FRANCIS THOMSON AND GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS:
A BRIEF STUDY IN CONTRAST
This brief study in contrast attempts to reveal the differing attitudes and approaches of the two Roman Catholic Poets, namely Thomas Francis (1859-1907) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89).
In ‘The Hound of Heaven’, Thomas Francis’ poem, the poet conveys convincingly a sinner’s efforts to evade the pursuing love of God, and, final surrender to that divine love.
Hopkins’ poems reveal the poet’s awareness of created beauty as a reflection of God. His sonnets in particular orchestrate his sense of frustration and suffering. His disappointments, protests and revulsions have been stated with candour.
Thomson’s celebrated poem, ‘The Hound of Heaven’ is the love of God in pursuit of the poet’s soul till he surrenders to it. As he tries to evade the challenge, seeking consolation in human love and earthly delights, the pressure of the divine demand gathers urgency in the image of feet that pound behind him till he is beaten to his knees by the inadequacy of alternative satisfactions. The pursuit is halted when the poet realizes that the darkness of deprivation which he feared all along was nothing but the shadow of the divine hand, stretched over him in love; the offer of protection and peace, he has been all the while resisting. Majestic instancy and the clinging attempts of the sinner to the ‘Whistling mane of every wind’ is poignantly vibrant.
To all swift things for swiftness did I see;
Clung to the whistling mane of every wind.
But whether they swept, smoothly fleet,
The long savannahs of the blue;
Or whether, thunder-driven
They changed his chariot ‘thwart a heaven
Plashy with flying lightnings round the spurn on the feet: -
Fear wist not to evade as love wist to pursue
Still with unhurrying chase,
And Unperturbed pace,
Deliberate speed, majestic instancy,
Came on the following seat,
And a voice above their beat –
‘Naught shelter thee, who wilt not shelter Me’
This irregular ‘Pindaric ode’, magnificent in its imagery conveys convincingly a sinner’s efforts to evade the pursuing love of God and final surrender to that love.
With Thomson, it is the living, above all loving moving, God, with a voice charged with outstretched caressing hand, full of warmth and love.
Whom wilt thou find to love ignoble thee
Save me, save only me?
All which I took from thee I did but take
Not for thy harms,
But just that thou might’st seek it in my arms.
All which thy child’s mistake
Fancies as lost, I have stored for thee at home;
Rise, clasp My hand, and come:
In the case of Hopkins, the contemporary of Thomson, it is the beauty and richness found in Nature, using ‘gear and tackle’ - tools used in human sense experience.
Becoming a Roman Catholic (1866) by choice; joining the Jesuit Order in (1868), his self-dedication is a total commitment of all his faculties. Religion, for him, is the total reaction of the whole man to the whole life. To him, God remains merciful father and fondler, despite his paradoxical ‘dark descending’ mystery, full of ‘lightning and love, winter and warm’:
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.
Hopkins’ main concern is with the attempt to bring to view the inner reality of the living world, which connotes not only the essential pattern at the heart of objects and experience but also the individual distinctiveness and uniqueness of a thing - its ‘selfhood’.
His most moving poems are the ‘terrible sonnets’ which record the testing of faith and moods of desolation and suffering:
I cest for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, turn blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirsts’ all-in-all in all a world of wet.
Hopkins’s dedication is characterised by a deeper ascetism and questing. His awareness is very Catholic from the beginning, reflected in his agonised yearning to witness the divine presence in the world;
We see the glories of the earth
But not the hand that wrought them all;
Night to myriad worlds gives birth
Yet like a lighted empty hall.
To him, God ‘Lord of Life’ is a life-long friend, who subjects the devotee to severe test by way of defeat and thwart. Reminiscing his ‘now done darkness’ - all that toil, that coil, since he kissed the rod - wrestling with God, he realises all that, in the long run, was to desirable effect - to save him.
That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Though his best poems show an agonising sense of frustration and suffering, he spells out his intense and intimate devotional approach: patience, penance, prayer; ever in quest of Him. Thomson looks at God as a pursuer, filled with love for the sinner; till the pursued surrenders.