How a lush-kept plush-capped sloe
Will, mouthed to flesh-burst Gush! — flush the man,
the being with it, sour or sweet
Brim, in a flash, full! — Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Wreck of the Deutschland
Here dawn to day unveiled her magic glass;
Here noon now gives the thirst and takes the dew
Till eve bring rest when other good things pass.
And here the lost hours the lost hours renew. — Dante Gabriel Rossetti, The House of Life
"Yet hear my paradox": Hopkins's typological allusions
s poetry, painting, and politics have shown, the Victorians employed both biblical typology and various unorthodox extensions of it. Many of their derivations, manipulations, and extensions take the form of abstracting one of typology's defining elements, such as its emphasis upon the literal truth of both type and antitype, and then applying it to a secular matter.1 For instance, drawing upon typology's capacity to produce the entire Gospel scheme from a single image, authors will use types to create a defining moral context for political discourse or fictional narrative. When Mrs Browning, Swinburne, and others apply Exodus types to contemporary Italian politics, they abstract the entire structure of values contained in that biblical event and then employ it for an elaborate political analogy. Likewise, when authors use typology for characterization, they can employ it this way or they can borrow the typological pattern in which antitype completes type.
Gerard Manley Hopkins and Dante Gabriel Rossetti exemplify two additional forms of such extended typology. Rossetti abstracts a crucial feature of typological symbolism: its ordering of time in terms of prefigurations and their fulfillments. Then, emptying this structure of all christological import, he tries to use it to endow his own life with coherence. Like many other Victorians who make extensions of typology, Rossetti secularizes it. In contrast, Hopkins, the first poet at whom this chapter will look, does not secularize this divinely instituted form of symbolism, for he exemplifies a different kind of abstracted typology: instead of employing a single defining quality of the entire mode, he creates a powerful form of typological allusion by abstracting the essence — the defining conceit, idea, or structure — from individual scriptural types.
The major promise of exercises in scholarly recovery, such as this exploration of Victorian typology purports to be, is that they make an author and an age more accessible to us. They also promise us that we will better understand the relation of individual talents to the tradition or traditions within which they worked. In particular, such re-creation of the interpretive habits of a past age, say, that of the Victorians, purports to make us perceive the individual's debts and contributions to tradition and in this way helps us to understand the precise nature or originality of that individual's work. For example, Ruskin, the Pre-Raphaelites, and Browning all become more accessible to the modern reader who understands Victorian typology. As it turns out, these artists and writers all influenced Hopkins to some degree, but the fact of such influence does not guarantee that our comprehending what is most important about typology will assist us in understanding what is most important about Hopkins's poetry.2
Precise studies of his relation to his contemporaries are certainly needed; and when more about typology is generally known to Victorian scholars, such investigations will perhaps uncover unexpected connections and derivations. First, however, we must observe how Hopkins, a religious poet with a theologian's knowledge of the hermeneutic tradition, creates his own peculiarly effective mode of typological allusion. Without discussing all of Hopkins's poetry or even all his poems that employ types, the following pages will attempt to show how central such applications of typology are to his mind and art.
Hopkins develops his characteristic mode of abstracted typology by making refinements upon the more usual Victorian manner of citation practiced in earlier poems, such as 'Barnfloor and Winepress' (1865). In this poem, which draws upon George Herbert's 'The Bunch of Grapes', the poet cites a passage from scripture as an epigraph and also includes many biblical phrasings. Addressing the sinner and perhaps even the unbeliever, Hopkins, the Christian, announces the wonderful gifts that Christ purchased by means of His terrible sacrifice:
Thou that on sin's wages starvest
Behold we have the joy in harvest:
For us was gather'd the first-fruits,
For us was lifted from the roots,
Sheaved in cruel bands, bruised sore
Scourged upon the threshing-floor;
Where the upper mill-stone roof'd His head,
At morn we found the heavenly Bread
And, on a thousand altars laid,
Christ our sacrifice is made!
Uniting them by a series of closely related paradoxes, Hopkins binds together an extraordinarily complex range of biblical allusions.
