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A Life

by Paul Mariani

Pub Date: Nov. 3rd, 2008
ISBN: 978-0-670-02031-7
Publisher: Viking

The intensely private, pious, sometimes melancholic and tortured life of the English Jesuit whose remarkable poems did not appear until a quarter-century after his death.

Mariani (English/Boston Coll.; Death and Transfigurations, 2005, etc.) employs the present tense throughout, no doubt to lend immediacy to the introspective Hopkins (1844–89), who broke, then reconciled with his moderate Church of England family to become a Jesuit priest devoted to the classics and to disciplined adherence to his vows. Using the poet’s journal, meditations, sermons and copious correspondence with friends and family as well as his verse, Mariani depicts Hopkins as a revolutionary poet who pioneered the use of sprung rhythm and used the natural world to inform his life, his preaching and his art. The diminutive Jesuit was a vigorous hiker, a voracious reader and a curiously asexual man, though he reportedly stopped a Latin class late in life to inform the surprised (and certainly delighted) students that he’d never seen a naked woman—but wished he had. Beginning in 1866 with the young Hopkins agonizing over his conversion, the narrative then circles back to his birth and proceeds in fairly conventional chronological fashion, each chapter covering a few years. The author takes us through Hopkins’s undergraduate years at Oxford, his Jesuit training and various positions within the order, including his final appointment as a professor of classics in Dublin, where he battled melancholy and failing health, writing friends frequently to complain about the onerous burden of marking student exams. Mariani stops periodically to consider in detail—and with considerable insight—the poems Hopkins was composing at that particular moment.

A revealing portrait of a unique talent, a deeply religious artist who saw God’s wonder and mystery in all.