The First Jazz Poet
Michael Rosen and poet Michael Symmons Roberts visit the Jesuit seminary in north Wales where Gerard Manley Hopkins created new rhythms and changed the sound of poetry forever.
Michael Rosen visits the seminary where Gerard Manley Hopkins revolutionised the rhythm and sound of poetry.
In 1875, stirred by the tragic drowning of five exiled German nuns off the Kent coast, Hopkins - studying in the Jesuit seminary of St Beunos in North Wales - brought together the rhythms of song, Welsh poetry and the chiming sounds of Old English alliteration to produce the extraordinary The Wreck of the Deutschland. This moment kick-started his poetry writing after a self-imposed abstinence of some seven years.
Michael Rosen visits St Beunos to feel the daily atmosphere of the seminary and the glorious landscape of the Vale of Clwyd which Hopkins invokes so powerfully in his sequence of poems written in the space of one year. Poet Michael Symmons Roberts joins him there.
Like many other students of English Literature, Michael was stunned by Hopkins' experimental breaking and re-making of the English language and heard similarities with the jazz of musicians like Miles Davies in these new rhythms. How was it that Hopkins could reject the long established pattern of poetry, with its metrical feet, and instead use the principal of the beat of music? How could he have been so inventive with poetry, fifty years ahead of his time, before 20th Century Modernist poets discovered how they could take these risks too? It's hard to hear Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood without hearing the presence of Hopkins behind it. For Seamus Heaney, Hopkins was "the main man"!
Michael Rosen and Michael Symmons Roberts walk through field and woods, look out over the Vale of Clwyd to see the view that Hopkins saw, discovering the distinctive elements of this amazing creative moment - the religious devotion of the seminary and the beauty of the landscape and the natural life within it.
The journals, letters and poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins are read by Samuel West.
Readings in copyright are by kind permission of Oxford University Press on behalf of The British Province of the Society of Jesus.
Producer: Emma-Louise Williams
A Loftus production for BBC Radio 4.