Tag Archives: prayer

An Intense Life


Mariani, Paul. Gerard Manley Hopkins: a Life. 

New York City: Viking Adult, 2008

Reviewed by Ted Witham


The 13th century Franciscan philosopher Duns Scotus was one of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ heroes. Duns Scotus invented the idea of haecceitas. This ugly Latin word is usually translated by the equally ugly ”isness “, but would be better rendered as “uniqueness.” Haecceitas refers to the quality that makes a thing itself and not anything else. In other words, Scotus was encouraging his readers to gaze at things until they disclosed their unique quality. Gazing, according to Sister Ilia Delio among others, is a characteristic aspect of Franciscan praying. Duns Scotus’ philosophy places him firmly in this Franciscan tradition.

Hopkins pays homage to Duns Scotus in his poem ”Duns Scotus’s Oxford.”   This sonnet deplores the way Oxford has developed and grown since the 1200s.

”… graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural rural keeping – folk, flocks, and flowers.”

Hopkins has evidently informed this judgement by gazing  at the buildings and trees he so loves until he sees what makes Oxford unique.

”Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmed, lark-charmed, rook-racked, river­ rounded.”

Hopkins was expert at gazing. Ilia Delio tells the story of Hopkins gazing at a tree in Ireland for three days until it disclosed its haecceitas. Hopkins felt at home in the natural world of Ireland and Wales. It is this world, gazed at and wondered about, that is “charged with the glory of God.”

Paul Mariani’s biography reveals that Hopkins’ expertise was profound but narrow. His powerful intellect was trained at Oxford in the classics, and he remained absorbed in Latin and Greek even after the Jesuits had thoroughly trained him in theology.

The Jesuits seemed not to know what to do with this strange, intense young man, so they eventually sent him to Ireland on the pretext that he would help other Jesuits establish a Catholic University in Dublin. Even though he was on the Catholic side, Ireland was not a congenial place for an English patriot, especially one who found it difficult to make friends. In practice, his lonely years in Ireland were an almost endless task marking the Latin and Greek exams of all the children matriculating in Ireland.

Depressed and physically ill, he battled on until his death in 1888 aged only 44. He cried out, presumably in the mid-1880s:

“My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter, kind,
Charitable; not live in this tormented mind.
With this tormented mind, tormenting yet.”

Only hours before his death, Father Wheeler heard Hopkins whispering over and over again, “I am so happy. I am so happy.” Mariani’s simple telling of this story leaves us with the impression that Hopkins is finally happy because he knows he will soon be passing from this unhappy life to his glorious reward.

Mariani’s Life is richly textured. The biographer gathers a mass of detail and tells the story of Hopkins’ life chronologically. His sources are so detailed that he often reports verbatim conversations that Hopkins had on a given day, and records what he was thinking and confiding to his journal.


Hopkins’ story is simple. From the English upper-middle class, Hopkins would have been expected to remain lifelong Anglican were it not for his awkward conversion to Rome. This choice, made at Oxford, determined his direction.

It was a time when young Oxford men agonised over ‘going over’: John Henry Newman, another of his heroes, had done it a generation earlier, and several of Hopkins’ circle either converted or seriously contemplated it. It was a decision to be made, as Hopkins did, with lengthy deliberation and careful disclosure to family and friends. Some never forgave or understood his decision.

His lifelong friendship with the poet Robert Bridges only just lasted this decision time.

Hopkins did well enough at his theological studies and loved the setting of the Jesuit Novitiate at Roehampton, Wales. His daily walks inspired his poetry; he learned Welsh to better minister to Welsh-speakers; and he regaled his fellows with erudite jokes at end of term dinners. He was happy – or at least as happy as he would ever be.

His engagement with the craft of poetry started to flower at Roehampton. Paul Mariani shows how original Hopkins was both in developing the idea of ‘sprung rhythm’ and in paying attention to ‘inscape’. These are both complex ideas, and Mariani helped me understand them better.

Hopkins’ concept of ‘inscape’ is the poetical descendent of Duns Scotus’ haecceitas. Where landscape is exterior, ‘inscape’ is interior. It describes the qualities revealed when you gaze on something in nature or on the action of a person. Poetry is partly about capturing inscape, as a painter, in depicting trees and sky, communicates the qualities of the landscape.

Hopkins deeply understood the contribution Shakespeare had made to poetry and to the English language by adapting iambic pentameter to English poetry in both drama and poems. Hopkins believed that English is not a syllabic language and questioned whether iambs and dactyls and other syllabic patterns were best for English. So he experimented with a line of five beats – still a pentameter – that was independent of the number of syllables: this was sprung rhythm.

