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Eye Rhyme: Visual Experience

and the Poetics of Gerard

Manley Hopkins
Hazel Hutchison
This was the prized, the desirable sight, unsought, presented so easily,
Parted me leaf and leaf, divided me, eyelid and eyelid of slumber.

Moonrise June 19, 18761

n 1874, while he was teaching at Manresa College, Roehampton, Gerard

Manley Hopkins composed a set of lecture notes entitled Rhythm and the
Other Structural Parts of RhetoricVerse. The lecture begins with a definition of verse as an audible pattern:
Verse is speech having a marked figure, order of sounds independent
of meaning and such as can be shifted from one word or words to
others without changing. It is figure of spoken sound.2
Hopkins insistence on the sound of poetic structure is also applied to rhyme.
Having mapped out the essentials of Classical meter, he then notes some rules
for rhyme. Under the heading Rhyme to the ear and rhyme to the eye, he writes:
The so-called rhyme to the eye is when the syllables are spelt alike, as
plough and though and cough and rough and enough; but this is a fiction,
there is no rhyme but to the ear: rhyme to the eye is correspondence
of parts in pictorial art or in an infinity of natural things as the two
eyes and the two sides of the body generally, butterflys wings, paired
leaves, shadows in glass or water. (Journals, p. 286).
No sooner has Hopkins located verse within the aural world than the second
half of his statement opens up something much more interesting: a definition
of rhyme to the eye, not as a technical element of prosody, but as a kind of
visual unity available as the correspondence of form within art or as symmetry
in nature, either in paired opposites or in reflection. Hopkins goes on to say
that the very notion of eye rhyme is invalid because of the nature of rhyme as
a meeting of the like and the unlike: There are two elements in the beauty
rhyme has to the mind, the likeness or sameness of sound and the unlikeness


or difference of meaning (Journals, p. 286). Rhyme, under Hopkins rubric
here, is not only the matching of words in patterns on the pageit is a system
of viewing reality based on the recognition of sameness and difference.
The attention to sameness and difference is visible in many levels of
Hopkins work and thought. In the poetry, it manifests itself in his use of
metaphor, in his pursuit of the universal and the particular, in his word-play
and alliteration, and in the tension between form and freedom which governs
his use of sprung-rhythm. It is also visible in Hopkins journals, where attention to sameness and difference takes on a scientific tone of variation and
categorization in his careful observations of clouds, flowers, trees, and small
creatures. It is also evident in the terms of inscape and instress, which
he uses to express this view of reality from his undergraduate days onward.
Inscape represents particularity, the unique, inner form of each organic thing,
revealed to the observer through the senses. Instress represents connectivity.
It is the awareness of the connection between one inscape and the inscape
of other objects; instress also applies to the relationship of the perceiver to
the perceived. Instress is therefore the observers sensation of inscape, the
realization of form or pattern, and the recognition of the interwoven character of all being. Hopkins may privilege sound in matters of versification, but
his observation of reality and his awareness of instress and inscape is almost
always visualas it is, for example, in his journal entry on March 12, 1870:
I have always taken the sunset and the sun as quite out of gauge with
each other, as indeed physically they are, for the eye after looking at
the sun is blunted to everything else and if you look at the rest of the
sunset you must cover the sun, but today I inscaped them together
and made the sun the true eye and ace of the whole, as it is. It was all
active and tossing out light and started as strongly forward from the
field as a long stone or a boss in the knop of a chalice-stem; it is indeed
by stalling it so that it falls into scape with the sky. (Journals, p. 196)
Hopkins primary perception of the world is optical, and his verse can be read
as an attempt to translate the intensity of the visual into verbal form, to make
the world of the eye accessible to the world of the ear.
This study positions Hopkins within the cultural context of the 1870s
and 1880s, and shows how he develops his poetic techniques in order to
explore ideas about connectivity, sensation, the nature of language, and the
boundary between internal and external experiencethemes which would
come to popular attention in the early twentieth century, but which dominated Victorian intellectual life from the 1850s onward. In particular, I will
use Hopkins own notion of rhyme to the eye to interrogate his ideas about
visual experience. In a period which saw significant developments in the
science of optics, Hopkins developed his own scientific interest in light and


color to a remarkable intensity for a man usually perceived as a spiritual or an
aesthetic observer. His apparent knowledge of the discoveries of contemporary
scientists such as James Clerk Maxwell and Hermann Helmholtz, and his
own contributions to the public debate on this subject through his letters to
the journal Nature reveal much, not simply about his own ideas about visual
experience, but also about the cultural interaction between religious and scientific communities in the late nineteenth century. This study also explores
how these new ideas about visual experience are given verbal expression in
his use of metric stress and considers Hopkins awareness of the poem as a
visual formone to be seen and not heard.

