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Gerard Manley Hopkins 1844-1889

Biography

Unread during his lifetime, Gerard Manley Hopkins is now regarded as one of poetry's great innovators, using Welsh and Anglo-Saxon traditions to create poems crammed full of repetition and alliteration. The result is poetry bursting with dynamic energy.

Born in 1844 to a wealthy High Anglican family, Hopkins went to Highgate School and then Oxford, where he was a star student, and established a life-long friendship with the later Poet Laureate Robert Bridges. In 1866 he converted to Roman Catholicism, and decided to join the priesthood. It was while training at a Jesuit seminary near St Asaph that he learnt Welsh and started to read the traditional Welsh verse whose rhythms were to influence his own poetry. His most famous technical innovation was the idea of 'sprung rhythm' which counts stresses rather than syllables, propelling the reader forward. To help express the rhythms of his poems, he borrowed symbols from musical notation.

His work as a priest took Hopkins to many different parishes, from Chesterfield to Glasgow. The loneliness of a professorship at University College, Dublin, proved even more difficult for Hopkins, and his final sonnets were poems of crisis and despair. He died of typhoid in 1889, unpublished in his lifetime. His friend Robert Bridges printed an edition of Hopkins' poems in 1918, however, where they were immediately championed by young poets such as WH Auden and TS Eliot.

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