“THERE IS NO ESCAPE FROM INCARNATION”:
This curious comment of Edwin Muir's offers a means of establishing a link between the worlds of Gerard Manley Hopkins and David Jones. Edwin Muir, while born in 1887, only two years before Hopkins' death in 1889, grew up on the Orkney Islands where people still functioned in the ways of the pre-Industrial eighteenth century.1 When his family moved to Glasgow in 1901 he was thrown into the midst of modern life and so deeply affected by the changes that he, perhaps more than either Hopkins or Jones, suffered acutely from the impact of encroaching technocracy. The record of technological transformation that he witnessed in his lifetime stands as a bridge between the imprecise uneasiness with which Hopkins greeted technological progress and the impending sense of doom heralded by David Jones. In an autobiographical reflection written in 1954 Muir comments that,
This world [the modern industrial world] was set going when we began to make nature serve us, hoping that we should eventually reach a stage where we would not have to adapt ourselves at all: machinery would save us the trouble. We did not see that machinery would grow into a great impersonal power, that we should have to serve it rather than cooperating with nature as our fathers did, and that as it grew more perfect we should become more powerless and be forced at last into a position not chosen by us or chosen in blindness before we knew where our desires were leading.2
David Jones spoke of a similar series of events in the nineteenth century that reshaped religious and artistic landscapes. He and his friends, in the late 1920s, named it “The Break.” They claimed these developments created a worldview guided by rationalism, fueled by socio-economic revolution, and burdened with religious apathy.3 It was under the influence of this new movement that people began to separate “the manufacture of useful artefacts from the artistic impulse to beautify.”4 As Wilcockson suggests, part of the problem lay in the very meaning of the word manufacture, for things were no longer “made by hand” but by machine. Technology had stripped humanity of “hands on” involvement in the manufacturing process and had driven a wedge between artefacture, the process of artful making and “art,” the aesthetic product. The result was that, “As the number of useful artefacts literally `made by hand' was fast giving way to the outpourings of `lifeless objects' from machines . . . the Break in the artistic chain became inevitable.”5 Jones saw twentieth century humanity caught in the middle of this tearing apart. They had been programmed to regard usefulness as the paramount feature of any artefact; but deep inside, the very thing that makes them human--in Jones’s mind, their penchant for sign-making—leaves them longing for something more. In Jones’s words, “although man has found much to his liking, advantage, and considerable wonderment, he has still retained ineradicable longings for, as it were, the farther shore.”6
As an artist, David Jones felt the strain of this tension more than most men. He recognized the need to draw, from the modern technological world, valid signs that would answer his culture's “eradicable longings” and lift it from the mire of utilitarianism. Yet, a great obstacle stood in his way: An artist had to work from the “nowness” and “placeness” that is his, but how was he to find in his “here” and “now” a way to speak of eternal truths if the very material he sought to speak with was “significantly” dead? Jones explains the dilemma the artist is faced with in a letter to Harman Grisewood in 1947:
The root trouble about a materialistic conception lies here--if things are thought of as simply utile--as for instance a radiator or a gas fire or an electric bulb-- then a kind of conflict arises in the mind of the artist with regard to them, and he tends to go to earlier forms of light and heat, as candle and wood-fire, when he is expressing the universal concepts of fire and light. This in turn creates a kind of loss of touch with the contemporary world--his world, after all--and a kind of invalidity pervades his symbols--it sets up a strain. However unconscious, it produces a neurosis. Previous ages did not know this tension.7
Jones, in his dependence on sign as a vehicle for affirming incarnation, greatly feared the increase of modern utilitarianism, for he saw technocracy robbing humanity's making and doing of significance. This fear is expressed in his short poem “A, a, a Domine Deus.” It opens with the cry “I said, ‘Ah, what shall I write?’” The poet is literally stuck for words. Though he searches “without prejudice” to find some vehicle of expression, being careful “not to condemn the unfamiliar,” he is disappointed at every turn. After journeying “among dead forms,” “wondering for the automatic devices,” “testing the inane patterns,” and feeling “for His Wounds in nozzles and containers,” he concludes that though he thought he “felt some beginnings of His creature,” his “hands found the glazed work unrefined and the / terrible crystal a stage-paste.” In Jones’s mind, the “perfected steel” and “the glassy towers” of modern civilization failed to provide valid signs of the incarnate Christ and the poem ends with another cry: “Eia, Domine Deus.” The poet's last hope is the return of the Lord. It is not clear whether Jones is calling for the Second Coming of Christ or for Christ to infuse sacramentally this modern material with significance; perhaps both are intended.
