Franciscans in ship-wreck


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
5. THE WRECK OF THE DEUTSCHLAND

The Deutshland foundered in a severe storm in the North Sea. All on board were drowned. Far away in Wales, Hopkins was deeply moved by this ship-wreck, and began to compose a long poem about it.

Hopkins was particularly saddened by the loss of five Franciscan nuns on their way to mission. In the poem, Hopkins explores the issues of ‘theodicy‘, the problem of a loving God in a world where things goes wrong.

Hopkins asks why God lets bad things happen to people in general, and in particular, he asks why God would call the Franciscan sisters to a mission and then cut their lives off. He describes their death as an instance of the stigmata like their father Francis’.

In this poem, Hopkins has no answers to the questions raised in theodicy, but he affirms God’s huge power and the tragedy of the ship-wreck.

The whole poem is 280 lines long. I have chosen the three stanzas about the Franciscan sisters.

22
Five! the finding & sake
And cipher of suffering Christ.
Mark, the mark is of man’s make
And the word of it Sacrificed.
But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,
Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd & priced —
Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token
For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.

23
Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
Lovescape crucified
And seal of his seraph-arrival! & these thy daughters
And five-livèd & leavèd favour & pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.

24
Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wildworst Best.

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Hopkins uses Duns Scotus’ treasure


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
5. The Franciscan idea of inscape

Hopkins liked Dun Scotus’ idea of haecceitas, but it was too abstract for him to use directly for his poetry. He took the idea of landscape, the way an artist arranges the exterior world and chooses colours, composition and frame to express herself.

Hopkins’ revolutionary idea of inscape was the interior verson of landscape. The poet asks a ‘thing’ to reveal its soul and then finds words to express that spirit.

On his daily walks, Hopkins filled his notebooks with sketches of inscape, phrases and words that described the essence at the heart of what he saw.

Concept of inscape
1. Based on knowing the haecceitas of a thing (“thing” was the word Hopkins used – again it means creature whether animate or inanimate, conscious or not.)
2. A thing’s inscape was firstly what is like within: its spirit or spirituality.
3. Inscape has secondly an aesthetic quality. What expresses the beauty of its inner spirit? How can its inner spirit be communicated artistically; in Hopkins’ case, in words?

Evelyn Wilson explores inscape in her article on Hopkins, “Self-Portrait: Reflection in Water.”

Hopkins captures the inscape of a kestrel in “The Windhover”, a poem which takes my breath away on every reading:

Windhover

Questions to ask to find the inscape of a thing
1. Notice the haecceitas of this creature. Ilia Delio told the story of Hopkins gazing at a tree for three days for its haecceitas to be revealed.
2. What is unique about this creature’s inner nature? What is its spirit/spirituality?
3. This creature praises God in the way appropriate to its inner nature. What is the song it sings, or the poem it makes, or the sculpture it carves, or the picture it paints to praise God?

Exercise:
Work with a thing, a similar creature to last night. Explore its haecceitas. As you gaze at it, let it reveal its inscape to you. Use the questions above. Write down words which express this inscape.

Inversnaid
Inversnaid

The Franciscan who influenced Hopkins


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
4. THE INFLUENCE OF DUNS SCOTUS

DUNS SCOTUS – Franciscan Theologian 1265-1308

Hopkins acclaims Duns Scotus in Duns Scotus’ Oxford

Towery city & branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark charmèd, rook racked,
river-rounded;
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country & town did
Once encounter in, here coped & poisèd powers;
Thou hast a base & brickish skirt there, sours
That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded
Best in; graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural, rural keeping — folk, flocks, & flowers.

Yet ah! this air I gather & I release
He lived on: these weeds & waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;
Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.


Hopkins’ poetic and spiritual interest in Duns Scotus was in his concept of haecceitas.

Duns Scotus’ spirituality was deeply Franciscan. He absorbed the Franciscan idea of prayer as gazing, which was discerned in the prayer of St Francis by St Clare. Clare wrote not only about gazing on Christ the mirror, but also more generally on gazing as prayer.

Sister Ilia Delio in Franciscan Prayer traces how gazing as a way of prayer becomes Duns Scotus’ philosophical concept haeccietas.

1. “Thisness”: this creature (thing, animal, person) is different from all other creatures like it.
2. This creature is unlike all other creatures.
3. This creature was uniquely made by God.
4. This creature is a unique expression of the Word.

Exercise.

Spend some time with a creature. Explore its haecceitas. Engage in dialogue with the Word communicated by the creature.

Suggested creatures: tree, flower, rock.

[A more “advanced” exercise would be to explore the haecceitas of a person, or love, or a kind action.]

Questions to ask about this creature.
1. What makes this creature different from all other creatures like it?
2. What makes this creature different from all other creatures – i.e. what makes it unique?
3. What is there about this creature that reveals God’s special love uniquely directed at this creature?
4. What Word does this creature speak to us? (What revelation of God’s nature is in this creature?

Blessed Duns Scotus contemplates the haecceitas
Blessed Duns Scotus contemplates the haecceitas

The life of Gerard Manley Hopkins


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
3. THE LIFE
Paul Mariani recounts Hopkins’ life in fascinating detail in his 2008 biography (reviewed here).

