On this date the British poet, scholar and aesthete GERARD MANLEY HOPKINS, was born (d.1889). Hopkins was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose 20th century fame established him posthumously among the leading Victorian poets. His experimental explorations in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator
in a period of largely traditional verse. In 1868 he entered a Jesuit Novitiate and burned all his early poems, resolved to write no more till he should by ecclesiastical authority, be enjoined to do so. After seven years, the silence was lifted by a superior’s suggestion that some member of the community should elegize the five Franciscan nuns who perished in the wreck of the Deutschland. The Jesuit poet is a master of word painting, who in freshness of diction and elliptical approach is generally considered the first modern poet.
He seems much closer to the 20th century than he does to the Victorians, and, in fact, his poems were only first collected and published in 1918. The constant conflict between Hopkins’ desire to be an artist is central to his poetry, but it produced the “nervous prostration” from which he suffered and which led to his failure as a parish priest, teacher, and classical lecturer – his real “occupations.”
It is now acknowledged that what Hopkins called his “nervous prostration” was in reality his repressed homosexuality. The poet-priest was completely homosexual in inclination and perfectly celibate in life, a state which resulted in great misery for him and great poetry for us.