Observation and Cause

Hopkins was concerned with the relationship between seeing and knowing throughout his adult life. In his student years at Oxford, 1863-67, his
intellectual development appears to have been fueled by a desire to develop
a personal philosophy that would allow him to reconcile the observation
of the particular with the production of overarching systems and patterns
of knowledge. Thus, as critics and biographers often note, Hopkins early
undergraduate ideas lay the framework for his lifelong preoccupations with
the relationship between the internal and the external, between the subjective
and the objective, or as Hopkins himself puts it between the instress and the
inscape of things. These ideas were part of a larger cultural movement sweeping through late nineteenth-century literary and academic circles. Hopkins
undergraduate training at Oxford put him in contact with some influential
thinkers and teachers, such as Walter Pater, Benjamin Jowett, T. H. Green,
and John Henry Newman, at the point at which subjectivity and relative
perspectives were beginning to pervade British intellectual life. And there is
indeed something profoundly relativist about Hopkins system of inscape and
instress, with its accent on individuality of viewpoint within a wider system of
relationships. Although relativity is now usually conceived of as a twentiethcentury phenomenon, attached especially to post-Einstein physics, branches
of relative thought flourished in academic circles both in Britain and America
from the 1850s, as Christopher Herbert notes in Victorian Relativity.3 The
philosophy of Alexander Bain, the mathematics of W. K. Clifford, and the
physics of James Clerk Maxwell all opened relative perspectives which would
be popularized in the sociology of Herbert Spencer, the psychology of William
James, and the scientific theorizing of Karl Pearson. In the late nineteenth
century, questions of subjectivity and the reliability of physical sensation were
urgent issues in the sphere of science as in the sphere of literature. Hopkins
own efforts at scientific data gathering show his willingness to test the relationship between empirical observation, with its dependence on the senses,
and the making of governing laws, both scientific and aesthetic.4 A number


of critics, including Gillian Beer, Daniel Brown, and Jude Nixon demonstrate
that Hopkins interest in empiricism grows out of his philosophical training
and the elements of scientific knowledge which he acquired at Oxford in the
1860s; others have noticed that this scientific trait spills over into his detailed
perception of the processes of nature.5 Indeed, most of Hopkins poems can
be read as radically empirical in structure, moving from closely observed detail
through analysis to the generation of principle. People, landscapes, creatures,
and objects, closely considered, reveal patterns of reality which are seen to
correspond to wider laws of existence. This pattern is evident in poems such
as The Windhover, Inversnaid, The Caged Skylark, The Lantern
Out of Doors, The Candle Indoors, Toms Garland, and many more.
That Hopkins often extends this process toward the generation of a spiritual
principle, a revealed religious truth which he sees embedded in an empirical
one, only demonstrates how tightly woven together these two approaches to
reality were within his mental world.
Hopkins relative streak is also connected to his fascination with flux
and motion, although it is hard to say which is the cause and which the effect. This fascination partly develops from the influence of John Ruskin and
Walter Pater (who was one of Hopkins tutors at Oxford), partly from the
Darwinian obsession of the age with mutability and change, and partly from
his schooling in classical philosophy. Hopkins undergraduate essays show a
marked sympathy for the thought of Parmenides and Heraclitus over Platos
idealism. In The Probable Future of Metaphysics, a student paper written
in 1867, Hopkins attempts to assert the superiority of metaphysics to science,
but ends up concluding that the meaning which metaphysics confers may be
constructed rather than inherent:
It will always be possible to shew how science is atomic, not to be
grasped and held together, scopeless, without metaphysics: this alone
gives meaning to laws and sequences and causes and developments
things which stand in a position so peculiar that we can neither say
of them they hold in nature whether the mind sees them or not nor
again that they are found by the mind because it first put them there.

(Journals, p. 118)
This intricate piece of syntax provides an early example of Hopkins stretching
language to curve it around a complex idea. It is also intriguing that in an
essay where he clearly wants to argue for permanence of value against the
ideas so rife about species having no absolute types and only accidentally
fixed, he finds himself wrong-footed into a constructionist point of view
(Journals, p. 120). Scientific laws are not necessarily revealed to the mind, he
admits, but may also be imposed on nature. Later in the same essay, still in
search of something to challenge mutability, Hopkins asserts the permanence


of artistic form through the experience of both sound and vision. He calls for
a new Realism grounded in musical strings and the roots of chords and in
imperishable forms such as the designs of Greek vases and lyres, the cone
upon Indian shawls, the honeysuckle moulding, the fleur-de-lys (Journals, p.
120). This argument mirrors the pattern of much of his poetry, where lifes
flux and variety and violence is soothed and redeemed by the action and
creation of the poem itself. Consider, for example, his late Dublin sonnets of
religious doubt, such as Carrion Comfort and No Worst, There is None,
which move through syntactic confusion and interrupted metrical patterns,
toward both formal and emotional resolution.
Hopkins anxiety about laws and sequences and causes and developments also surfaces in his essay on Causation. Cited by both Zaniello and
Brown as one of the earliest articulations of inscape, this essay shows the
undergraduate Hopkins wrestling with the philosophical problem of causality
thrown up by the subjectivity of vision.6 Hopkins analyzes the experience of
looking at the figure of a black quatrefoil on a white disc. Initially, he equates
the causes of the quatrefoil with nameable conditions and sources:
Its efficient cause is the draughtsman or architect, its material cause
the dark colour, its formal cause the four pieces because if there
had been three it would have been a trefoil and if five a cinquefoil.

