Essay on Depression in Hopkins' Sonnets of Desolation
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Depression in Hopkins' Sonnets of Desolation
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was, first and foremost, a man of the cloth. He seems to have set his gifts in musical composition, drawing, and poetry at a distant second to his ecclesiastical duties for most of his life, causing him to experience terrible bouts of depression. Hopkins poured out this depression in what are known as the Sonnets of Desolation, including "I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day," "Not, I'll carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee," and "No Worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief." In his 1970 essay entitled "The Dark Night of the Soul," Paul L. Mariani tells us that "while [Hopkins' friend Robert] Bridges thought that Carrion…show more content… Though all of his works contain strong religious themes, he seems never to have been able to fully reconcile his art with his job, his chosen way of life. "Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?" he asks the Virgin Mary, but it seems he is crying out to the heavens for succor yet at the same time utilizing his poetic talent to soothe and comfort himself through emotional expression (No Worst, line 11).
Another important factor in Hopkins' depression is that he was not successful as a priest. According to Mariani, "there is no hard evidence that Hopkins ever felt he had been the triggering action for even one convert. Yet conversions are what he wished for his whole life" (54). In the poem "I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day," it is clear that, perhaps as a result of this failure (and in his view, coupled with his artistic indulgences,) Hopkins feels distanced from and powerless to communicate with God: "And my lament/ Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent/ To dearest him that lives alas! away" (line 6). Here Hopkins laments his lack of accomplishment as a preacher, and lets fall a sliver of doubt regarding his poetic prowess; he has sent many letters to Bridges containing unpublished poems - are those poems "dead" as well? This isolation and severance of communication with God also echoes the sentiments of detachment from God found in "No Worst" as the narrator