Top ten things you may not have known about G.M. Hopkins


1.) His nickname as a teenager at school was “Skin.”

1.a.) He was home schooled until he was about ten, and then almost got expelled from the school he eventually attended.

2.) The Hopkins family motto was Esse quan videri – “To be rather than to seem.”

3.) By the time Hopkins had begun writing poems seriously, the best selling poetry book of the century was John Keble’s The Christian Year, which went through 150 editions and sold 350,000 copies.

4.) When Hopkins saw Tintern Abbey, made famous by Wordsworth, he declared it to be merely “typical English workmanship.” OK, his actual words were “typical English work.”

5.) This is how close in time Hopkins is to us: his sister Katie lived until 1933 and his sister Millicent until 1946; his brother Lionel – an agnostic - lived till 1952, having never understood his brother’s path in life.

6.) Hopkins’ father Manley was also a poet, and dedicated one of his books to his friend, the comic- and picture-poet Thomas Hood.

7.) Hopkins’ father was in the insurance business, a self-made man who lifted himself from poverty to master French, Latin, and Greek on his own.

8.) Hopkins’ family had many ties to… Hawaii!

9.) Hopkins’ maternal grandfather was a doctor who got his medical training in London with Keats.

10.) Hopkins' first published poem consisted of thirty-two lines in terza rima.

- Read more about G.M.H. in Paul Mariani's new biography, Gerard Manley Hopkins, published by Viking. The picture of Hopkins above is a self-portrait.

Originally Published: August 21st, 2008

Don Share became the editor of Poetry in 2013. His books of poetry are Wishbone (2012), Squandermania (2007), and Union (2013, 2002). He is the co-editor of The Open Door: 100 Poems, 100 Years of Poetry Magazine (2012), and editor of Bunting's Persia (2012) and a critical edition of Basil Bunting's poems (2016). He...

  1. August 21, 2008
     Henry Gould

    In my 56 odd years of experience, anyway, when somebody - poets, non-poets, anybody - bursts into memorized recitation - the verse is most-often that of GM Hopkins.
    (Disclaimer : I grew up in a town in Minnesota called Hopkins. I went to a school there called Blake. So did poet Allen Grossman. And we shall build Jerusalem in England's green & pleasant land.)

  2. August 21, 2008
     Lkat Graham

    Was he a leper?
    Fun fact: Michelangelowas once commissioned to make a snowman.

  3. August 21, 2008

    Who's Michaelangelowas?

  4. August 21, 2008
     Don Share

    Funny you should mention lepers. This is from Hopkins' unfinished verse drama, "St. Winefred’s Well:"
    O now while skies are blue, now while seas are salt,
    While rushy rains shall fall or brooks shall fleet from fountains,
    While sick men shall cast sighs, of sweet health all despairing,
    While blind men’s eyes shall thirst after daylight, draughts of daylight,
    Or deaf ears shall desire that lipmusic that ’s lost upon them,
    While cripples are, while lepers, dancers in dismal limb-dance,
    Fallers in dreadful frothpits, waterfearers wild,
    Stone, palsy, cancer, cough, lung wasting, womb not bearing,
    Rupture, running sores, what more? in brief; in burden,
    As long as men are mortal and God merciful,
    So long to this sweet spot, this leafy lean-over,
    This Dry Dene, now no longer dry nor dumb, but moist and musical
    With the uproll and the downcarol of day and night delivering
    Water, which keeps thy name, (for not in róck wrítten,
    But in pale water, frail water, wild rash and reeling water,
    That will not wear a print, that will not stain a pen,
    Thy venerable record, virgin, is recorded).
    Here to this holy well shall pilgrimages be,
    And not from purple Wales only nor from elmy England,
    But from beyond seas, Erin, France and Flanders, everywhere,
    Pilgrims, still pilgrims, móre pílgrims, still more poor pilgrims.

  5. August 21, 2008
     Joe Safdie

    Another interesting fact was that both he and Oscar Wilde studied with Walter Pater, whom they both revered and saw as the model for their respective work. Maybe someone should do a blog about Pater pretty soon . . . Henry, glad to see that you're a year older than me . . .

  6. August 21, 2008
     Michael Gushue

    He also thought the poet closest to him in mind was . . . Walt Whitman!
    From a letter he wrote to Robert Bridges:
    , , , first I may as well say what I should not otherwise have said, that I always knew in my heart Walt Whitman’s mind to be more like my own than any other man’s living. As he is a very great scoundrel this is not a pleasant confession. And this also makes me the more desirous to read him and the more determined that I will not…

  7. August 23, 2008
     Richard Haney

    Enjoyed the Hopkins trivia. I'm in Oxford for a study stint where I first became interested in Hopkins. I used to walk daily past St Aloyisus, a Roman Catholic church on St Giles Rd. They used to have a sign that made reference to John Henry Newman and Gerard Manley Hopkins--Hopkins served briefly there as a curate. But the sign is gone and I wonder why?

  8. August 23, 2008
     Frank Giampietro

    One of my favorite quotations by Hopkins comes from one of his journal entries.
    He writes: "Gerard Manley Tunks . . . poor Tunks."
    I also love the self-portrait posted here. Hopkins is drawing himself from a bridge, using the water below him for a mirror.

  9. August 26, 2008

    I love Hopkins.

  10. August 26, 2008
     Don Share

    OK, I saved the best for last.
    Did you know that when Hopkins was in a Jesuit seminary he - in Paul Mariani's description - "hypnotized a duck by holding its beak down on a black table and drawing parallel chalk lines from its beak outwards"?
    But best of all is Hopkins' own explanation of how it worked: it was, G.M.H. wrote, "the fascinating instress of the straight white stroke" that does the trick...

  11. August 30, 2008
     Don Share

    OK, did you know that he also tried to translate Cinderella into Welsh???

  12. August 30, 2008
     Michael Robbins

    Well, duh, Don, everyone knows that. [smiley emoticon]

  13. August 30, 2008

    "Tried"--Meaning he failed?

  14. August 30, 2008
     Don Share

    Daisy: yep! He was always struggling with Welsh, and good as he was with languages it was one that mostly eluded him, as far as I can tell...

  15. September 9, 2008
     Don Share

    All threads die a natural death, and I'll let this one be... right after I add something from one of H.'s letters to Robert Bridges, on their contemporary, Walt Whitman - whom Hopkins reluctantly acknowledged as an influence:
    "I always knew in my heart Walt Whitman's mind to be more like my own than any other man's living. As he is a very great scoundrel this is not a pleasant confession. And this also makes me the more desirous to read him and the more determined that I will not."
    Around the same time he wrote that, H. was seen entering the rooms of his Jesuit digs at Stonyhurst - as the Rector recorded it - "publicly through the window, lately, in order to save time by not having to go round by the corridor." And H. was also seen in the swimming bath... with all his clothes on!
    With that, I depart from sharing some details in the life of holy Hopkins!