A Critical Analysis on Hopkins' Poem "Ribblesdale"


Earth, sweet Earth, sweet landscape, with leavés throng
And louchéd low grass, heaven that dost appeal
To, with no tongue to plead, no heart to feel;
That canst but only be, but dost that long—
Thou canst but be, but that thou well dost; strong
Thy plea with him who dealt, nay does now deal,
Thy lovely dale down thus and thus bids reel
Thy river, and o'er gives all to rack or wrong. 

And what is Earth's eye, tongue, or heart else, where
Else, but in dear and dogged man?—Ah, the heir
To his own self bent so bound, so tied to his turn,
To thriftless reave both our rich round world bare
And none reck of world after, this bids wear
Earth brows of such care, care and dear concern.
This poem is made up of fourteen lines; the form of this poem is simple as Hopkins and other critics consider it. The internal division divides this work into two parts, the first is octet which consists of 8 lines and the second is sestet which consists of 6 lines. It's not by accident that the subdivision inside the (poem) sonnet accompanies a division in complication. It's not by coincidence that the first eight lines are about something and the last six lines are about something else. This is related to the design Hopkins chose to write. The mere fact that he chose this form, it was very difficult for him to observe what a certain poetic effect would dictate upon him. In other words when a poet chooses a form which is pre-conceived, the poetic effect implies that the line of growth of this preconceived form would not allow the poem to grow. When a poet chooses a form of pre-conceived one, he choses the form of a sonnet. If the poetic effect implies that the line of growth should not allow the poet to achieve the intended form, they would evolve a different direction because it is preconceived. In writing poetry no poet can tell about his poem's form or about the number of the lines, but it's not the case with Hopkins. Hopkins knew before hand that the lines will be fourteen, and that there will be a subdivision where a problem is raised in the first 8 lines and a solution in the last six ones.

Critics speak of this work as a poem; however, I could consider it a work of art rather than a poem. This work of art is made up of 14 lines; it is made up of two parts: part 1 from line 1 to line 8, and part 2 from line 9 to line 14. The subdivision, that is the space left between parts 1 and 2, is very functional from the point of view of those critics, the division is thematic or logical one. 
Critics believe that thematically speaking of this art we have two statements.

1) First is the problem in part 1.
2) Second, the statement, the comment or the solution. 

Critics believe that in part 1 we have the following: "Earth does appeal to heaven through its existence, but, whereas men feel and can speak, then earth has no tongue, no language to speak and no heart to feel. According to those critics, the lines say that man is determined to destroy earth. As we have said, the 1st part of the poem is about existence of earth, earth is not the same as man, it has no tongue to speak, no heart to feel, and man goes on in destroying it. The man is hunting down the river, the valley, and the aspects of nature. Whereas in part II, it's true that man is hunting down earth, but earth is found in the heart of man and in his soul. He is the heir of earth, and, in spite of this, he is determined to injure earth; earth is depended. For the reasons proceeded, still man's deeds is to harm the earth although the earth is found in their hearts. So, the earth is sad because man is determined to cause harm to it.

The rhyme scheme, in the 14 lines, is very regular and very systematic. The octet rhyme scheme is abba abba. The sestet rhyme scheme is ccd ccd, there is no one exception in the lines.

The problem is the following:
Before Hopkins writes this work of art, the form was known to him; it was a preconceived form. Thus, he had the body, and he had to put content in this body to fill in material.

The question raised here is that is he able to fill the contents of this ready poem?
If we had to imagine a problem situation which Hopkins has to defend, we should say that if Hopkins is short in material, he could have end the poem at the 12th line, but the question is that could he stop and end at this line? The answer is definitely he couldn't because he knew before that he had to write 14 lines. Thus, knowing to write 14 lines is an obstacle. If we take an example, the Shakespearian sonnets and exactly sonnet 55, we find that Shakespeare has been short in material; he couldn't finish the work of art at the 12th line. What he had done, is that he borrowed two lines from the 3rd quatrain and wrote them at the end of the sonnet thus forming the Heroic couplet.

The task and the job for any poet is to create a balance between substance and form, the form shouldn't be larger. The structure should be able to carry the form, so it should be balanced. While writing this poetry Hopkins has a preconceived structure, and he has to fill in the material to create a balance suitable to the structure.