Mariani explores at some depth the influence of Duns Scotus on Hopkins. In a book of over 400 pages, I was a little disappointed not to find more about another influence: Ignatius of Loyola. I felt Paul Mariani played down the Jesuits’ influence of Hopkins. However, there is no way that a sensitive man like Hopkins could have completed the 40-day Exercises without being deeply permeated by Ignatian spirituality. Mariani may have thought that David Downes in his study on the Ignatian spirit and Hopkins had sufficiently covered the notion of Hopkins the priest-poet.

While still in simple vows, the Jesuits put Hopkins into a classroom. He taught zealously, and students remembered him as gentle and trustworthy.

They would surely remember his illustration of how Achilles hooked Hector’s bloodied corpse behind his chariot and dragged it beneath the walls of Troy. ”Hopkins lay on his back and had a student drag him around the floor.” (p. 333) His zany pedagogy sometimes connected with his students, but often, his students simply found him over-scrupulous and strange. Teaching was not his vocation.

Meanwhile, Hopkins struggled on with his craft: sprung rhythm and internal rhymes pressed into service to express his insight into the true nature of the world around him. Not that Hopkins was always convinced that being a poet was the heart of his vocation. He stopped writing for some years, disappointed that he was not being published, and unsure of what his superiors really thought of his poetry.

And so to Ireland, and to the lonely room with the desk piled high with papers to mark, and the daily walk and his poetry his only escape.

We might be tempted to conclude that he had lived the life of the archetypical Romantic poet: the genius whose suffering was transmuted into Art. This was the ideal that Byron, Keats, Coleridge and others proposed. Yet I doubt Hopkins would want to be placed with the Romantics. Every day, he might say, he had the privilege of seeing the ‘dearest freshness deep down things’, and though to the observer, his life may seem to carry the shape of the Crucified Lord, Hopkins knew every day the presence of the Risen Lord:

‘EnoughI the Resurrection,//A heart’s clarion!
Away grief’s gasping, joyless days, dejection.’

This disciple was not waiting for the after-life to taste the joys of life in the Risen One. He was enchanted by it now.

Bridges and GMH 1863For this lover of Hopkins’ poetry, this life was not only fascinating to read, but it was also good to hold such a beautiful book. The narrative is sustained with clarity over 435 pages, and a handful of illustrations add much it. I found myself often looking back to the photos of Bridges and Hopkins taken in 1863, and used as a pictorial epigraph for Part 1, and then flicking forward to the photos taken in 1888 months before Hopkins’ death in Dublin. These show  Bridges as a mature man with a vital eye looking forward to the future. Hopkins, by contrast, looks exhausted and grim, with his hair receding and his head tilted slightly backwards as though he already looking up in anticipation.

Mariani has captured for me the haecceitas of Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, priest and poet. Mariani’s inscape is an insight into his intense, short life.bridges-and-gmh-1888.png






The Reed and the Spring – H. Bosco

The Reed and the Spring


On the cape the worlds of this kingdom disappear,
Invisible vessels that towards Him you steer,
When will we see your light-house flood the space with light
And banish before it the sombre squadron of night?


What celestial map showing how to take the promontory
Are you carrying with you as you race around eternity?
And when will you reach the stopover of prayer
to pick up the Eternal One if the harbours won’t let you there?


When on the sheltered docks of love and unreason
Did you load onto the admiral’s nave
Some fugitive demon a dream on the run from prison,
The chief of stars, pilot in the starry wave?


In heaven’s calm expanses disappear
The ephemeral wakes of vessels of prayer.
Has the ship’s astrologer hoisted the beacon of humanity
Far from earth on the Holy Spirit’s firmity?

Translation into English by Ted Witham 2014

Le cap sur ce royaume ou les mondes s’effacent,
Invisibles vaisseaux qui gouvernez vers Lui,
Quand verrons-nous vos feux illuminer l’espace
Et chasser devant eux l’escadre de la nuit ?


Pour affronter le cap quelle carte céleste
Avez-vous emportée en vous courses du Ciel ?
Et quand toucherez-vous, si nul port ne vous reste,
L’escale de prière où l’on prend l’Éternel ?


Avez-vous embarqué sur la nef amirale
Aux darses de l’amour et de la déraison
Quelque démon du songe évadé de prison,
Chef d’étoiles, pilote en la mer sidérale ?


Dans les grands calmes du ciel où s’évanouit
Le sillage évasif des vaisseaux de prière
L’astrologue du bord a-t-il loin de la terre
Hissé le feu de l’homme au mât du Saint-Esprit ?