Most obviously, he cites the idea that the Eucharist, the 'heavenly Bread', came as the antitype of the Levitical 'first-fruits'. He also alludes to Genesis 3:15 when he mentions that Christ was 'bruised sore', but his central conceit, of course, is taken from the images of barnfloor and winepress that appear in the Bible from Numbers through the Revelation of St. John the Divine. The poem's epigraph comes from 2 Kings 6:27: 'And he said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? Out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress?' These lines telling the sinner that God is his only hope are taken from a rather grisly episode in the Bible. When the Syrians besieged Samaria, the people had nothing to eat:
And as the king of Israel was passing by upon the wall, there cried a woman unto him, saying, Help, my lord, O king. And he said, If the Lord do not help thee, whence shall I help thee? out of the barnfloor, or out of the winepress? And the king said unto her, What aileth thee? And she answered, This woman said unto me, Give thy son, that we may eat him today, and we will eat my son tomorrow. So we boiled my son, and did eat him: and I said unto her on the next day, Give thy son, that we may eat him: and she hath hid her son. And it came to pass, when the king heard the words of the woman, that he rent his clothes. (2 Kings 6:26-30)
Hopkins serves several purposes by citing this grisly episode of biblical history in a poem about Christ's wonderful sacrifice. In the first place, this tale of cannibalism illustrates as forcefully as any could our fallen nature and consequent need of a Saviour. Second, although such an example of evil action cannot serve as a proper type, it does act as a powerful contrast between the true and false sacrifice of a son to preserve life. Third, the allusion to the linked terms, 'barnfloor and winepress', bring to mind the many complex associations they possess in the scriptures.
In Numbers 18: 26-7, the Lord, who is instructing Moses in the nature of the priestly of fice, tells him that when the Levites receive a tithe from the people, they must first offer up one-tenth of it as an offering to Him, after which they can retain the rest: 'And this your heave offering shall be reckoned unto you, as though it were the corn of the threshing floor, and as the fulness of the winepress'. The priestly clan thus retains nine-tenths of the tithe as 'your reward for your service in the tabernacle of the congregation' (Numbers 18:31). This mention early in the Bible of the linked images of barnfloor (or here 'threshing floor') and winepress bore several important significances for the Christian reader. First, barnfloor and winepress, the places where the making of bread and wine from natural growing things begins, stand for human sustenance; second, since they call to mind bread and wine, they prefigure the Eucharist; third, because this particular passage contains directions for priestly conduct, it prefigures Christian priesthood, tithing, and relations of priest to the congregation; fourth, since it mentions a sacrifice taken as a type of Christ, the passage also refers to Him and His sacrifice. Read in terms of Christian typology, then, the passage from Numbers, like so many others in the Pentateuch, provides anticipations of Christ as both priest and sacrifice.
In addition to presenting types of Jesus in these paradoxically opposing terms, barnfloor and winepress also suggest the ideas of slave and liberator, for in Deuteronomy 15:12-15 God instructs the Israelites to free all Hebrew slaves every seven years: 'And when thou sendest him out from thee, thou shalt not let him go away empty: Thou shalt furnish him liberally out of thy flock, and out of thy floor, and out of thy winepress'. As commentators point out, this law was meant in part to commemorate God's freeing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt and His leading them to prosperity. This connection of barnfloor and winepress to political liberation appears again in the Book of Judges. After the Jews had done evil in the sight of the Lord, He 'delivered them into the hand of the Midian seven years' (6:1), and the Midianites stole or destroyed their crops. I Gideon, who 'threshed wheat by the winepress, to hide it from the Midianites' (6:11), is thereupon ordered by an angel of God to lead the people in battle, and, once again, the Israelites are victorious. In this passage from Judges, which provides a detailed contrast to that in 2 Kings, people again learn that falling away from God leads to punishment in the form of military defeat and consequent physical privation — but also, when the children of God are at their lowest state and most in need, God will send someone to save them. As these examples have shown, the notion of divine punishment often appears in relation to the images of barnfloor and winepress, most frequently when God punishes man with dearth. Thus in Jeremiah 48:33, God causes 'wine to fail from the winepresses: none shall tread with shouting'. In another biblical usage, God punishes man by treading him in the winepress. In Lamentations 1:15 this application of the winepress image also echoes the idea of bruising or crushing from Genesis 3:15: 'The Lord hath trodden under foot all my mighty men in the midst of me: he hath called an assembly against me to crush my young men; the Lord hath trodden the virgin, the daughter of Judah, as in a winepress'. Similarly, in Isaiah 63:3, the Lord, who is angry because His people have not helped in the battle against evil, announces: 'I have