Paradoxically, Jones does in this poem exactly what he fears cannot be done. While claiming the materials of the technological society are dead forms, he uses those very forms as signs of a further reality, though the images presented are, in a literal and photographic sense, negative ones. The fact that the images generated by modern society are at best “negatives” presents a problem, for they are one more step removed from reality. As such, the “signs” of technocracy are shoddy, inadequate, and at root, false: the “terrible crystal” has become “a stage-paste.” How then were art and artefacture to be reunited? How was participation in a technological world to be reconciled with a longing for something “other?” Jones’s answer was sacramental particularity.8
Jones, as did Hopkins before him, used the term “sacrament” in both a theological and aesthetic sense. Not only did the term refer to the seven ritual Sacraments of the Roman Catholic Church, it also referred to the ability of creation to symbolize, signify, or reflect in a mimetic sense the character of God and his operation in the world. For Jones in particular, a human being, whether Roman Catholic or pagan, was “unavoidably a sacramentalist. . .his works are sacramental in character.”9 Art itself is bound to the religious in the sense that all art is a gratuitous, intransitive, and delightful activity that is embedded in the practice of sign-making; and for a sign to be truly a sign it must signify some reality, something good, something “sacred.” Therefore, by dealing with realities, by attempting to address things as they really are, art becomes religious, according to the strict definition of religio, “that which binds man to God.”10 As Jones looked at the development of humankind, beginning with the far reaches of the prehistoric, he saw evidence of men and women scratching symbols on stone or marking their utile devices to give significance to the objects and the activities of their world. He concluded, presupposing that humans were at core moral beings and makers of things, that the process of making was therefore a religious, moral process and the object was in turn sacramental, in that it acted as a sign.
But, in seeking to use sacrament to communicate to modern culture, Jones ran into more problems. First of all, the very nature of the technological society stood opposed to anything that could not be measured and valued by utilitarian standards. The worth of a created object no longer rested in its religious or artistic significance but was found in its ability to perform a “useful” function or elicit a “useful” emotional response. As a result few people in modern society were receptive to, or even aware of, the operation of the sacramental. People who measure value and worth by the degree of an object's usefulness have no grounds on which to judge things that draw significance, not from their function, but simply from their existence.11
Second, if this problem of shoddy materials and unreceptivity is combined with the rapid pace with which technology and culture change, the artist becomes unable to communicate because valid signs do not remain static long enough.12 Jones uses the example of a poet to illustrate this difficulty:
The poet is born into a given historic situation and it follows that his problems--ie. his problems as a poet--will be what might be called “situational problems”. . . . The whole complex of these difficulties is primarily felt by the sign-maker, the artist, because for him it is an immediate, day by day, factual problem. He has, somehow or other, to lift up valid signs; that is his specific task.13
Some may argue at this point that Jones’s longing for a stronger connection between use and beauty is simply nostalgia for a “better time.” Jones would have dismissed this, however, since his plea for a linking of beauty and utility was based on the very nature of humanity’s humanness. He claimed that, “When man's works seek utility only they can appear to become ‘utilitarian’ only in a most derogatory sense, that is to say they appear ‘sub-human.’”14
To sum up the problem, so far, the following situation exists: Technocracy, because of shoddy mass production and rapid industrial expansion, is robbing humanity of the ability to lift up valid signs. The solution in Jones’s mind is to return to a sacramental appreciation of things. But because of technocracy's growing influence, people no longer feel a need to heed the call to such a return. It is a circular dilemma, or, more accurately, a downward-spiraling dilemma. For Jones, the only way to rescue sacrament, and in turn re-infuse the arts and the rest of humanity's endeavours with significance, is to cling to particularity. The artist can only communicate with the world through valid signs that are made valid by an embeddeness in sacramental particularity. Before the artist can speak of the meaning or worth of a thing he must understand and express “the haecceity or thisness . . . which makes a thing essentially other from some other thing.”15
