After reading Ruth's discussion questions I found myself looking over the first section again. As she points out, in this first section we don't find a mention of the shipwreck it self, rather it's a series of "meditations on God's infinite power and master hood (W. H. G. p. 255 in the Oxford ed. of Hopkins work). Instead of delving into the shipwreck, and the meaning of this dramatic event, we find Hopkins contemplating in this series of stanzas the mystery of God's position as merciful and yet also the master who subjects his people to suffering. In Stanza 6 he writes that it is "not out his bliss/ springs the stress felt," and I take this to mean that the fullness of God is not experienced through joy alone, but that Hopkins' idea of true faith rests in an understanding of suffering as also an expression of God.
I found a focus for these meditations in Stanza 9:
Be adored among men,
God, three-numbered form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man's malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung;
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.
Here we find Hopkins describing God as "lightening and love...a winter and warm" refering to the contradiction of a merciful yet masterful God. But what is to be made of Hopkins' almost instructions to God to "wring thy rebel"? Is this meant to be a way in which to bring man closer to God through suffering, making him "father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung"? I take the dark descending to be an allusion.
Another aspect which I found interesting to consider in this poem was how it was purposefully written in what Hopkins calls a Sprung Rhythm. This complex logaoedic rhythm, is a mix of meters and Hopkins actually writes in his preface that in using this rhythm each stanza of this poem takes on a concentrated and dense quality:
It is natural in Sprung Rhythm...for the scanning of each line immediately to take up that of the one before, so that if the first has one or more syllables at its end the other must have so many the less at its beginning; and in fact the scanning runs on without breaks from the beginning, say, of a stanza to the end and all the stanza in one long strain, though written in lines asunder. [p. 45]
I found that in reading Hopkins the rhythm played a very heavy part in the denseness of the meaning, often forcing me to slow down with deliberately cumbersome wording. Does the "Wreck of the Deutschland" benefit from Hopkins' Sprung rhythm? I found that especially in this first section that the "strain" of the stanza was really effective in creating a meditative, mystical sort of quality for the stanzas, but is it an effective for the second part, which is far more dramatic, and perhaps less contemplative? I found it hard to more in a narrative style through these stanzas, connecting them together to gain a sense of a bigger picture but perhaps this serves the purpose of the poem.
Last modified 20 November 2003