As concerning the stress, technically speaking he must put the stress in line 2 because grammatically it's not complete (appeal to); he had run in material between line 2 and line 3. There is parallelism in grammatical structure in line number 1 and this parallelism is not a part of language only but a part of material as well. As concerning repetition (thus and thus, but and but), it is needed, he can't get rid of it, for it is functional in this structure. However, concerning the conjunction 'thus and thus', the first one is needed but the second one is not, yet he has to put the second one in order to have a regular feet. Therefore, 'thus' is not a part of language but rather a part of material. The division is a technical poetic device in order to create balance between substance and material and if the division is not there then some sort of confusion would be there. Thus, the repetition of the conjunction functionally could be avoided, but poetically speaking we have to measure the substance in order to fit the structure, so it is technically needed but not grammatically. 

Gerard Manly Hopkins, by F.R Leavis:
He aimed to get out of his works as much as possible unhampered by the rules of grammar, syntax and common usage. But to the late Dr. Bridges, as to so many people, these rules were ends in themselves. He complains that in Hopkins writing one often has to determine the grammar by the meaning, "whereas the grammar should expose and enforce the meaning, not have to be determined by the meaning." English swarms with words that have one identical form for substantive adjective and verb, and such a word should never be placed as to allow of any doubt as to what part of speech it is used for because such ambiguity or momentary uncertainly destroys the force of the sentence. Now our author not only neglects this essential propriety, but also he seems even to welcome and seek artistic effect in the consequent confusion, and he will sometimes so arrange such words that a reader looking for a verb may find that he has two or three ambiguous monosyllables from which to select and must be in doubt as to which promises best to give any meaning that he can welcome, and then, after his choice is made, he may be left with some homeless monosyllable still on his hands. Hopkins is really difficult, and the difficulty is essential. If we could deceive ourselves into believing that we were reading easily, his purpose would be defeated; for every word in one of his important poems is doing a great deal more work than almost any word in a poem of Robert Bridges.

Mr. Charles Williams, the editor of the second edition of the poems concludes in his critical introduction that the poet to whom we should most relate Gerard Hopkins is Milton. The way in which Hopkins uses the English language contrasts him with Milton and associates him with Shakespeare. Hopkins imagery and his way of using the body and movement of the language are like Shakespeare's. He departs very widely from current idiom (as Shakespeare did), but nevertheless current vision is, as it were, the presiding spirit in his dialect, and he uses his medium not as medium, not as a literary, but as a spoken one because the more the language is near or conversational, the more it is effective. That is the significance of his repeated demand to be tested by reading aloud. Hopkins once says,"read it with the ears as I always wish to be read, and my verse becomes all right." The strength and subtlety of his imagery are proof of his genius. But Victorian critics were not familiar with such qualities in the verse of their time. The acceptance of Hopkins would alone have been enough to reconstitute their poetic criteria, and a technique so much concerned with inner division, friction and psychological complexities in general has a special bearing on the problems of contemporary poetry. Hopkins is likely to prove, for our time and the future, the only influential poet of the Victorian age, and he seems to me the greatest.

Gerard Manly Hopkins by Yver Winters:
A poem is a statement in words, and about a human experience, and it will be successful in so far as it realizes the possibilities of the kind of statement. Rhythm is to some extent expressive of emotion, and it may be used to modify the emotional content of language. The value of rhythm is not primarily in its power to intensify emotion, though it has this power, it is rather in its power to modulate and define emotion, so that a finer adjustment of emotion to thought may be power. Sprung rhythm occurs when two stresses came together by means other than the normal inversion of a foot, it occurs freely in eccentric meter and in syllabic meter, it may occur as a variant in standard English meter as a result of the dropping of an accentual syllable with the resultant creation of a monosyllable foot, or as a result of the equal heavy accentuation of both syllables of a foot.

For example:
1) No wor`st/ There is`/ none pitch`ed/ past pit`ch/ of grie`f/ No` worst
2) Mo`re pangs/ w`ill schooled/ at fo`re/ pangs w`ild/ or wri`ng

The first line is normal, unless we read the first foot as reversed. In the second line, the first two feets are reversed and the last three are normal. The reversal of the second foot is unusual as Hopkins says in his preface and is the first indication of the violence to follow. The rhythm is fascinating in itself, but it does not exist in itself; it exists in the poem. His rhythm is based on the principle of violent struggle with its governing measure, and it contributes to the violence of feeling in the total poem. However, it is this very violence which makes up question of motive, and I think one may add that the violence is in some degree the result of the inadequacy of the motive. Hopkins violates grammar as he sees fit mainly to gain results which he considers more valuable than grammar.