(Zaniello, p. 23)
However, as Hopkins points out, these causes are less definitive if the shape
is viewed differently:
The eye looking at the figure on a church wall might however be suddenly struck by the thought that not a quatrefoil but a Maltese cross
was meant, a white cross thrown upon a dark ground. At once the sheaf
of causes become the effect, the old effect, the quatrefoil is scattered
into a number of causes. (Zaniello, p. 23)
Like Wittgensteins twentieth-century duckrabbita diagram which can be
viewed as either a duck or a rabbit, thus undercutting the process of interpreting visual experienceHopkins Maltese cross underscores the subjectivity
of perception and the constructed nature of what often passes for cause.7
Hopkins anxiety about the stability of causality exemplifies a concern which
preoccupied many Victorian scientists. For example, Pearson, exploring the
connections between language and science in the 1890s, arrives at exactly
the same impasse through his constructionist examination of the processes
of empiricism. Like Hopkins, Pearson concludes that cause is meaningless
because we cannot experience it but see only its results. It is merely a stage
in the routine of perception.8 Or, as Pearson puts it in another passage, the
perceived laws of mechanism are merely the conceptual shorthand by which


observers order and describe their myriad sensory perceptions (p. 5).
For Hopkins, however, the question of cause was not purely a scientific
one, but was also closely connected to his evolving religious position and to
his belief in a divine cause. Even here, Hopkins was encountering subjective
and constructionist viewpoints throughout his Oxford years. Jowetts lectures
on hermeneutics destabilized the linguistic authority of Biblical texts, and
Hopkins close relationship with Newman put him in contact with another
versatile mind tackling problems of language and subjectivity. During Hopkins
years in Oxford, Newman was working on his study of logic, An Essay in Aid
of a Grammar of Assent, published in 1870, and which Hopkins read in 1873
(Nixon, pp. 101-105). Newmans avowed intent in writing this work was to detach the realm of belief from the sphere of reason. For Newman, as for William
James a generation later, assent or belief is a matter of unconditional acceptance, which has nothing to do with mere logical inferences.9 The apparent
absoluteness of logic, Newman argues, is in reality influenced by emotional
and ideological presuppositions and by the perspective of the observer. It is
a system of belief itself. Like Hopkins in his essay on Metaphysics, Newman
finds himself arguing for a subjective, constructionist view of reality in order
to salvage the possibility of spiritual truth. The only certainty of knowledge is
possible through an intuitive faculty which Newton calls the Illative Sense,
a perception of things not known via reason but through a spiritualized form
of sensation or inner vision. It is not at all unlike Hopkins own notion of
instress, which allows the observer to experience the truth of inscape. For both
Newman and Hopkins, therefore, there is a form of perception that relies in
part on the physical senses, but which also offers access to a richer experience
of reality, one which is alert to the spiritual significance of material thingsan
internal vision that feeds on but also supersedes external vision.
Hopkins Oxford years shaped his view of visual experience in dramatic
and progressive ways, forcing him to interrogate the role of vision and the
other physical senses in the formation of knowledge: scientific, philosophical, and spiritual. However, his decision to train as a Jesuit priest, starting
in 1868, presented him with a new set of intellectual and emotional issues
to resolve. Most Hopkins scholars, with the exceptions of Nixon and Zaniello, have tended to see his Catholic training as curtailing his contact with
contemporary scientific theory and culture beyond his time at university.10
However, as the following pages show, it was in the years after Oxford that
Hopkins made his most daring assertions about the nature and uses of vision,
often in tandem with his Jesuit colleagues, rather than in defiance of them.
Hopkins continued preoccupation with the operation of the eye and the
question of the subjectivity of vision would have a profound impact on his
developing ideas about poetic form in the 1870s and early 1880sparticularly
his development of sprung rhythm.