trodden the winepress alone; and of the people there was none with me: for I will tread them in mine anger, and trample them in my fury; and their blood shall be sprinkled upon my garments, and I will stain all my raiment'. This passage prophesying divine punishment is then fulfilled in Revelation 14:120 when the angel gathers the 'vine of the earth' and casts it 'into the great winepress of the wrath of God. And the winepress was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the winepress, even unto the horse bridles, by the space of a thousand and six hundred furlongs'. These linked passages containing prophecies and types conflate, for the Christian exegete, an entire series of Christian paradoxes: Christ is both sacrificing priest and sacrificial victim; true, life-giving sustenance comes in feeding the soul with the Eucharist and not in feeding the body; Christ, who is both victim and conqueror, treads the winepress and is crushed by it; and more. Hopkins, who draws upon all these meanings for 'Barnfloor and Winepress', adds others as well. In Inscape: The Christology and Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins , James Finn Cotter correctly points out that as a reader it was Hopkins's 'custom to concentrate on an essential passage, gloss it exhaustively, and focus on a word or phrase that acted as key to the whole scene or meaning of the author" (Pittsburgh, 1972, xxi.). The phrase, conceit, or basic structure of ideas that informs this and so many other of his poems can be stated in the following form: true beauty, true life, true victory can only be achieved, as Christ has shown, by being bruised and crushed. Essentially, the basic Christian reading of Genesis 3:15, that Christ triumphs over sin and death by giving Himself to be bruised in the Crucifixion, remains one of Hopkins's central, organizing ideas. Stress, pressure, crushing, bruising, and similar terms that appear frequently in his poetry allude to the entire series of types presenting the Gospel scheme.
In 'Barnfloor and Winepress' Hopkins emphasizes how Christ, 'Sheaved in cruel bands, bruised sore' brought man new life, the Tree of Life, by His sacrifice then and His continuing sacrifice now, which is the sacrament of Holy Communion:
For us by Calvary's distress
The wine was racked from the press;
Now in our altar-vessels stored
Is the sweet Vintage of our Lord .
Emphasizing the element of paradox that derives from Christ's combination of being conquered and conqueror, Hopkins first tells us that He was 'Sheaved in cruel bands' and later, near the poem's close, that Christ has saved all men and 'sheaved us in His sheaf'. The poem's epigraph, which Hopkins addresses to those whom the Saviour does not include among the saved, employs the darker side of the barnfloor-winepress and bruising types; the body of the poem emphasizes that Christ has saved the believer. The type's basic structure, in other words, contains both threat and promise of hope, and Hopkins need only employ part of his basic structure to convey the type's full Christian message.
'Barnfloor and Winepress' uses other types as well, but they all join to this central structure of paradox. In this and similar early poems Hopkins's typological allusions take the form of easily recognized quotation and citation of scripture. Later, he relies increasingly upon the basic structure, rather than the specific language, of the biblical type. For instance, he organizes 'The Windhover: to Christ Our Lord' (1877) with this conceit that being bruised and crushed produces higher beauty. The octet magnificently conveys the beauty and mastery of the bird's physical conquest of the air — of the natural elements — and the sestet then proceeds to the far higher beauty that springs forth when the kestrel and plough, soil, and even mere ember endure pressure. As in most of his complex poems, Hopkins supports this form of allusion with others. For example, his address to Christ at the poem's close — 'and blue-bleak embers, ah my dear,/ Fall, gall themselves, and gash gold-vermilion' — also brings to mind Christ's descent into human flesh, the gall offered Him on the Cross, and the colors of the bird as well.4
This notion that bruising produces highest beauty appears in both early and late poems. 'Rosa Mystica', for example, asks,
What was the colour of that blossom bright?
White to begin with, immaculate white.
But what a wild flush on the flakes of it stood
When the rose ran in crimsonings down the cross-wood!
In contrast to this rather baroque seventeenth-century conceit, that in 'Felix Randal' (1880) hovers beneath the surface of the lines relating how a 'heavenlier heart' came to this powerful man as sickness broke him. The related idea that pressure produces the Word of God, thus creating what is in essence another incarnation of the Word, appears both in 'The Wreck of the Deutschland' (1876) and in his undated fragment on the death of the Catholic martyr Margaret Clitheroe, who was pressed to death calling the name of Jesus. In 'That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection' (1888) Hopkins makes, not martyrdom, but conversion or illumination embody this central structure. Here the pressure of God turns mere earthly materials into precious ones, as the poet draws upon the physical process by which diamonds are created from carbon as an analogy for spiritual metamorphosis:
In a flash, at a trumpet crash,
I am all at once what Christ is, since he was what I am, and
This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal diamond, is immortal diamond.