The main facts are listed below:

o Born in London in 1844 to loving parents, the eldest of seven siblings.
o His father was in a lucrative marine insurance business.
o Baptised at St John-the-Evangelist in Horsham.
o Studied classics at Oxford.
o As an undergraduate, decided to follow John Henry Newman (and others), and to “go over” to Rome: a ‘perversion’ in the eyes of his family.
o Decided to follow Newman into the Society of Jesus.
o His friendship with the poet Robert Bridges only just weathered his conversion to Rome. They discussed the craft of poetry (and their poems) until Hopkins’ death.
o Jesuit novitiate at Roehampton in Wales, which Hopkins loved. During this time he did Ignatius’ Spiritual Exercises for the first time. 1868-70.
o Studied for the Jesuit priesthood at Stonyhurst 1870-73.
o Parish work and teaching – the Jesuits refuse to allow him to take final vows for two years. Hard to know what to do with this strange priest.
o Sent to Ireland with a mission of founding a Catholic University. Reality of marking every Irish child’s matriculation exams in Latin and Greek. Very lonely and depressed.
o Dies in 1889. On the day of his death, the priest looking after him walked past his room and on several occasions heard Hopkins whispering, “I am so happy.”
o Bridges publishes The Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1913. 750 copies printed, and it takes 12 years to sell them. Now a first edition might cost $15,000.

In Ireland, Hopkins writes To Seem the Stranger Lies My Lot

To Seem the Stranger.

Screenshot showing first edition offered for $US15,000
Screenshot showing first edition offered for $US15,000

Priest-poets enrich the Franciscan spirit


2. WHY SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS?

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a poet-priest, that is, he wrote poetry as part of his vocation as priest. His poetry is ministry.

Hopkins is in a long line of priest-poets. George Herbert was one.

Hopkins looked back to the Dominican geniusThomas Aquinas, a serious teacher and writer of theology until five years before his death, when his writing stopped – except for a series of beautiful poems celebrating the Eucharist. The most famous of the Thomas Aquinas poems is Adoro Te Devote .The original Latin as Thomas wrote it is here. Gerard Manley Hopkins translated Adoro Te Devote into a moving poem.

Godhead here in hiding, whom I do adore,
masked by these bare shadows, shape and nothing more,
see, Lord, at thy service low lies here a heart
lost, all lost in wonder at the God thou art.

Seeing, touching, tasting are in thee deceived;
how says trusty hearing? That shall be believed;
what God’s Son has told me, take for truth I do;
Truth himself speaks truly, or there’s nothing true.

On the cross they godhead made no sign to men;
here thy very manhood steals from human ken:
both are my confession, both are my belief,
and I pray the prayer of the dying thief.

I am not like Thomas, wounds I cannot see,
but can plainly call thee Lord and God as he:
this faith each deeper be my holding of,
daily make me harder hope and dearer love.

O Thou our reminder of Christ crucified,
Living Bread the life of us for whom he died,
lend this life to me then: feed and feast my mind,
there be thou the sweetness man was meant to find.

Jesu, whom I look at shrouded here below,
I beseech thee send me what I thirst for so,
some day to gaze on thy face in light,
and be blest for ever with thy glory’s sight.

[Latin original attributed to St Thomas Aquinas, English translation by Gerard Manley Hopkins]

Priest-poets puts their craft at the service of God. Thomas Ken (one of the non-juror bishops) headed every letter and every page of poetry Ad Maiorem Dei Gloriam – to God’s Greater Glory, and this is the heart of the priest-poet’s vocation.

Like George Herbert, Australian priest, Elizabeth J. Smith finds that many of her poems work well as hymns, and she is known firstly for her fine hymns.
Words in the hands of the priest-poet become instruments firstly to fathom God’s nature, and then to sing God’s praise.

St Thomas Aquinas: lover of the Eucharistic mysteries
St Thomas Aquinas: lover of the Eucharistic mysteries

Why Should Franciscans be interested in poetry?


FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
1. SHOULD FRANCISCANS BE INTERESTED IN POETRY?

• St Francis was influenced by the troubadours. His interest in troubadours probably started on journeys to France as a child.
The troubadours:
o Sang in Italian or Provençal (French) and not Latin.
o Broke convention by singing love songs to ladies beyond their status.
o Used popular harmonies and rhythms.
St Francis wanted to be able to sing love songs to God with the same language of intimacy. He liked the fact that ordinary people could enjoy popular song styles and understand both words and music. Churchy Latin was remote.
Brother William SSF (Can it be True) was a modern Franciscan troubadour. In the late 60s and early 70s in Queensland William wrote ballads and songs and performed them at rallies with thousands of young people.
• Saint Francis was influenced by Sufi poetry. He wanted to travel to Morocco, Spain, and he succeeded in travelling to Damietta, all centres of Sufi poetry.
The Sufis:
o Wrote love poetry to God.
o The “whirling dervishes” got themselves into an ecstatic meditative state.
o Lived in covenanted communities.
Saint Francis asked Leo to whirl to determine which way to proceed at a crossroads. He was intrigued by ecstatic prayer, and he wanted to know more. Some scholars like Idres Shah believe that he came away from his meeting with the Sultan in Damietta having quizzed the sufis there.
Poetry expresses deep insights about God. The best theology is poetry. Good poetry is theology.
It is often difficult to discern the boundary between hymns and poetry. The poet-priest, George Herbert wrote Let All the World in Every Corner Sing, as a poem, but it makes a great hymn.

Sufis
Sufis

Franciscans discover poet-priest Gerard Manley Hopkins


The next posts in Mind Journeys will be a Franciscan exploration of the 19th Century poet Gerard Manley Hopkins.

These posts started originally as notes for the Convocation of the West Australian Franciscan Tertiaries last weekend.

Many of the Tertiaries present had encountered Hopkins in school as part of their English classes, but had never had to opportunity to explore his spirituality and the Franciscan influences on him.