Original Strange Spare

Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins embraced the ecstatic in nature. Conflicted by a repressed homosexuality, he entered the priesthood and adopted the rigours of Jesuit celibacy. He wrote highly original poetry, and produced some of the greatest poems of faith and doubt in the English language. A portrait by Cindy Bisaillon.

Listen to Original Strange Spare


original-spare-strange-hopk.jpgOriginal. Spare. Strange. It could describe Hopkins himself. Gerard Manley Hopkins was nothing if not original. He was a poet of the Victorian era, but with such a unique style and sensibility that he wasn't published until 1918, 40 years after his death. He's become a poet for all eras. One of the greatest poets in the English language.

He was spare. Ascetic in fact. A Jesuit, with all the discipline that entails. He was rigorous in his daily life and in the crafting of his poems. But his language and vision were heightened, at times even ecstatic. He was full of contradictions. Strange in fact.

He was homosexual. He hid it all his life, and hated himself for it. Yet loved the world around him profoundly.

Hopkins' poems are incantations. He himself said they were meant to be read out loud, to be incanted. Like music.

His play with words can feel like riddles.

Who was this riddler?

There is a photograph of Hopkins taken in the early 1870s, when he was around thirty.

A long serious face, strong cleft chin, aquiline nose, a small but sensual mouth, large languid eyes full of intelligence, sensitivity, melancholy. A beautiful sadness. A secret.


Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Life by Paul Mariani, published by Viking, 2008.

The Playfulness of Gerard Manley Hopkins by Joseph Feeney, published by Ashgate Publishing, 2008.

A Queer Chivalry: The Homoerotic Asceticism of Gerard Manley Hopkins by Julia F. Saville, published by University of Virginia Press, 2000.

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