Because divine pressure, force, or illumination can transform all men, they can be — if only for brief instants — Christ:
For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces. ('As kingfishers catch fire', c. 1881)
But, as Hopkins shows us in the 'terrible sonnets', such as 'Carrion Comfort' (1885) and 'Patience, hard thing!' (1885), man, who has so much evil in him, must be bruised by God to create good — to release that transient likeness to Christ. Thus, the abstracted type of bruising, like that drawn from barnfloor and winepress, embodies both Christ's triumph over evil and a specific application of it to the condition of the individual sinner.
In addition to appearing in scriptural references to bruising and to barnfloor and winepress, Hopkins's favorite structure of ideas is embodied in the idea of crushing olives to produce oil. As we have already observed, Gethsemane, the location of Christ's agony, means the 'place of the olive-press', and he several times draws upon this fact. For example, in 'A Soliloquy of one of the Spies left in the Wilderness' (1864) he reinforces the ironic self-revelation that occurs when the speaker mentions the smitten rock in Horeb using what appears to be such an allusion. The rebellious, ungrateful speaker would willingly sacrifice his freedom for the Egyptian slavery of the past:
Give us the tale of bricks as heretofore
To plash with cool feet the day juicy soil.
Who tread the grapes are splay'd with stripes of gore,
And they who crush the oil
We desire the yoke we bore
The easy burden of yore.
This rebellious Israelite, who serves as a type for all those who reject Christ's dearly purchased gift of freedom, also prefigures those who crucified Christ during His Incarnation and still crucify Him with their sins. Delighting in the idea of splashing about in the Nile mud, he also delights in the thought of being splashed by the crushed oil and grape juice, both of which are images of Christ. In contrast to this characteristic use of a type within a dramatic monologue, 'God's Grandeur' (1877) employs Hopkins's later, abstracted form of allusion, for the grandeur of God 'gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil/ Crushed'. Despite the fact that trade and labor have smudged the earth, 'nature is never spent' because the Holy Ghost continually infuses 'the dearest freshness deep down things'. This freshness is dearest because it is both precious and very costly, purchased, in fact, by Christ's descent into human flesh. Hopkins, who draws upon Ruskin's and Keble's notions that physical beauty symbolizes divine spiritual attributes, here suggests that the Holy Ghost ceaselessly repeats the miracle of the Incarnation by inspiriting the world and thus making it bear that beauty which symbolizes God. Moreover, the mention of oil being produced from the press reminds us that this beauty embodies the specific spiritual principle (or structure) that Hopkins believes to underlie all existence: that beauty and life were purchased only by Christ's enduring the pressure, bruising, and crushing of the descent into human flesh and subsequent Crucifixion. Finally, it is also possible that the mention of the oil press, when combined with the Holy Ghost brooding over a fallen word, is meant to recall Christ's Agony in the Garden: in both cases contemplating the results of fallen man leads to new life and beauty.
Hopkins can thus cite the same basic structure of ideas in poems about earthly beauty, conversion, spiritual agony, martyrdom, and biblical events, because he obviously believes that it contains the essence of Christian truth. Our realizing that he derives this structure from commonplace types does serve to make many of his poems more accessible, because it reveals both a common procedure and a common theme that might otherwise not be perceived. Such recognitions also suggest that much of what is most characteristic — and perhaps also what is most difficult — in his poems can be explained primarily by reference to Victorian typology. Indeed, one suspects that much of his manner and matter that has been explained in other terms, such as traditions of Christian Gnosticism, can be more accurately comprehended when his poems are placed in the historical context of contemporary British Bible reading.5
At the same time as we recognize the Victorian commonplaces underlying his unique art, we can also better appreciate how brilliant, how original, are the poems he raises upon these foundations. Or, using Hopkins's own favorite conceit, we can thus better enjoy the way his poetic, imaginative pressure bruises common grapes to release unexpected beauties and greater triumphs.
Last modified 4 April 2015