S-Space College of Humanities (인문대학) English Language and Literature (영어영문학과) 영학논집(English Studies) 영학논집(English Studies) No.41 (2021)
Flight as Form and Faith: Birds in Gerard Manley Hopkins’s Sonnets
- Ko, Sung Hee
- Issue Date
- 서울대학교 인문대학 영어영문학과
- 영학논집, Vol.41 No., pp. 77-100
- Gerard Manley Hopkins ; Tractarian Movement ; John Keble ; sonnet ; bird ; flight, form ; religion
- Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems can be singled out by their inventive syntax, fast-paced rhythm and rhyme. While “The Windhover” and “God’s Grandeur” are just two of Hopkins’s widely known sonnets that are studied for his originality and poetic skill, his poems’ connection with his spirituality has often been neglected. This paper aims to recon- sider the influence of the Tractarian Movement on Hopkins as he sought to illustrate, through the symbol of the bird, his desire to express his faith. In particular, his sonnets with bird imagery are assessed as a testament to Hopkins’s desire not only to express poetic ambition but also profess his devotion to God. Rather than embrace the birds of the Romantic poets, such as Keats’s nightingale or Shelley’s skylark, he inherits John Keble’s nightingales in “First Sunday After Epiphany” whose song is a direct praise to their Maker. Following the Tractarian poetics of reserve and analogy, Hopkins utilizes the bird and its flight to visual-ize spiritual faith. In “Let Me Be to Thee” and “The Sea and the Skylark,” the bird represents a symbol of an ideal believer who understands the purpose and inscape of worship—to achieve unity with God—and yearns to ascend. Other poems, like “The Windhover” and “God’s Grandeur,” portray the bird as a member of the Trinity, which the speaker observes and praises. Lastly, in “The Caged Skylark,” the bird is a representation of Faith embodied, as the speaker makes an analogy of the bird in its cage with the spirit within the physical body. By illustrating the lows of faith, the speaker acknowledges the fears of mortality and physical decay even for the faithful. Despite this desolate state of both bird and spirit, the speaker hints at the attainment of salvation and the return to a new Eden. The concurrent physical descent and spiritual ascent captured by this poem reveal the ironies that faith sometimes requires of believers: passively waiting for God’s will while actively obey-ing and worshipping him. By utilizing the bird and its flight, Hopkins’s sonnets confess to his love and worship of God and depict his desire for ascension.