This is where technocracy again ruins valid signs, for mass producing things that have strictly utile value robs the created object of any worth beyond its usefulness. In turn, the object itself denigrates its maker and the man or woman becomes less human for his or her efforts.16 The idea of using haecceity as a defense against the onslaught of technocracy is the theme of Jones’s “Tutelar of the Place”. Even the poem's title speaks of specificity as it uses the definite article to suggest that the poet has a particular location in mind. Jones calls on the goddess of particularity, “She that loves place, time, demarcation, hearth, kin, enclosure, site, differentiated cult. . .” to protect “our culture” from the technocratic bureaucracy of political totalitarianism:
In all times of imperium save us when the mercatores come save us from the guile of the negotiatores save us from the missi, from the agents who think no shame by inquest to audit what is shameful to tell deliver us. When they check their capitularies in their curias confuse their reckonings. When they narrowly assess the trefydd by hide and rod by pentan and pent by impost and fee on beast-head and roof-tree and number the souls of men notch their tallies false disorder what they have collated. When they proscribe the diverse uses and impose the rootless uniformities, pray for us. When they sit in Consilium to liquidate the holy diversities mother of particular perfections queen of otherness mistress of asymmetry patroness of things counter, parti, pied, several protectress of things known and handled help of things familiar and small wardress of the secret crevices of things wrapped and hidden mediatrix of all the deposits margravine of the troia empress of the labyrinth receive our prayers. The Sleeping Lord, “The Tutelar of the Place”
In this passage Jones uses the image of Imperial Rome to represent this totalitarian encroachment, he also refers to Rome as the “Ram” which is likely connected to the Roman deity Janus, who was often represented as such.17 In the first part of the section quoted above, Jones prays to the “Queen of the differentiated sites” to “save us” from the “mercatores” [traders] and “negotiatores” [bankers] who would by assessment and taxation assign utilitarian value to local sites and rob the “trefydd”[hamlet] and “pentan” [firestone] of particular significance.18 His use of Latin and Welsh terminology, the former to describe the agents of the Ram, the latter to identify the specific places and things of culture, confirms his notion that unlike the Roman empire, Welsh culture possessed a haecceity that openly celebrated individuality.19
Jones recognized that the tools and strategy of the modern technocrat were utilitarianism and uniformity and so he prays for protection from those who would “proscribe the diverse uses and impose the rootless uniformities.” The culmination of the passage is a liturgy of particularity. Jones invokes the power of the “patroness of all things counter, parti, pied, several”--and perhaps by the very language employed he calls for the help of a particular Jesuit priest--to receive our prayers and hide us from the planning strategy of the Ram's “Consilium”.
As Jones’s prayer continues, he shifts his focus to intercede for those who are already trapped in the Ram's system: “. . . remember / them in the rectangular tenements, in the houses of the engines / that fabricate the ingenuities of the Ram . . .” even though he recognizes that they are lost and “shall not come again / because of the requirements of the Ram.”20 His hope is that some remnant not yet caught in the Ram's thicket may avoid the Gleichschaltung [enforced rigid uniformity].21
So he calls upon the goddess to “set up hedges of illusion some remnant of us, twine the / wattles of mist, white-web a Gwydion-hedge. . . .” Jones’s “Gwydion-hedge” is an illusory barrier inspired by the character of Gwydion, the master of illusion in the Welsh Mabinogion. The close of the poem serves to identify further the tutelar and the Ram:
In the December of our culture ward somewhere the secret seed, under the mountain, under and between, between the grids of the Ram's survey when he squares the world-circle. Sweet Mair devise a mazy-guard in and out and round about double-dance defences . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . . When the technicians manipulate the dead limbs of our culture as though they yet had life, have mercy upon us. Open unto us, let us enter a second time within your stola-folds in those days -- ventricle and refuge both, hendref for world-winter, asylum from world-storm. Womb of the Lamb the spoiler of the Ram. The Sleeping Lord, "The Tutelar of the Place"
The use of the month December not only connotes the death of culture brought on by the chilling power of the Ram; it also suggests that the complete subjection of culture by technocracy is close at hand because the following month, January, is the month of Janus, the month of the Ram. Jones pleads with the guardian, who is now identified as “Sweet Mair,” to protect the seed of particularity and hide it from the Ram’s technocratic machinations “when he squares the world-circle.”