Light and Color

Very little of Hopkins poetry was published or circulated beyond his
immediate friends during his lifetime. However, he did see his words in
print on several occasions. Between 1882 and 1884, he wrote five letters to
the scientific journal Nature, on the subject of sunsets. Two of these letters
concern a phenomenon in which bars of shadow appear to radiate from a
point in the East around about the time of sunset.11 One notes a green or
blue ray of light at the final moment of sunset.12 The others are concerned
with the spectacular sunsets which were visible in the autumn of 1883 after
the eruption of Krakatoa on August 26. Hopkins musters all his verbal skills
to describe these:
After the sunset the horizon was, by 4.10, lined a long way by a glowing
tawny light, not very pure in colour and distinctly textured in hummocks, bodies like a shoal of dolphins, or in what are called gadroons,
or as the Japanese conventionally represent waves. The glowing vapour
above this was as yet colourless; then this took a beautiful olive or
celadon green, not so vivid as the previous days, and delicately fluted:
the green belt was broader than the orange, and pressed down on and
contracted it. 13
These letters, especially this long letter published in January 1884, which runs
to a page and a half of the journal, demonstrate Hopkins diligence and accuracy as an empirical observer. All five letters also show a confident facility
with scientific language and a knowledge of contemporary theories of light
and color. He corrects other correspondents on the subject, discusses with
some knowledge the opinions of Professor Piazzi-Smyth, Astronomer Royal
for Scotland, and is clearly familiar with a spectroscope. Hopkins also calls
for readings to be measured by exact instruments, not by the untrustworthy
impressions of the eye, as he writes from Dublin in October 1884 in his final
letter to Nature.14 This letter shows that Hopkins is also familiar with the distinction between spectral color and pigment color discovered independently
by Maxwell and Helmholtz in the late 1850s, and that he understands the
relationships of complementary colors. He suggests that the green or blue light
sometimes seen at the moment of sunset is, possibly, an optical effect only,
due to a reaction (from the red or yellow sunset light, to its complementary
color) taking place in the overstrained eye (p. 633). Hopkins is clearly aware
that color is perceived within the eye as the residue of light either filtered
through a prism or medium, or reflected back from a solid substance which
has absorbed the other rays.
The scientific fluency of the letters to Nature also resonates throughout
Hopkins surviving journals, where he discusses his activities, family matters,


items of news, and the weather.15 Although he was always interested in the
daily shifts of weather and temperature, his records of interesting clouds and
skyscapes intensify after September 1870 when he was sent to Stonyhurst College in Lancashire for the second stage of his Jesuit training. In the spring of
1871, he wrote: I have been watching clouds this spring (Journals, p. 203).
Later in the same entry, he writes:
What you look at hard seems to look hard at you, hence the true and
the false instress of nature. One day early in March when long streamers were rising from over Kemble End one large flake loop-shaped,
not a streamer but belonging to the string, moving too slowly to be
seen, seemed to cap and fill the zenith with a white shire of cloud.
I looked long up at it till the tall height and the beauty of the scapingregularly curled knots springing if I remember from fine stems,
like foliation in wood or stonehad strongly grown on me. It changed
beautiful changes, growing more into ribs and one stretch of running
into branching like coral. Unless you refresh the mind from time to
time you cannot always remember or believe how deep the inscape in
things is. (Journals, p. 204).
Both Richard Cronin and, more recently, Catherine Phillips point to Hopkins
knowledge of Ruskins book Elements of Drawing (1857) as a source of his fascination with visual experience and the natural world, and certainly Hopkins
ability as a sketcher suggests that his close observation of nature was enhanced
by his artistic ability.16 However, critics have consistently underestimated the
importance of Hopkins years at Stonyhurst College (1870-1874) to his growing
interest in empirical observationespecially of light, color, weather, clouds,
stars and skyin the years 1870-1874. Hopkins letters show that he also used
Stonyhurst as a base between different parish postings, and he returned there
for a spell in the early 1880s to work as a teacher of Classics. Four out of five
of Hopkins letters to Nature were written during this second spell at the College. The letters to Nature demonstrate that he also read Nature in the 1870s
and 1880s, and would have encountered the work of Helmholtz, Maxwell,
Tyndall, and others in its pages, most probably in the College library. From
1840 until 1916, Stonyhurst was affiliated to the University of London, providing undergraduate teaching in subjects including law, medicine, philosophy,
and the natural sciences to those Catholics who were unable to take a degree
from many British universities. Stonyhursts Bay Library still retains a strong
collection of nineteenth-century textbooks and periodicals which would have
been available to Hopkins during his years there.
Far from cutting Hopkins off from intellectual life, Stonyhurst immersed
him in an atmosphere of scientific observation and innovation. Since 1838,
the College has been equipped with an observatory. During the 1870s and