There is certain fluidity about Hopkins's use of "inscape" and its companion term "instress"; perhaps the most helpful explanation is that given by the late W.H. Gardner "instress" is not only the unifying force in the object; it connects also the impulse from the "inscape" which acts on the senses and, through them, one can actualize the inscape in the mind of the beholder (or rather perceiver), for inscape may be perceived through all the senses at once. Hopkinsian 'inscape" leads on to the image of the Imagists which Ezra Pound defined as "that which presents an intellectual and emotional complex in an instant of time."

The oddities of Genius by Robert Bridges.
Oddity may provoke laughter when a writer is serious (and this poet is always serious). Obscurity must prevent him from being understood (and this poet has always something to say). Hopkins says: "No doubt my poetry errs on the side of oddness. I hope in time to have a more balanced and Miltonic style." As regardarding oddity then, it is plain that the poet was himself fully alive to it, but he was not sufficiently aware of his obscurity, and he could not understand why his friends found his sentences so difficult.

By Herbart M. Mcluhan:
"Inscape" is the fineness proposition of feature mastering the recalcitrance of matter which he saw everywhere in the world. 

Walter J. Ong. Sprung Rhythm and English tradition:
Hopkins found a tradition in English poetry which was older and stronger than the one in possession in his day. He found a rhythmic tradition which could cut under and around the "running" as common rhythm of the nineteenth century, not because his new rhythm was the ancient rhythm of English but because his new rhythm was the ancient rhythm of English, and it was a rhythm still inherent in the language and only suppressed by an artificially sustained tradition. In opening this place, Hopkins achievement was not quite alone. After the dramatists and the wit poets, there had remained tendencies to maintain in English poetry the strength of the sense stress rhythms. Milton being an approved author, his work came to Hopkins attention. Hopkins then had found the tradition of a sense stress rhythm which we may also call the declamatory rhythm or the interpretive rhythm of English. Thus, rhythm (sense-stress) is a rhythm which grows not from the tendency of English to stress every second or third syllable but from the tendency of each sense stress, especially in emotional utterance to constitute itself a kind of rhythmic unit.

J. Hillis Miller:
Miller in his essay "The univocal chiming" tries to elucidate such idea. He says that the design of any piece of verse is visible and even more visible to a person who didn't know the language in which it was written; "So such person would be better able to recognize the precise sound shape of words." Hopkins poetry is "Speech employed to carry the inscape of speech for the inscape's sake." According to Miller, "Poetry like other arts is creative not in the sense that it makes something out of nothing but in a sense that it imposes upon the raw material of its art, words, distinctive and highly pitched pattern.

Other critics believe that this so called poem is not a poem because its form is a preconceived one. The form in front of the poet and his mission is to fill in material so that mission has a disadvantage. The obstacles the poet faces are whether he will be able in this ready fixed form to fill in contents and to create a balance between the substance and the form. Otherwise, there will be a shortage in material and this is what Shakespeare confronted in sonnet 55 and was obliged to repeat two lines from the third quatrain to end his poem. Moreover, having chosen a preconceived form would not allow the poem to grow, but Hopkins succeeded in making a balance between the form and the substance.

Geoffrey H. Hartman:
The purpose of nature in the divine economic: Hopkins has a poem written on this theme which addresses The Ribblesdale landscape, in order to be permitted to think of the purpose of nature in the divine economy. This poem is similar as Earth, sweet Earth... "That canst but only be, but dost that long." The landscape then, is a patience of being, is steady expectation, is the meaning. Hopkins has proven with the common belief that nature is the language of God. Hopkins tends to use rather simple idea without theological implication, his poems does progress by word and image. The rhythm has a physical basis, comments could be added to show that Hopkins conceived his words and techniques in terms of physical imitation. Rhythm, sound, and sight involve for Hopkins a sense of the body, his poems and notes are full of pride and despair at the separably sensuous characters of his vision. Hopkins poetry is first an expression of sense where as Milton might talk about chastity of the mind, Hopkins would talk about a chastity of the sense. In Hopkins poems one thing is obvious from the current language; he gets not only single words and expressions, but also constructions, repetitions, and interrupting clauses which are characteristics of the spoken language. According to Hopkins, Sprung Rhythm is the rhythm of common speech and of written prose. Hopkins with his sprung rhythm and his use of current language heigh lined proves the existing formal poetic pattern by including in it technical elements that are directly derived from prose usage.