Unlike the typological allusions of a poet like Elizabeth Barrett Browning, religous imagery in the poetry of Gerard Manely Hopkins often retains its doctrinaire, specifically religous, meaning. In his book, Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows, George P. Landow argues that Hopkins "Emphasiz[es] the element of paradox that derives from Christ's combination of being conquered and conqueror" in his poem "Barnfloor and Winepress" as part of an extended meditation upon Christ's grace. Yet in "Wreck of the Deutschland," the religious paradoxes that recurr throughout the poem seem to verge on escaping Hopkins control. The literal subject of the poem (the death of exiled German nuns in an shipwreck) is left aside at the outset while Hopkins focuses on the terror of the individual in awe of God's might and judgement: "Thou heardest me truer than tounge confess/ Thy terror, O Christ, O God; ... The swoon of a heart that the sweep and hurl of thee trod/ Hard down with a horror of height" (Hopkins 13). The sublime (in the Kantian sense, of something possesed of overwhelming power) beauty of God's power, as seen in the wreck and storm, seems to be Hopkins' chief interest in the disaster, as he sees it as equivalent to position of all earthly souls, held for judgement in the hand of God. Yet Hopkins also chooses to exhalt the victims of the shipwreck. In two extended passages, Hopkins compares the death of the nuns and the priest that accompanies them to that of Christ:
Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the Life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his Lovescape crucified
And seal of his seraph-arrival! and these thy daughters
And five-lived and leaved favour and pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances...
The majesty ! what did she mean?
Breathe, arch and original Breath.
Is it love in her of the being as her lover had been?
Breathe, body of lovely Death.
They were else-minded then, altogether, the men
Woke thee with a we are perishing in the weather of Gennesareth
Or is it that she cried for the crown then,
The keener to come at the comfort for feeling the combating keen? (Hopkins 20)
1. In stanza twenty-one, Hopkins terms Christ the "Martyr-master," and also specifically mentions one of the nuns calling for "A master, her master and mine" (Hopkins 18-19). Are these nuns then martyrs?
2. Hopkins later wonders whether "is the shipwrack then a harvest,/ does the tempest carry the grain for thee?" (Hopkins 22) The paradox of Christ's death on the cross is that is productive, as it frees all from the burden of original sin. Other early Christian martyrs died similarly productive deaths, furthering the word of Christ and adding to the glory of God. What do these nuns accomlish through their death, if anything?
3. When Hopkins asks "What was the feast followed the night/ Thou hadst glory of this nun? -/ Feast of the one woman without stain," does he mean to suggest that this nun, like Christ, diead without sin? (Hopkins 22)
4. Given that the speaker's heart "bleed[s] a bitterer vein for the/ Comfortless unconfessed of them," what should we make of the tableu where "one stirred from the rigging to save/ The wild woman-kind below" and is "pitched to his death at a blow" (Hopkins 17, 22)? How does Hopkins judge this man and what does his sacrifice achieve?
Last modified 5 December 2003
Last modified 5 December 2003