1880s, two notable astronomers, Fr. S. J. Perry and Fr. Walter Sidgreaves, both
members of the Society of Jesus, were working on research at the observatory,
with a particular focus on solar physics and spectroscopy.17 In 1867, when the
Royal Society took over the organisation of meteorological observation from
the Board of Trade, Stonyhurst was selected as one of seven observatories
nationwide designated to gather data for the newly formed Meteorological
Office.18 The observatory was also a center for geomagnetic survey and, during Hopkins period of association with the College, Sidgreaves was at work
on a study of the relationship between solar activity and magnetic storms,
thus making use of Maxwells work on light and electromagnetic fields.19
Hopkins interest in weather and solar colors was, therefore, neither lonely
nor unsupported. With colleagues regularly publishing new findings and a
library well-stocked with scientific books and journals, Hopkins was ideally
positioned to keep in touch with contemporary scientific culture. He could
certainly get his hands on a spectroscope and other relevant instruments,
and he was confident enough of his knowledge of the field to tell his friend
Richard Watson Dixon that he was thinking about writing a book on Light
and the Ether, which would simplify the subject for the lay reader.20 Given his
skill with pencil and paintbrush, it is not unlikely that Hopkins would have
been involved in Perrys project of making daily drawings of the sun, which
continued from 1881 until the 1940s. This would certainly explain Hopkins
tendency in his letters to Nature to describe the suns colors in terms of paint
pigments: ochre, celadon green, Indian red.
While his aesthetic sense played a vital part in Hopkins visual development, his enduring interest in scientific ideas, therefore, played a strong role
in shaping his view of the world around him. Nevertheless, in his poetry, he
worked hard to bring his experiences back within the bounds of religious and
classical orthodoxy. As Hopkins training at Stonyhurst would have directed
him, his scientific insights are generally employed to support, rather than to
challenge, a God-centered view of creation. Like many others of his generation,
both Catholic and Protestant, Hopkins studied the natural world in search of
evidence for Gods governing presence within its patterns and laws, and his
use of scientific theory in his poetry is focused toward that end. One clear
example of Hopkins annexation of recent theories of light and color occurs
in The Blessed Virgin compared to the Air we Breathe:
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.


Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it. (ll. 79-89)
As Gillian Beer notes, Hopkins appears to be making use here of the work
of John Tyndall, whom Hopkins met on a walking holiday in the Alps in the
summer of 1868.21 Tyndall would later demonstrate that the blue of the sky
was not a stain on the air of the atmosphere, but rather the perception of
reflected light. This explained how the sky allowed other colors of the spectrum
to be transmitted through it without distortion, for example at sunset. Beer
argues persuasively for Hopkins knowledge of Tyndalls theories of light, as
well as those of Helmholtz and P. G. Tait, but she underestimates Hopkins
independence of observation and thought on the subject and downplays his
desire to develop his own understanding of the operation of light within a
theological frame of reference. The seven colors of the visual spectrum are
verbally fused with the Biblical injunction to forgive the sinner seven times
seven, thus playing on the Old Testament association of the rainbow with
tropes of hope and forgiveness. Furthermore, this section is an extended
metaphor within the longer meditation focused on Mary Immaculate, who
transmits the physical form of Christ in the incarnation and who remains the
central subject of Hopkins attention. So, for all his interest in science, and his
willingness to engage with contemporary debates, Hopkins is committed to
a metaphysical view of reality that provides a unified conception of existence
both material and spiritualeven when this causes him some tricky intellectual
problems. This commitment manifests itself in his search for poetic forms and
techniques that transmit the particularity of experience without distortion.
This search also leads him to the development of sprung-rhythmthe system
of poetic meter which counts the stresses in a line and allows the unstressed
syllables to fall where they will. Here too, Hopkins borrows heavily from the
language of Victorian science, and shapes to it his own agenda.

Stress and Reflection

In his book about Hopkins Oxford years, Daniel Brown notes the parallels between Maxwells use of the term stress in physics, and Hopkins use
of the word in poetics. Maxwells paper On Physical Lines of Force (1861),
which establishes the principle of an electrical or magnetic field, provides a
parallel, or even a conscious model, argues Brown, for Hopkins theories of
energy and flux. Maxwells lines of electrical or magnetic force within a field
become in Hopkins vocabulary the stem[s] of stress that connect and illuminate objects in nature. Brown goes on to argue that Maxwells later paper
A Dynamical Theory of the Electromagnetic Field (1864), which posits the


existence of electromagnetic waves within some sort of medium or aether,
matches Hopkins sense of a divine dynamic force in nature holding together
the material world and each thing withinwhat Hopkins calls instress (Brown,
pp. 238-241). Maxwell defines stress as action and reaction between the
consecutive parts of a body and also uses it to describe the pulsing of energy
both potential and actual through the medium:
The medium is therefore capable of receiving and storing up two kinds
of energy, namely the actual energy depending on the motions of its
parts, and potential energy, consisting of the work which the medium
will do in recovering from displacement in virtue of its elasticity.
The propagation of undulations consists in the continual transformation of one of these forms of energy into the other alternately, and
at any instant the amount of energy in the whole medium is equally
divided, so that half is energy of motion, and half is elastic resilience.