What are we to make of the shift in identity that the tutelar undergoes? Until now she has been “Great-Jill-of-the-Tump,” an ancient pagan deity closely associated with a particular hill who guards and replenishes that location. Now “Sweet Jill of our hill” has become “Sweet Mair.” The hill goddess has become a sign for the mother of Christ. How can Jones feel comfortable with such a connection? Perhaps because, as with the various characters in The Anathemata who were presented as images of Christ, he sees, in the pagan goddesses of antiquity, adumbrations of the “Mother of God.” Perhaps also, and this is connected with the theme of the poem, Mary, the “Womb of the Lamb,” is vitally connected to the particular; for, she bore the perfect expression of “thisness,” Jesus Christ. Once again the Incarnation, if even in a deflected sense, is intrinsically linked to particularity in Jones’s mind. Jones closes the poem by identifying the Ram in our day. He is made up of a collection of technicians whose specialty is manipulation. The line, “When the technicians manipulate the dead limbs of our culture . . .” suggests that poesis, and especially manufacture --”making by hand”-- is dead. It is replaced by manipulation, a skillful praxis employed by technicians to gain their own ends. The result is the death of culture. As Jones sees it, the only hope left us is to take refuge in the folds of the tutelar's gown and pray that indeed the “Womb of the Lamb” is “the spoiler of the Ram.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, unlike David Jones, did not have the perspective provided by three quarters of a century to stand back and comment on “the Break” that occurred in the middle of the nineteenth century. Hopkins lived during the phenomenon. As a participant in a society whose industrial and scientific progress was rapidly expanding, Hopkins witnessed the destruction of traditions, the fragmentation of the family, the growth of isolationism, and the erosion of religious beliefs.22
There were two common responses in society to this rapid technological increase: The first accepted the tenets of this new movement and embraced its new material advances as evidence that humanity was progressing and improving; the second rejected this self-improvement philosophy and sought to combat this growing sense of spiritual emptiness with a return to religion. Some who chose this second option found meaning in the practical spirituality of Evangelical Christianity, while others turned to the sacramentalism of the High Church tradition. Hopkins was of the latter persuasion and, after becoming unsatisfied with the middle road between Anglicanism and Roman Catholicism sought by the Oxford Movement, he joined the Roman Church. In itself, this decision reflects Hopkins' dissatisfaction with developments in his society.23
Hopkins was distressed by the sordidness of nineteenth-century city life and its destruction of humanity’s ability to create works of art. His opinion of Sheffield, taken from a letter written to Robert Bridges in 1878, is characteristic of his dislike for urban life: “Life here is as dank as ditch-water . . . my muse turned utterly sullen in the Sheffield smoke-ridden air.”24 Such a comment foreshadows Jones’s struggle in “A, a, a, Domine Deus” where the poet cries “What shall I write?,” for all inspiration is gone and there is nothing in the “smoke-ridden” city that can be lifted up as a valid sign. Hopkins' description of Manchester, contained in a letter to Bridges the following year, describes a similar scene: “very gloomy . . . there are a dozen mills or so, and coal pits also, the air is charged with smoke as well as with damp.”25 What a different picture of the world this paints in comparison to “God’s Grandeur” written at St. Beuno's, Wales two years before. Hopkins' surroundings are no longer “charged” with the brilliance of God, but choked by smoky dampness.
In a letter to R. W. Dixon in 1881, Hopkins expressed fear that the quality of life being created by urban industrial growth was stripping humanity of their humanness: “My Liverpool and Glasgow experience bid upon my mind a conviction, a truly crushing conviction, of the misery of town life . . . of the degradation and hollowness of this century's civilization.”26 For Hopkins, the dehumanization of culture and the emptiness humanity experienced was due, in large, to their inability to appreciate nature as a sacramental vehicle for the glory of God. This fear was not uncommon in nineteenth-century society.27 When nature was destroyed, Hopkins not only mourned the loss of physical beauty but also the loss of individuality. Whenever a created thing was eliminated to make way for industrial progress, another particular inscape with sacramental potential was removed.28 Hopkins lamented such a loss in his journal:
The ashtree growing in the corner of the garden was felled. It was lopped first. I heard the sound and looking out and seeing it maimed there came at the moment a great pang and I wished to die and not see the inscapes of the world destroyed anymore.29
While this passionate response to the destruction of nature was not an uncommon one for a nineteenth-century man, Hopkins' was more than the desperate cry of a nature-lover.30 The destruction of creation was robbing Hopkins of effective ways to reach God. Where David Jones felt twentieth-century technocracy crippling his ability to raise valid signs, Gerard Manley Hopkins felt nineteenth century technocracy stealing particular inscapes from him that could be used as sacraments to glorify God. In his struggle, Hopkins sought to renew humanity's appreciation of the haecceity of creation and so defeat the utilitarianism of industrialization.31
Five of Hopkins' nature poems strongly reflect the fear that technology, and the industrial progress it generated, were adversely affecting humanity's ability to appreciate the particularity of nature and recognize it as a sacramental channel to God. The first of these poems was “God's Grandeur,” written in February of 1877 at St. Beuno's, Wales. After claiming in the opening lines that God's greatness saturates the world to the extent that it overflows--flames out, shines, oozes--Hopkins despairs that humanity still ignores His presence:
. . . Why do men then now not reck his rod? Generations have trod, have trod, have trod; And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil; And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.
As the lines suggest, humanity walks recklessly about creation. The cumulative devastation of his carelessness is captured in the repetition of the phrase “have trod.”32 Little has escaped humanity’s corruption; everywhere the poet looks for visions of fresh, crisp, clear inscape he finds only seared, smeared, bleared and smudged images. Even the distinctive scents of creation now “share[s] man's smell.” The soil, from which humanity was created, is barren but humanity, because of their pursuit of progress and utilitarian values, cannot even feel the damage done. According to Norman Mackenzie, Hopkins was suggesting that humanity's unwillingness to respond to the “rod” of God leads to an abuse of nature.33 The octet leaves little hope for the future of nature. Yet Hopkins, unwilling to give in to the industrial trends of the time, reveals a source of hope in the sestet:
And for all this nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things; And though the last lights off the black West went Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs-- Because the Holy Ghost over the bent World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.
