Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in Stratford, then part of Essex on 28th July, 1844, to deeply religious parents?the first of nine children.
The family moved to Hampstead in 1852, near to where John Keats had lived thirty years before. At age ten the young Gerard was sent to school in nearby Highgate and afterwards to Balliol College, Oxford.
Hopkins was unusually shy and reserved and prone to bizarre ideas. He once argued that most people drank more liquids than they really needed and bet that he could go without drinking for a week. He persisted until his tongue was black and he collapsed.
In January 1866 Hopkins composed his most ascetic poem, The Habit of Perfection but a few days later he included poetry in the list of things to be given up for Lent. In July he decided to become a Catholic and by May 1868 Hopkins firmly "resolved to be religious." Less than a week later, he made a bonfire of his poems and ceased to write for almost seven years.
In 1874 Hopkins returned to the Society of Jesus at Manresa House, Roehampton to teach classics. While he was studying in the Jesuit house of theological studies in North Wales, he was asked to write a poem to commemorate the foundering of a German ship in a storm. So in 1875 he was moved to take up poetry once more and write a lengthy poem, The Wreck of the Deutschland, inspired by the Deutschland maritime disaster in which 157 people died, including five nuns. The poem was accepted but not printed by a Jesuit publication. This rejection fed his ambivalence about his poetry. Most of his poetry remained unpublished until after his death.
Hopkins chose the austere and restrictive life of a Jesuit and was at times gloomy. The brilliant student who had left Oxford with a first-class honours degree failed his final theology exam and although ordained in 1877, Hopkins would not progress in the order. That same year he wrote God’s Grandeur, and sonnets including The Starlight Night and finished The Windhover.
In 1884 he became professor of Greek and Latin at University College Dublin. His English roots, his disagreement with current Irish politics, as well as his own small stature (5'2"), shy nature and personal foibles meant that he was not an effective teacher. This and his isolation in Ireland deepened his gloom.
The final years of his life continued to find him in a depressed state and to restrict his poetic inspiration. His extremely heavy work load coupled with the dislike of living in Dublin, away from England and friends meant his health further deteriorated, even his eyesight began to fail. As a devout Jesuit, he found himself in an artistic dilemma. To subdue any egotism which would violate the humility required by his religious position, he decided never to publish his poems.
After suffering several bouts of diarrhoea, Gerard Manley Hopkins died of typhoid fever on 8th June, 1889 at the early age of 44. On his death bed, his last words were, "I am so happy, I am so happy. I loved my life."
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