(Brown, p. 241)
Brown thus interprets Hopkins notion of instress as a dynamic equilibrium,
a field of energy and motion which also stabilizes all things. Of course, for
Hopkins, instress is not simply an observable principle in nature or the evidence of a divine energy in the material world. It is also the stablizing principle
governing poetic composition: metrical stress. Brown interprets Hopkins
use of stress in terms of language and sound. Maxwells undulating waves
of electromagnetism become waves of sound, or breathing, or poetic meter:
stressed-unstressed-stressed-unstressed. Hopkins innovation of sprung rhythm
can thus be understood as an elastic or stressy (to use Hopkins term) version of traditional meteralways pulling away from the form, but always being
drawn back into it (Selected Letters, p. 218). This interpretation of instress in
terms of sound makes a great deal of sense in the light of Hopkins own skill
as a musician and composer, a skill which informs many of his metrical experiments. However, Brown has less to say on the visual applications of stress,
which is surprising as in Hopkins own writings, instress is usually a visual
experiencesomething seen or the very act of illumination, an epiphanous
moment of insight. As Hopkins says in his description of the clouds, instress
reveals the inscape of things.
This conception of poetic meter as the dynamic stress which holds the
composition together relates to the pattern of thought evident in Hopkins undergraduate anxiety about whether laws and sequences and causes and developments really do hold in nature or whether they are merely found by the
mind because it first put them there (Journals, p. 118). Hopkinsexplorations in
prosody appear to be probing this problem with regard to the natural rhythms
of language and the imposed patterns of meter laid over these. Significantly,
Hopkins uses a visual aid to explain this tension to his students. His lecture


on Rhythm and the Other Structural Parts of RhetoricVerse, which I
discussed earlier, contains a diagram which explains how the regularity of
meter need not make for aural monotony (Journals, p. 282). Two undulating
lines are drawn above several lines of Latin hexameter verse, one charting the
prescribed pattern of the meter, the other mapping the natural inflections
of speech which overlap with and at times pull against it (Fig. 1). Hopkins
aims to demonstrate how the accents of speech, like phrasings in music, can
be used to create a counterpoint against the regular metrical pattern. The effect is a pattern of waves, thus creating a poetic parallel to Maxwells idea of
dynamic stress, a flowing energy that is elastic and yet channeled into form.

Figure 1
In each of the examples which Hopkins gives, the metric wave is divided at
mid-point by the caesura, causing the second half of the line to function as
a mirror image of the first. Hopkins borrows this reflected form in several of
his own poems, including Moonrise June 19, 1876, quoted at the outset
of this paper, which describes the visual contrasts of bright and dark at the
Midsummer balancing point of the yearthus further mirroring the poems
content in its metrical form. He also puts the same structure to use in That
Nature is a Heraclitean Fire, which, as Nixon points out, deals extensively
with tropes of light and energy. Hopkins model of meter as a reflected wave
therefore embodies his own sense of poetic rhythm as an example of a visual
correspondence of reflected parts: as butterflys wings, paired leaves, shadows
in glass or water (Journals, p. 286). Hopkins audible patterns of verse are thus
absorbed into his desire for visual correspondence, for eye rhyme.
Waves and reflections, of light, of cloud and of water, were clearly on
Hopkins mind in the months after leaving Stonyhurst. In the summer of 1874,


in the same year as the poetry lecture, he paid a holiday visit to Teignmouth
in Devon. On August 13, he notes the pattern of waves in the harbor:
The laps of running foam striking the sea-wall double on themselves
and return in nearly the same order and shape in which they came.
This is mechanical reflection and is the same as optical: indeed all
nature is mechanical, but then it is not seen that mechanics contain
that which is beyond mechanics. (Journals, p. 252)
This passage appears to present one of Hopkinss instances of eye rhyme, the
reflected correspondence of parts that reveals an underlying unity of nature,
which in turn may hint at, but can never fully contain, that which is beyond
the material. Alongside the book on Light and the Ether, one of Hopkins
other abandoned projects was an attempt to provide a scientific analysis of
music and meter, which would fix their principles as firmly as the law of
gravitation.22 And in his own compositions, Hopkins works hard to make his
application of the mechanical laws of prosody visible to the eye. His manuscripts habitually provide phrasing markings, much like those used in music,
which denote clusters of syllables to be elided togther in his system of sprung
rhythm. The manuscript of Harry Ploughman displays these markings as
arcs drawn above or under the line of text, linking sets of words to be run
together in speaking the poem: for example, though as a and his, as at a in
line nine, or wallowing o the in line thirteen.23 Cutting across punctuation
and semantics as they do, these phrase markings are clearly intended to govern
the sound of the poem rather than its sense. There are eleven of these phrase
marks in the fourteen-line poem, plus four pause marks and seven rest marks,
each of which introduces another curving pen-stroke to the text. These marks
of musical notation, like Hopkins stress markings, hold an interesting position
between the aural and the visual worlds.24 Although guiding the imagined
performance of the poem, they also demarcate the poem as a visual object,
one to be assimilated by the eyeand given Hopkins very private readership,
he must have considered that his poems would in practice rarely be read out
loud (indeed reading Hopkins out loud is never an easy process), but would
primarily function as an object for the eye and for an inner ear. These musical
phrase markings also create an effect very like Hopkins lecture diagram: the
effect of meter as visible waves of stress.
Hopkins awareness of the correspondence between mechanical waves
and optical waves and his apparent tendency to think of poetic stress in wave
form suggest a desire to find a unifying model for different types of energy
and experience. As Beer points out, wave theory was seen by many in the
late-nineteenth century to offer a sufficient explanation of all phenomena
both conscious and unconscious (p. 296). Hopkins understanding of optical
reflection as a wave thrown back on itself is also another manifestation of his