Writing at St. Beuno's surrounded by the beautiful Welsh countryside would have made it easy for Hopkins to remember that in spite of rapid industrial encroachment and its accompanying utilitarian plundering, the vault of creation was still rich. And like the hidden refreshment of an underground spring, freshness still dwelt in the inscapes of things as yet unblemished by technological progress. How is this accomplished? By the power of the Holy Spirit who, even though humanity refuses to acknowledge His presence, hovers over the fallen world. This was Hopkins' one hope for the salvation of creation, that particular inscapes would be recognized as speaking of God and that God would continue to infuse those particular inscapes with significance.
Three months later, in May of 1877, Hopkins wrote another sonnet with much the same message. “The Sea and the Skylark” was set in the “shallow and frail town” of Rhyl, Wales. To those familiar with the town such a description may have seemed ill-fitting, for Rhyl had no large factories or mining operations.34 The poem opens with the poet standing by the shore listening:
On ear and ear two noises too old to end Trench--right, the tide that ramps against the shore; With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar, Frequenting there while moon shall wear or wend. Left hand, off land, I hear the lark ascend, His rash-fresh re-winded skeined score In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour and pelt music, till none's to spill nor spend.
In the first quatrain he hears the ebb and flow of the sea breaking on the shore from its “low lull-off” to its “all roar.” The second quatrain describes the sound he hears as he turns inland and listens to the skylark climbing and diving. Both sounds complement each other; the ocean's low rumble is in harmony with the high-pitched delicate song of the bird. The freshness of the inscapes provided by the surf and the skylark lift Hopkins' spirit until he turns to look at the town:
How these two shame this shallow and frail town! How ring right out our sordid turbid time, Being pure! We life's pride and cared-for crown, Have lost that cheer and charm of earth's past prime: Our make and making break, are breaking down To man's last dust, drain fast towards man's first slime.
In contrast to the depth, strength, and purity of creation's voice, the cacophony rising from humanity's endeavors is “shallow and frail,” stained and clouded by a “sordid turbid time.” Humanity's song is only noise because, although humanity is the pinnacle of creation, he refuses to glorify the Creator. The song of the sea and the skylark rings true because what they are doing--being themselves--glorifies God and keeps them pure. But humanity, “life’s pride and cared-for crown,” is fallen and has lost the purity they once had in Eden (“that cheer and charm of earth's past prime”). The result is that humanity, who has rejected God and refused to glorify Him, finds all their efforts to progress--their “make and making break”--fall short and fall apart so that they and all their material products either crumble or return to their original state.35
Two years later, in March of 1879, after finding a row of aspens cut down along a favorite path, Hopkins composed “Binsey Poplars.” The second stanza of the poem shares much in common with the theme of “God's Grandeur”:
O if we but knew what we do When we delve or hew -- Hack and rack the growing green! Since country is so tender To touch, her being so slender, That like this sleek and seeing ball But a prick will make no eye at all, Where we even where we mean To mend her we end her, When we hew or delve: After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve Strokes of havoc unselve The sweet especial scene, Rural scene, a rural scene, Sweet especial rural scene.
Humanity's ignorance of God's participation in creation is revealed by Hopkins' lines “O if we but knew what we do / When we delve or hew.”36 As a result their dealings with nature will always end in disaster. By losing touch with the Source of nature humanity can no longer hope to deal properly with her: “even where we mean / To mend her we end her.” The delicate relationship between Creator and creation is explained using the image of the human eye. All the components that come together to give humanity sight can be destroyed by the careless prick of a pin, likewise humanity's intricate relationship with the rest of creation is terribly marred when they either refuse to glorify, or even simply ignore the Creator. In the last three lines Hopkins repeats the phrase “sweet especial scene.” This doubled emphasis on “especial” suggests that the uniqueness of the inscape of these particular poplars had gone forever, they had been “unselved,” and Hopkins was once again denied a sacramental avenue to God.
