December 16, 2010

Poem and Prayer #5: Stanley Kunitz and Gerard Manley Hopkins (Part I)

Editor’s Note: As ever, we are pleased to have Virtual Abbey member and poet Martin Dickinson (@dickinsonpoet) giving all of us this special gift – a veritable trifecta of posts about the poems of Stanley Kunitz and Gerard Manley Hopkins. Lots to savor here.

This will amaze you. Inspiration always does.

But what exactly
is inspiration? The word itself is from Latin inspirare, to breathe in, and is connected to spiritus “breath, spirit.” So we could call it a breathing in of something, or the acquisition by one’s own spirit of some spiritual thing from elsewhere. A single moment of inspiration can change your life.

Stanley Kunitz experienced just such a moment in 1926 as a Harvard undergrad. While ambling through the stacks of the Widener Library, he randomly selected a book of poems by 19th century English poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. The page Kunitz opened to held the sonnet, “God’s Grandeur,” one of the finest devotional lyrics of that century.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 –1889) was an English poet and classicist who converted to Roman Catholicism and became a Jesuit priest. He experimented with forms of rhythm and imagery that foreshadowed 20th century poetry. Hopkins’ devotional poetry is steeped in Ignatian spirituality and so meditative you can hardly distinguish it from prayer, so why try?

Tomorrow, I’ll introduce you to “The Layers,” a poem by Kunitz but first, I invite you to hear him read “God’s Grandeur":

2 comments:

Philomena Ewing said...

Amazing or what ?
I have also done a post on the great Hopkins poem !

Meredith Gould said...

Holy Spirit amazing! I almost keeled over in my desk chair when I saw what was on your blog this morning.