idea of instress as an encounter between the observer and the external. What
you look at hard seems to look back hard at you, he writes, suggesting that all
perception is a process of reflection within a field of stress, just as all vision
(especially that of color) is the perception of reflected light. This is both the
true nature of instress, because it establishes a line of force between the
seer and the object seen, and the false nature of instress because it turns
attention back on the self rather than allowing immersion in the inscape of
the object perceived. The observer is, therefore, tied to the world of his or
her internal vision, able to experience the external world only fleetingly as
a series of glimpsed reflections which show the self as much as the object or
vista in view.
It is hard to say whether this sense of perception as a process of reflection is the cause or the effect of Hopkins fascination in so many of his poems
with doubles of some sorteyes, reflections, echoes, pairs, brothers, wings.
Nevertheless in his poems the riddle of existence is frequently resolved by
some sort of returning wave. This returning wave can be imagined aurally, as
it is in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo; but Hopkins just as often
imagines the returning wave visually as in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, where
the just man
Acts in Gods eye what in Gods eye he is

Christfor Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

To the Father through the features of mens faces. (ll. 11-14)
Alternatively, the echo can be existential and conceptual, showing through
the mechanical that which is beyond the mechanical. In That Nature is a
Heraclitean Fire the returning wave takes the form of a verbal chiasmus which
articulates the double mystery of the Incarnation, in which God becomes man
so that man may become like God:

I am all at once what Christ is, since he is what I am, and

This Jack, joke, poor potsherd, patch, matchwood, immortal
Is immortal diamond. (ll. 22-24)

This echo is mirrored again in the rhyme of I am, and, with the repetition
of diamond, providing aural resolution and a celebration of selfhood after
the fragmentation and flux of the preceeding poem. Hopkins regularly uses
form in this manner. When philosophical certainty deserts him, as it does so
desperately in his late Dublin sonnets, it is the returning wave of repeating
poetic form that provides the energy which holds his identity together. The
creation of stress through the act of writing the poetic line reasserts the sense


of order and connectivity that appears to falter in moments of emotional
and spiritual doubt.

Rhyme to the Eye

The notion of eye rhyme, therefore, entails much more for Hopkins
than the matching of linguistic signs. Indeed, Hopkins experimental language
and his fascination with scientific analogies, such as the wave, raise profound
questions about the operation of language, of signs and symbols and their
ability to represent experience, scientific or otherwise. His anxieties about
the slippery nature of words, about the constructed nature of much human
thought, and about the tension between metrical patterns and natural speech
resonate in many of the theoretical ideas and poetic experiments of following
generations. However, Hopkins engagement with the philosophical relativism
of his own generation and with the scientific developments of the 1870s and
1880s demonstrates that his most radical ideas evolve, as did those of later
writers, out of the innovative cultural ideas emerging in the later decades of
the nineteenth century. Hopkins experiments in prosody and his desire to
interpret meter as a visual phenomenon should, therefore, be read not as
weirdly anticipatory of the developments of a future age, but as firmly embedded in the late Victorian cultural fascination with light and visionthe same
fascination that popularized photography, prompted the Impressionist and
Imagist movements, and lead to the rise of cinema as an art form.
Nevertheless, Hopkins dramatically Victorian poetics should not only
be read in the context of universal statements about the culture of his age.
Hopkins poetry was also personal and particular, each poem hand-crafted
to reflect the intensity of an often fleeting impression caught on the sensitive
register of his extraordinarily alert perception. Hopkins oeuvre, therefore, like
each of his poems, should be seen as an articulation of the tension, or stress,
between the particular and the universal, the individual and the collective, the
inscape of his own nature and the wider instress of his intellectual environment. And Hopkins own search for imperishable forms in an increasingly
relativistic view of reality shows his willingness to wrestle withif never to
solvethe problem of whether sequences and laws within language as in nature
are objectively apprehended or imposed on the riot of sensory experience
available to the individual mind. Thus, the act of writing, particularly the act
of writing in verse, becomes the means by which to both discover and create
patterns of correspondence that make sense of human sensation. For Hopkins,
therefore, all poetry is ultimately rhyme to the eye: the correspondence of
parts . . . in an infinity of natural things (Journals, p. 286).