In September of 1881, after his short term in Glasgow, Hopkins was allowed a few days leave to explore the countryside of Scotland before returning south. He took a ferry up Loch Lomond and stopped at the village of Inversnaid where he composed the poem by that name. The first three stanzas contain a rich description of the river that tumbles down from the hills into Loch Lomond. Hopkins' use of Scots idiom adds a highland flavour to the scene (“burn,” “broth,” “bonnet,” “braes,” “beadbonny”). The frothing tumbling freedom of the stream is traced from its source in the “groins of the braes” down its various waterfalls, through still “pitchblack” pools, under the “beadbonny ash” to its home in the lake. Hopkins delights in the “wild” quality of the stream and he closes the poem with a plea for the preservation of this quality in nature:
What would the world be, once bereft Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left, O let them be left, wildness and wet; Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.
Perhaps the beauty of the scene reminded Hopkins of the destruction of the poplars and the ash tree in the garden and stirred this cry for the preservation of particularity. His question in this portion is rhetorical, at least for the person whose “spiritual eyes” are open. A person in touch with the Creator would recognize that the loss of “wildness and wet” hinders his ability to perceive God in the world. The unrequired answer to Hopkins' question is: barren and meaningless. Without “wildness and wet” the world would be reduced to a place of shallow utilitarian uniformity bereft of significance.
The last poem Hopkins wrote with this theme was “Ribblesdale”, completed in June of 1883. In the opening quatrain Hopkins celebrates creation's ability to fulfill the task God has given her, simply to “only be”:
EARTH, sweet Earth, sweet landscape, with leaves throng And louched low grass, heaven that dost appeal To, with no tongue to plead, no heart to feel; That canst but only be, but dost that long --
Like the kingfishers and dragonflies of an earlier poem, every part of creation “Deals out that being indoors each one dwells.” Nature may have “no tongue to plead” or “No heart to feel” but it can fulfill God's design by being fully itself and, by that very being, glorify God (Rom. 1.20). In the second quatrain Hopkins suggests that nature not only speaks of God, it also pleads with God to be released from bondage to corruption:
Thou canst but be, but that thou well dost; strong Thy plea with him who dealt, nay does now deal, Thy lovely dale down thus and thus bids reel Thy river, and o'er gives all to rack and wrong.
The Lord who “dealt”—and still deals—creation, gave it over to “rack and wrong” and now creation groans for release from this burden (Rom. 8.18-22). The sestet reveals that God is not to blame for the decaying state of the Earth. It is humanity's fault:
And what is Earth's eye, tongue, or heart else, where Else, but in dear and dogged man? -- Ah, the heir To his own selfbent so bound, so tied to his turn, To thriftless reave both our rich round world bare And none reck of world after, this bids wear Earth brows of such care, care and dear concern.
Humans, the only creatures capable of consciously expressing praise of God have ignored their responsibility. Hopkins eloquently outlines the extent of humanity's responsibility and privilege in an address based on the opening portion of Ignatius of Loyola’s Spiritual Exercises:
“The heavens declare the glory of God." They glorify God, but they do not know it. The birds sing to him, the thunder speaks of his terror, the lion is like his strength, the sea is like his greatness, the honey like his sweetness; they are something like him, they make him known, they tell of him, they give him glory, but they do not know they do, they do not know him, they never can, they are brute things that only think of food or think of nothing. This then is poor praise, faint reverence, slight service, dull glory. Nevertheless what they can they always do.
He who is the pinnacle of earthly creation has hid his face from God, refused to speak praise, and hardened his heart. The heir of creation is acting like a spendthrift, wasting the wealth of the estate and leaving nothing for future generations.38 Again Hopkins links the rejection of God with the abuse of His creation. Humanity, by their refusal to glorify God, pursue their own ends to the detriment of the Earth. The last two lines of the poem speak powerfully of the planet's response to humanity's negligence. Nature's brow is furrowed with care and concern because of their activities. Perhaps Hopkins was thinking of the scars left on the landscape by the many open-pit coal mines in Wales and southwest England. Had he been afforded the opportunity to read David Jones’s “The Sleeping Lord,” Hopkins would have nodded in agreement with Jones’s observations in the closing lines:
Is the configuration of the land the furrowed body of the Lord are the scarred ridges his dented greaves . . .
The world's appreciation of particularity did not improve after Hopkins' death, for Jones’s cry at the end of “A, a, a, Domine Deus” differs greatly from the joyous affirmation of Hopkins' nature poems. In the seventy or eighty years that passed between Hopkins' writing of “Pied Beauty” and Jones’s composition of “A, a, a Domine Deus” opportunities for the poet to apprehend God in the material of the world had diminished. The “gear and tackle and trim” of the various trades had been replaced by “automatic devices.” The rural landscape, “plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough” was fast disappearing under the “perfected steel” and “glassy towers.” Hopkins' excited recognition of God as He who “fathers-forth” turned to despair in Jones as he failed to find any “true beginnings of His creature” in modern society. For Jones, some modern material was not “charged with God” and the task of sacramentally affirming Him meant not only knowing “how to touch things,” it also required one to know which things were worth touching, for much of modern society's creative efforts proved to be nothing more than “unrefined. . . stage-paste."
