thinkers of the East, and exemplifies a quality of sensibility which most of us seem somehow to have lost. We skate dully and blindly over the surface of things, but Hopkins plunges into the depths of being and carries us along with him. In other words, he puts us back in touch with reality, with what life is really about. Hence his enormous value and importance.
In a complete collection such as this, there are bound to be many poems that fall short of greatness. For the newcomer to Hopkins, one suggested approach might be to first read some of his greatest poems, poems such as 'God's Grandeur,' 'Spring,' 'The Windhover,' 'Pied Beauty,' 'The Caged Skylark,' 'Binsey Poplars,' 'As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame.'
There are many beauties to enjoy in Hopkins - his unique use of language, his control of sound and rhythm, his amazing images and metaphors - but for me the most beautiful thing of all is the news he brings, news of a universe in which all things are of infinite value and infinitely precious, and in which no creature is of any less value than another because all are indwelt by divinity:
"Each mortal thing does one thing and the same : / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells ; / Selves, goes itself ; _myself_ it speaks and spells, / Crying _What I do is me : for that I came_" (p.90).
Hopkins makes us acutely aware of our loss, and our crime. His poems map out a path back to a saner, more balanced, and more wholesome and intelligent way of dwelling on the earth, dwelling lightly upon it with all other creatures and as its guardian, not its ravager.
"O if we but knew what we do / When we delve or hew - / Hack and rack the growing green! / ... After-comers cannot guess the beauty been...' (pp.78-9).
Hopkins, I think, would have been very much in agreement with Heidegger who tells us that the earth must once again become a _Spielraum_ , a space of great beauty in which to play, and one in which all creatures, instead of being treated as mere objects, are allowed to do what they came here to do, to develop the full potential of their natures and fulfill themselves as manifestations of divinity. His poems are unforgettable, and one envies those who may be coming to them for the first time.