Hopkins's Poetics of Speech Sound

Hopkins's Poetics of Speech Sound: Sprung Rhythm, Lettering, Inscape

JAMES I. WIMSATT
Copyright Date: 2006
Pages: 192
https://www.jstor.org/stable/10.3138/9781442675865
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  • Book Info
    Hopkins's Poetics of Speech Sound
    Book Description:

    Although virtually unknown in his lifetime, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) is counted today among the great nineteenth-century poets. His poetry was collected and published posthumously by his friend Robert Bridges in 1917, and subsequently Hopkins's reputation flowered, though more as a modern writer than as Victorian, and very little as a poetic theorist. Yet the body of Hopkins's critical writing reveals sharp insight into the subject of poetics, and presents an innovative theory that locates primary poetic meaning in 'figures of speech sound.'

    These 'figures of speech sound' provide the focus for James I. Wimsatt's erudite and original study. Drawing from Hopkins's diaries, letters, student essays, and correspondence with poet-friends, Wimsatt illuminates Hopkins's theory that the sound of poetic language carries an emotional, not merely logical and grammatical, meaning. Wimsatt concentrates his study on Hopkins's writings about 'sprung rhythm,' 'lettering,' and 'inscape,' - his coinages - and makes abundant reference to Hopkins's verse, showing how it exemplifies his language theory. A well-researched and highly detailed book,Hopkins's Poetics of Speech Soundasserts major significance for a relatively neglected aspect of this important poet's writings.

    eISBN: 978-1-4426-7586-5
    Subjects: Language & Literature

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-iv)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. v-vi)
  3. Acknowledgments
    (pp. vii-viii)
  4. Abbreviations
    (pp. ix-2)
  5. Introduction: Hopkins’s Manifesto – ‘Poetry and Verse’
    (pp. 3-17)

    This book is about Gerard Manley Hopkins’s theory of poetry as expressed in his prose writings, not in the first place about his verse. Numerous fine interpretive studies and books have been written on the poetry, but since I deal here with his poetic theory, there are limited occasions on which to cite such criticism. At the same time, because his poetry often provides some of the best support for his theoretical statements, I do instance Hopkins’s poetic practice repeatedly. In combining to form a coherent and impressive poetics of speech sound, Hopkins’s theoretical writings, which lie fragmentary and scattered...

  6. 1 Sprung Rhythm: The Music of Speech
    (pp. 18-45)

    In a letter to Canon Dixon in 1878 Hopkins provides a short history and description of his sprung-rhythm verse. He recounts that after he became a Jesuit he refrained for seven years from composing poetry, ‘as not belonging to my profession,’ but when he mentioned to his rector his intense feelings about the sinking of theDeutschlandoff the English shore, the rector hinted indirectly that he might write a poem on the subject. Obviously, Hopkins was not slow to take the hint. It was then that he ‘realised on paper’ a ‘new rhythm’ whose ‘echo’ had been ‘haunting’ his...

  7. 2 Sprung Rhythm: The Music of Verse
    (pp. 46-72)

    In ‘Poetry and Verse’ Hopkins indicates that human speech embodies the pre-eminent values of language that are realized in poetry. He states that native speech rhythms embody most markedly the ‘inscape’ of speech, whose revelation is the object of poetry, and he implies in a letter to his brother Everard that prose as well as verse can qualify as poetry, prose conceivably being more beautiful than verse, ‘even though debarred of [verse’s] symmetrical beauties’ (LIV 220). Such statements seem to subordinate the role of versification. Notwithstanding, as the complexity of Hopkins’s own verse testifies, versification has intrinsicpoeticsignificance for...

  8. 3 Lettering: Rhyme ‘Widely’ Understood
    (pp. 73-95)

    The figures of rhythm, Hopkins has said, give ‘more tone,candorem, style, chasteness’ to the sound continuum of poetic speech. Rhythm purifies and brightens the figures while helping to detach the inscape to the mind. The poet similarly attributes a major function, coordinate with that of rhythm, to ‘rhyme, in a wide sense,’ that is, to ‘intermittent’ repetitions of the segmental sound figures, including end-rhyme, alliteration, assonance, vowel progressions, and similar devices, for which he coins the apt general term,lettering. Lettering contributes ‘brilliancy, starriness, quain, margaretting’ (J 290) to the speech figures. It makes the sound figures sparkle at...

  9. 4 ‘Inscape’ and Poetic Meaning
    (pp. 96-123)

    Literary critics commonly have agreed that the significance of poetry reaches beyond that of its lexical and grammatical meaning. But these analysts mostly assume that the exact nature of poetry’s special significance is muffled under an impenetrable mystical veil: reading poetry, one hears the ‘wingbeats of the unknown,’ as George Steiner has it, but Steiner leaves the source of the wingbeats pleasantly mysterious. Hopkins, however, an inveterate theorist, does not circle around the problem. Much like a Scholastic philosopher, he has faith that even the latent significance of the patterns of human speech sound may be approached by way of...

  10. 5 Poetry as the Language of the Body
    (pp. 124-141)

    It seems that Hopkins wrote substantially more poetry before he formulated sprung rhythm than he did afterward. Though he reports burning his poems in May 1868, when he decided on a religious life, enough remains of the early work to outweigh what was to come. Of the 179 poems gathered in the standard edition (P), 100 were composed before sprung rhythm. Yet most of the 100 are hardly known. Of them, only the briefHeaven-Haven(1864) andHabit of Perfection(1866) have drawn general critical interest. The contrast with the great celebrity of the later work is remarkable, and the...

  11. Conclusion: ‘The Music of His Mind’ – Hopkins’s Poetry and His Poetics
    (pp. 142-150)

    Hopkins’s poetic texts, even more than his diaries and correspondence, provide compelling evidence that the poet’s sensory experiences and his responses to them were exceptionally intense. His most celebrated sprung rhythm lyrics evidently were written in two surges of emotional energy. The first issued in a series of sonnets composed shortly after his ordination in 1877, which describe in highly charged figurative terms a ‘kingdom of daylight’ that in one way or another reflects a loving and all-encompassing deity, poems such asGod’s Grandeur,Pied Beauty, andThe Windhover. The second produced the series of Dark Sonnets, composed around 1884...

  12. Works Cited
    (pp. 151-156)
  13. Index
    (pp. 157-162)