For Hopkins, Christ's Incarnation and his subsequent promise of the Holy Spirit ensured that, for all humanity's disregard of particularity, “nature is never spent;/ There lives the dearest freshness deep down things." Jones was not nearly as optimistic. The encroachment of technocracy had done much more damage by the time he wrote his poems. Yet, even though there is desperation, there is not resignation to the system in his work. Instead, there is a determination to find ways of using particularity as a defense against technological utilitarianism, as his prayer to the “Womb of the Lamb” at the end of “The Tutelar of the Place” demonstrates. Though there are marked differences in the tone of their work, both Hopkins and Jones supply us with an orthodox means of connecting God with his creation.39
The task that remains for us is to find a way, appropriate to our own time and culture, of expressing that connection. With the present day technological complexity of “virtual reality” and the “worldwide web” of the Internet, the difficulty of the task has only increased. In fact, one wonders what record might have been left to us of Jones’s life if the bulk of his correspondence had been in easily disposable email or text message format. Hopkins' and Jones’s words no longer address many of the specific issues raised by our society's pursuit of technology. They do, however, demonstrate the need to find a contemporary voice to speak to those very issues. For as T. S. Eliot's muse advises in "Little Gidding":
. . . last year's words belong to last year's language And next year's words await another voice. Four Quartets, "Little Gidding"
(1) Edwin Muir, The Story and the Fable, (Boston: Rowan Tree Press, 1987) 263. Muir says, "I was really born in 1737, and till I was fourteen no time-accidents happened to me. Then in 1751 I set out from Orkney for Glasgow. When I arrived I found that it was not 1751, but 1901, and that a hundred and fifty years had been burned up in my two days' journey."
(2) Edwin Muir, An Autobiography (London: The Hogarth Press, 1954) 194.
(3) Muir comments further: "The nineteenth century sowed the whirlwind that we are reaping . . . The nineteenth century thought that machinery was a moral force that could make man better. How could the steam engine make man better?" The Story and the Fable, 257.
(4) Colin Wilcockson, "David Jones and 'The Break,'" Agenda 15 (Summer/Autumn 1977):126.
(5) Ibid., 126-27.
(6) David Jones, Epoch and Artist, 2nd ed. (London: Faber and Faber, 1959) 113.
(7) David Jones, Dai Greatcoat: A Self-Portrait of David Jones in his Letters. Ed. Rene Hague (London: Faber and Faber, 1980) 135.
See also his comments to Desmond Chute:
(8) As Carson Daly observes:
(9)Jones, Epoch and Artist, pp. 155
(10)Ibid., pp. 155-59
(11) Daly further suggests that, “. . . Mass production, shoddy workmanship, commercialized art, and an emphasis on utilitarian worth as opposed to traditional artistic or religious values, all encourage the public to be unreceptive to the extra-utile and, therefore, to art and sacrament.” (Daly, "Transubstantiation and Technology," 225).
(12) Jones, Epoch and Artist, 113.
(13) Ibid., 119.
(14) Ibid., 181.
(15) Ibid., 46.
(16) Wilcockson, "David Jones and 'The Break,'" 126.
(17) In pre-Imperial Rome, Janus was the numen, or spirit, of the household doorway (F. M. Heichelheim, C. A. Yeo, and A. M. Ward, A History of the Roman People [New Jersey: Prentice Hall, 1984] 41-42). As Rome progressed to an Imperial state this two-headed god was represented by a two horned ram that protected not the individual household but the gateway to Roman civilization (M. Rostovtzeff, Rome [London: Oxford University Press, 1960] 33). It may have been because of this evolution from local deity to state god that Jones chose to use the figure of the Ram, for this shift from local to state significance; the symbol of the Ram itself represents a loss of particularity.
(18) In addition to using mercatores as a reference to bankers it may also be that Jones was making a connection with the Flemish cartographer of that name, Gerhardus Mercator, who developed a "cylindrical map projection in 1563 in which meridians are represented by equidistant straight lines at right angles to the equator and any course that follows a constant compass bearing is represented by a straight line" (OED). This sense of the term would fit well with the image of the ". . . grids of / the Ram's survey when he squares the world-circle" which Jones employs later in the poem.
(19) For a more complete account of Jones’s views on this, see “Welshness in Wales” and “Wales and the Crown” in Epoch and Artist.
(20) Notice again that the imagery connected with the Ram is uniformly squared [“rectangular tenements”] and utilitarian [“the houses of the engines that fabricate the ingenuities”].
