Helen Vendler, on Gerard M. Hopkins: “…second-order reflection…”

“The subjects that interested Hopkins were chiefly intellectual ones; even his most sensuous responses to the natural world were immediately referred to the intellect, which, in the poetry, meant referral to philosophical or theological thought. Although it has seemed regrettable to some readers that Hopkins grafted religious sestets onto octaves of natural beauty, it must be acknowledged that if he had led a different life, his penetrating sense-perceptions would even so have had to be presented to, and mediated by, his intellectual preoccupations (which, in that alternative life, might have been philosophical rather than religious). In any case, the two aspects – the senses and the intellect – would still have had to struggle into stand-offs, reconciliations, suspensions – the very things that happen in the religious poems.

The overwhelming elation Hopkins felt in the presence of natural phenomena (and his consequent grief at the destruction of natural beauty) could not exist unaffected by second-order reflection.”

Helen Vendler reviews ‘The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins Vols I-II’ edited by R.K.R. Thorton and Catherine Phillips · LRB 3 April 2014

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