This day in 1889 saw the death of Gerard Manley Hopkins, who created some of the English language’s most unique poetry. He was only 44 at the time of his death, and generally had a bad few years at the end of his life, after suffering from the long-term conflict he felt between his poetry and his vocation as a Jesuit priest. In fact, he burned all his early works when he had a spiritual awakening at 22. Only years later did he begin writing poetry again. And what he wrote! His poems are sumptuous and lush and springy—that springiness possibly why he called the meter he developed “sprung rhythm.” In short, “Sprung rhythm is structured around feet with a variable number of syllables, generally between one and four syllables per foot, with the stress always falling on the first syllable in a foot.” Another component of his vivid, visceral work is how he used words in unusual combinations or even made up words, creating unexpected imagery. Here’s a great example; one of my all-time favorites:
Spring and Fall
to a young child
Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves, like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you will weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.