The “Immortal Song” of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Tomorrow will mark the 129th year after Gerard Manley Hopkins’s death. His final poem, “To R.B.” was written in the last few months of his life and sent to his friend, the Poet Laureate, Robert Bridges. Taking up Horace’s pregnancy metaphor of a poet holding a poem back for nine years, Hopkins’s final apology is a poignant look at his own dry years that is, paradoxically, presented through a beautiful mastery of verse.

To R.B.

While he was alive, readers did seem to miss “the roll, the rise, the carol, the creation” that filled his “winter world.” I’m always amazed that this short-lived Jesuit–a man who considered giving up the vocation of a poet–is now part of the canon. I came across him in a high school English anthology by chance.

I’ve become convinced by Hopkins that those moments when you feel empty or that your winter world seems devoid of “one rapture of an inspiration” or “scarcely breathes that bliss” that you might be doing something important for someone else. Maybe you can’t feel it because it isn’t for you. These poems weren’t for him or even his fellow Victorians. They were for us.

And that’s the important poetry. Not the poems that make the poet feel good and leave the reader cold, but the ones that serve the reader who couldn’t be imagined.

So for all my fellow teachers who especially feel the end-of-term blues this summer, just think: you may be the “mother of an immortal song.”

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