(21) It is notable that Jones switches to the use of German in this line: perhaps he intended to make a connection between the Ram of Rome and Nazi totalitarianism.
(22) Carson Daly, "Transubstantiation and Technology," 219. As Daly observes, “Ironically, the same technology which brought increased physical riches brought spiritual poverty.”
(23) Ibid., 219. Daly notes that, “For many, including J. H. Newman and Gerard Manley Hopkins, transubstantiation became the remedy for the existential angst encouraged by the sterility of the technological world emerging in Victorian England.”
(24) Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Letters of Gerard Manley Hopkins to Robert Bridges. Ed. Claude Colleer Abbott (London: Oxford University Press, 1935) 47-48. See also Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Correspondence of Gerard Manley Hopkins and Richard Watson Dixon. Ed. Claude Colleer Abbott (London: Oxford University Press, 1935) 42, for comments on his opinion of Liverpool: ”Liverpool is of all places the most museless. It is indeed a most unhappy and miserable spot.”
(25) Hopkins, Letters to Bridges, 90.
(26) Hopkins, Letters to Dixon, 97.
(27) Jerome Bump suggests that: “This lament for man's inability to appreciate and respect nature increasingly dominated 19th century literature as industrialization and urbanization spread.” (Jerome Bump, Gerard Manley Hopkins [Boston: G.K. Hall, 1982] 158.) For a more complete discussion of the impact of the urban setting on Hopkins' poetic sensibilities, see William B. Thesing's article entitled "Gerard Manley Hopkins' Responses to the City: The 'Composition of the Crowd,'” Victorian Studies (Spring 1987): 385-408.
(28) Though the term “inscape” is somewhat elastic for Hopkins, in most contexts he used it to refer to the quality of a thing that gave it its individuality or its particular “thisness.” For him, “inscape” was the essential feature of a thing which distinguished it from anything else. Hence he writes in “As kingfishers catch fire. . .”: ‘Each mortal thing does one thing and the same / Deals out that being indoors each one dwells; / Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells, / Crying what I do is me: for that I came.’
(29) Gerard Manley Hopkins, The Journals and Papers of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Ed. Humphrey House (London: Oxford University Press, 1959) 230. See also Hopkins’ poem “Binsey Poplars” for a poetic expression of this same sentiment.
(30) Two passages of notably similar attitude can be found in Thomas Hardy, Jude the Obscure, Ch. 2 pt. 1: "He could scarcely bear to see trees cut down or lopped, from a fancy that it hurt them . . .;" and in Henry D. Thoreau, Walden and Civil Disobedience, 87: "Sympathy with the fluttering alder and poplar leaves almost takes my breath away." Quoted in Jerome Bump, Gerard Manley Hopkins, 159.
(31) As Carol Christ concludes: "Insensitivity to particularity becomes the measure of man's corruption, of the destruction of his own inscape. Renewed sensitivity to particularity heals this corruption and carries man back to ‘that cheer and charm of earth's past prime.’" (Carol T. Christ, The Finer Optic: The Aesthetic of Particularity in Victorian Poetry [New Haven: Yale University Press, 1975] 100-101).
(32) As Norman Mackenzie points out, the reversal of iambic stress in “Generations” helps accentuate the plodding iambs of “have trod, have trod, have trod.” (Norman Mackenzie, A Reader's Guide to Gerard Manley Hopkins [Ithaca: Cornell University Press, 1981] 66).
(33) Ibid., 65.
(34) According to Mackenzie, Hopkins' description was appropriate, but for different reasons: “It [Rhyl] was purely a summer resort, to which a tidal flow of English visitors in annually increasing numbers, poured in from May onwards. . . . Hopkins treats Rhyl as a symbol of Victorian ‘progress,’ uniformity, and rootlessness. Like the semi-fashionable suburbs being flung up all over Britain, it had no history and little character or inscape." (Ibid., 73).
(35) As John Pick suggests, ". . . our materialism is leading us literally back to matter instead of raising us through matter to Heaven." (John Pick, Gerard Manley Hopkins: Priest and Poet. 2nd Ed. [Connecticut: Greenwood Press, 1978] 66.)
(36) Mackenzie considers this line "a deliberate allusion to Christ's words on the cross concerning those who were about to destroy his physical life 'they know not what they do' (Luke 23:24)." (Mackenzie, Reader's Guide to Hopkins, 109).
(37) Gerard Manley Hopkins, Selected Prose. Ed. Gerald Roberts (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1980), 108.
(38) Ibid., 153.
(39) Caution must be taken in the theological application of Jones’s work. His ability to draw parallels between Christ and creation must be appreciated more for their paradoxical value than for any typological significance.