Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in England in 1889. Hopkins’ family was large and fervently religious. During his time studying at Balliol College, Oxford, Hopkins converted to Roman Catholicism via the Oxford Movement. The conversion cost Hopkins his familial ties, friendships, and job prospects. Even worse for his reputation, Hopkins decided to join the Jesuits, pledging himself to a monastic life of charity and religious devotion. Hopkins was so committed to pursuing what he believed to be the truth that he gathered all of the poems he had written up to that point in time and burned them. This “slaughter of the innocents” was motivated by Hopkins’ conviction that his duty as a Jesuit was incompatible with poetry. Years later, Hopkins began to write again, trying to reconcile his religious and poetic inclinations. After years of poor health and grueling work, Hopkins died of typhoid fever in 1889 before he even turned 45.
What Made Hopkins So Good
Even after the destruction of his early writings, Gerard Manley Hopkins left behind enough work to revolutionize English poetry. Hopkins invented an entirely new form of poetic rhythm, which paved the way for the free-form poetry of the coming century. Aside from his radical re-thinking of poetic metrical strategies, Hopkins was also concerned with revitalizing poetic language by resurrecting archaic words, combining old words to form new ones, and inventing completely original words. Hopkins work was largely rejected during his lifetime for being too radically different. It wasn’t until the following century that his poems were published and Hopkins’ received the lasting fame that he deserved.
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