Gerard Hopkins was the first of their nine children in a High Church Anglican family. At the grammar school in Highgate (1854-63), he won the poetry prize for “The Escorial” and a scholarship to BalliolCollege, Oxford (1863-67), where his tutors included Walter Pater and Benjamin Jowett. First, he wanted to be a painter-poet like D. G. Rossetti, and he was strongly influenced by the aesthetic theories of Walter Pater and John Ruskin and by the poetry of the devout Anglicans George Herbert and Christina Rossetti. But when he came under the influence of John Henry Newman his search for a religion found its satisfaction. In 1866 he was received by Newman into the Catholic Church and the following year he entered the Society of Jesus. As he considered the practice of poetry too individualistic for a Jesuit priest he burned his early poems. Only studying the writings of Duns Scotus in 1872 he decided that his poetry did not necessarily conflict with Jesuit principles. In 1874 he studied theology in North Wales, and he learned Welsh. Later he adapted the rhythms of Welsh poetry to his own verse, inventing what he called ” sprung rhythm.” He first served as an assistant to the parish priest , then he worked as parish priest in the slums of three manufacturing cities. Late in 1881 he began ten months of spiritual study in London, for three years taught Latin and Greek in Lancashire and in 1884 Hopkins was appointed as Professor of Greek and Latin at UniversityCollege, Dublin. This work caused him a sort of depression because he started feeling that his prayers no longer reached God; and this doubt produced the “terrible” sonnets. He probably suffered from what today might be diagnosed as either bipolar disorder or chronic unipolar depression and battled a deep sense of anguish throughout his life However, when he died of typhoid fever in 1889 he evidently overcame his depression as his last words were “I am so happy, I am so happy.” He was buried in GlasnevinCemetery, Dublin.
Hopkins’s poems were not was not published during his own lifetime. His good friend Robert Bridges (1844-1930), whom he met at Oxford and who became Poet Laureate in 1913, arranged copies of his poems Hopkins had sent him for their publication in 1918.
Hopkins brought important changes to the form of poetry
Fascinated with the older rhythmic structure of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, of which Beowulf is the most famous example, he created a rhythmic structure which he called sprung rhythm. It is structured around feet with a variable number of syllables, generally between one and four syllables per foot, with the stress always falling on the first syllable in a foot. In this way he can be seen as anticipating much of free verse a precursor to modernist poetry or as a bridge between the two poetic eras.
He also created the Curtal Sonnet, an eleven-line (or ten-and-a-half-line) sonnet, in which the octave of a sonnet becomes a sestet and the sestet a quatrain plus an additional “tail piece.”
His most famous and incisive poems include
Moonrise, God’s Grandeur, Pied Beauty(a curtal sonnet) where the narrator praises God for the variety of things in nature,The Sea and the Skylark and Felix Randal