1 Gerard Manley Hopkins, Poetical Works, ed. Norman H. MacKenzie (Oxford: Clarendon, 1990), p. 131, ll. 6-7. All quotations hereafter are from this edition and are
referenced by line only.
2 Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Humphry
House and Graham Storey (London: Oxford Univ. Press, 1959), p. 267. Hereafter cited
as Journals.
3 Christopher Herbert, Victorian Relativity (Chicago: Chicago Univ. Press, 2001).
4 For example, see Hopkins extended observations on the differing varieties of oak
trees in July 1867. This material accumulates until it eventually resolves into what
Hopkins calls a law of visual form. I have now found the law of the oak leaves. It
is of platter-shaped stars altogether; the leaves lie close, like pages, packed, and as if
drawn tightly to. But these old packs, which lie at the end of their twigs, throw out
now long sprays alternately and slimly leaved, looking like bright keys. All the sprays
but markedly these ones shape out and as it were embrace greater circles and the dip
and toss of these make the wider and less organic articulations of the tree (Journals,
p. 146).
5 Gillian Beer, Open Fields: Science in Cultural Encounter (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press,
1996); Daniel Brown, Hopkinss Idealism: Philosophy, Physics, Poetry (Oxford: Clarendon
Press, 1997); Jude V. Nixon, Gerard Manley Hopkins and his Contemporaries: Liddon, Newman, Darwin and Pater (London: Garland, 1994). See also Patricia Ball, The Science of
Aspects: The Changing Role of Fact in the Work of Coleridge, Ruskin and Hopkins (London:
Athlone Press, 1971) and Richard Cronin, Colour and Experience in Nineteenth-Century
Poetry (London: Macmillan, 1988).
6 Gerard Manley Hopkins, Causation, repr. in Tom Zaniello, The Sources of Hopkins
Inscape, Victorian Newsletter 52 (1977): 22-23. See also Brown, pp. 67-76.
7 Ludwig Wittgenstein, Philosophical Investigations (1953; repr. London: Blackwell, 2001),
8 Karl Pearson, The Grammar of Science (1892; repr. London: Dent, 1937), p. 112.
9 John Henry Newman, An Essay in Aid of a Grammar of Assent (1870; repr. Garden City,
New York: Doubleday, 1955), p. 241.
10 Tom Zaniello, The Stonyhurst Philosophers in Hopkins in the Age of Darwin (Iowa
City: Univ. of Iowa Press, 1988), pp. 92-116. Nixon also notes that Hopkinss scientific interest was fueled by Stonyhurst College with its cadre of notable scientists
(Jude V. Nixon, Death Blots Black Out: Thermodynamics and the Poetry of Gerard
Manley Hopkins, VP 40, no. 2 [2002]: 134.
11 Gerard Hopkins, A Curious Halo, Nature 27 (1882): 53. Gerard Hopkins, Shadow
Beams in the East at Sunset, Nature 29 (1883): 55.
12 G. H. Hopkins, The Green Sun, Nature 29 (1883): 7.
13 Gerard Hopkins, The Remarkable Sunsets, Nature 28 (1884): 222.
14 G. M. H., The Red Light Around the SunThe Sun Blue or Green at Setting, Nature
30 (1884): 633.
15 Storey notes that Hopkins probably kept a separate journal as a spiritual diary
(Journals, xxv).
16 Catherine Phillips, Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Victorian Visual World (Oxford:


Oxford Univ. Press, 2007), pp. 3, 43.
17 See Anon, Walter Sidgreaves: Obituary Notice, Monthly Notes of the Royal Astronomical
Society 80 (1919-20): 355; Allan Chapman, The Victorian Amateur Astronomer (Chichester: Wiley-Praxis, 1998); P. J. Treanor, Stonyhurst College Observatory, Nature
4086 (February 21, 1948): 285. Nixon notes that Hopkins was already interested in
spectroscopy, which he discusses in his undergraduate essay The Tests of Progressive
Science (Death Blots Black Out, p. 132).
18 Katharine Anderson, Predicting the Weather: Victorians and the Science of Meteorology
(Chicago: Univ. of Chicago Press, 2005), pp. 127-130.
19 Basil Mahon, The Man Who Changed Everything: The Life of James Clerk Maxwell (Chichester: Wiley, 2003) and P. M. Harman, The Natural Philosophy of James Clerk Maxwell
(Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1998).
20 Gerard Manley Hopkins, Selected Letters, ed. Catherine Phillips (Oxford: Oxford Univ.
Press, 1990), p. 233.
21 Gillian Beer, Helmholtz, Tyndall, Gerard Manley Hopkins: Leaps of the Prepared
Imagination, in Open Fields, p. 260.
22 Gerard Manley Hopkins, Further Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed. Claude Colleer
Abbott, 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1970), pp. 376-377.
23 Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Later Poetic Manuscripts of Gerard Manley Hopkins, ed.
Norman H. MacKenzie (New York: Garland, 1991), p. 313.
24 See also Meredith Martin, Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Stigma of Stress, Victorian Studies 50, no. 2 (2008): 243-253.

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