handmade books and artwork by Geoff MacEwan



Ecstasies

In 1866 Gerard Manley Hopkins left the Anglican Church and converted to Roman Catholicism; two years later he entered the Jesuit Order. He was already a poet, an acute observer of nature and an accomplished classical scholar. Well aware of the human cost of nineteenth century capitalism he was broadly sympathetic towards the embryonic socialist movement that was already struggling to resolve its contradictions. His high seriousness was manifest in everything he wrote, from his journals and letters to his meditations on art. Nowadays it is perhaps hard to see his decision to become a priest - taken within a specific historical context - as anything other than a tragic sacrifice; yet it was exactly this idealist action that not only gave his life meaning but also lent his poetry its acute and celebratory force.

I first read Hopkin's poetry as an adolescent in an environment in which its meaning was reinforced by parallel institutional limitations. Yet during the past fifty years I have returned to his work with ever increasing wonder because of the poetic care he took to describe transcendence through images that are visually and verbally ecstatic. We know from his letters that he fulfilled his duties as a priest and teacher conscientiously, yet it was the poetry he wrote during this time that gave that rigorous life a broader meaning.

The Wreck of the Deutschland, sanctioned by his religious superiors, is a long poem. I have chosen eight images from the first eight stanzas where Hopkins describes aspects of his spiritual journey written in the rhythmic and forceful language of his own invention and which broke with the poetic conventions of his time.

Dimensions: 25.5 cm × 29 cm × 2 cm