H. Bosco, ‘Le Roseau et la source’, Poèmes,
Paris : Gallimard, 1949, pp. 266-267

Jésus, sauveur du monde

Our translation of Henry Allon’s beautiful canticle Jesus, Saviour of the World, made for the French-speaking network of the Anglican communion.


Jésus, Sauveur du monde, viens à nous dans ta miséricorde :
sois notre salut et notre secours.

Par ta croix et ta vie offerte pour nous, tu as libéré ton peuple :
sois notre salut et notre secours.

Quand ils étaient sur le point de mourir, tu as sauvé tes disciples :
nous nous tournons vers toi pour nous secourir.

Dans la grandeur de ta miséricorde, brise nos chaînes:
pardonne les péchés de tout ton peuple

Présente-toi comme notre sauveur et notre libérateur puissant:
sauve-nous et aide-nous pour que nous puissions te louer.

Viens et demeure avec nous, Seigneur Christ Jésus !
Écoute notre prière et sois avec nous à jamais.

Et quand tu reviendras dans ta gloire,
Unis-nous à toi et partage avec nous la vie de ton royaume.

—Henry Allon
Traduction :  Rév. Père Ted Witham, Cécile Schantz-Rauld et  Rév. Père Ron Silarshah

Review by Colin tssf of “The Upside Down World of St Francis”

This review by Colin tssf, Provincial Minister of the Third Order for Australia, was published in the Stigmata Issue of the Australian Province’s Newsletter 2012 (www.tssf.org.au)

Very appropriately named, this book contains talks and workshops given by Ted when he was the Provincial Minister of the Third Order of the Society of St Francis. It provides those who read it with challenges that faced Brother Francis over 800 years ago.

Ted has selected eight talks to stimulate, guide and challenge us as readers to not only fully appreciate St Francis’s ultimate focus on God and all creation, but also to lead us with Francis in developing our own faith journey in Franciscan spirituality and to stand firmly in faith and to make a difference in the time God has given us. As Francis gazed upon the cross of St Damiano he was confronted with God’s call. In ‘Gazing prayer’, the first of Ted’s addresses, he introduces us to the 3- fold movement in prayer. He points out that ‘gazing, transforming, and acting’ lead us to follow God’s call as Franciscans with full understanding of who we are and what God wants of us.

The Upside-Down World of St Francis continues with addresses relating to Discipleship, the joy of poetry and literature in discovering Gerard Manley Hopkins, and the gift of this ministry. Hopkins on escape from his journals wrote, ‘I know the beauty of our Lord by it as we drove home the stars came out thick: I lent back to look at them and my heart opening more than usual praised our Lord to and in whom all that is beauty comes home, this busy working of nature wholly independent of the earth and seeming to go on in a strain of time not reckoned by our reckoning of days and years…… was like a new witness to God and filled me with delightful fear.’

The book continues and focuses upon Spiritual Poverty again with the challenge given us through Francis. Ted writes: ‘For our spiritual survival, paradoxically, we should choose poverty…..In our relationships with others, we should learn to hold nothing back. In our relationship with God, we should be learning how to give ourselves in our entirety to God.’

The Salvation of Creation encourages us as Franciscans, and as Christians to be responsible within community, a community that embraces all of creation, not domination of it. Money and the Third Order reminds us of our commitment as members of our Order of the wider purpose we each have in our journey in serving others, in making a difference. The First Third Order and Penance, leads us to Francis’s joy and love he had in the presence of God. His journey of penance in love reminds us of God’s unconditional love for us. This love he shows us each day in the world in which we live, work and play. We are called to reflect and discover God in all things, rejoicing as Francis did. Challenging greed and violence, raises the questions: how do you refuse to live in the domination system? What does non-passiveness mean to you? What would nonviolence look like in your world? In conclusion Ted calls us to transformation. So the challenge of Jesus and the challenge of Francis is to rebuild our community a community based upon love and not power!

The Green Passover of Francis of Assisi: translated by Ted, draws together this collection in our place within the whole of creation focusing upon the Canticle of the Creatures. “For Francis and each of us, ‘there can be no rediscovered creation without the inner becoming of a person. But equally there can be no new person without a rediscovered creation’.

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Buy the e-book:

https://www.smashwords.com/books/view/205347 (In all E-book formats. $US 3.99)

http://www.amazon.com/The-Upside-Down-World-Francis-ebook/dp/B008S4KOOC/ (In Kindle format $US 3.99)

Or order the print version from:

spirit_ed2002@yahoo.com.au ($12.00 posted anywhere in Australia; $AUD 10.00 + postage to other countries)