Walks with Beauty — Gerard Hopkins

Charlie's thoughts and blog.


> World Mothering, Part III : A Tale of Two Marys

Posted by Charlie Finn at

A frequent critique of Hopkins’ poetry, beyond its at times opaque vocabulary and strained verse, is its religious enthusiasm. The poem we have been examining is a case in point. The “Blessed Virgin” in the very title, touching on the Catholic doctrine that Mary was not only virgin before and during parturition but remained so ever after (despite gospel references to Jesus’ brothers and sisters), strains the credulity of any not indoctrinated.

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> World Mothering, Part II : Hopkins Sings of Our Lady

Posted by Charlie Finn at

The object of Hopkins’ lyrical poem, however, was not Earth’s blue mantle. Rather it was Mary’s blue mantle, Mary’s mantle of mercy—hence his choice of “The Blessed Virgin Compared to the Air We Breathe” for the poem’s title. To the bafflement and dismay of his family and friends, Hopkins not only converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism while studying at Oxford but soon after entered the Society of Jesus, feeling called to become a Jesuit priest. Remembering the hostility to Catholics in general and Jesuits in particular in England after the Reformation can help us imagine the shock this engendered. When Hopkins resumed his poetry (after initially feeling it incompatible with his vocation), he couldn’t help but sing in his poems of his new-found Catholic faith—the spiritual air he now breathed. And in this poem it was the part of his faith relating to Mary that he sung.

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