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Poets of the Four Last Things: Hopkins and Heaven

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Poets of the Four Last Things: Hopkins and Heaven

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Location: Heythrop College

With Professor Robert Fraser

It has been traditional during the four weeks of Advent to concentrate on the Four Last Things: Death, Judgement, Heaven and Hell. This habit may appear paradoxical at best, since we are supposed to be preparing for a birth: the beginning of life rather than the end of mortal existence. None of the four poets we will be looking at in this series, however, would have found the tradition in the least inappropriate or odd. The official explanation is that we are anticipating both the first and the second coming. Since, in the northern hemisphere at least, we celebrate the nativity shortly after the winter solstice, the darkest moment of the year, there is also a recurrent, metaphorical logic to all of this. By looking at the work of four religiously inspired poets – two from the seventeenth and one each from the nineteenth and twentieth centuries – we will attend to the ways in which this custom, and the insights stemming from it, have fertilized literature and art.

Gerald Manley Hopkins and Heaven

‘Heaven’, Wordsworth wrote, ‘lies about us in our infancy’. For Gerard Manley Hopkins, Catholic convert, Jesuit priest, and poet, the intuition lasted well into adulthood. Wherever we look, therefore, heaven is at hand. Hopkins was a superlative observer of the natural world. Whether describing an ash tree, a bluebell or a kestrel, he believed that he was privy to the nature of God as filtered through the individuality, the ‘inscape’, of each created thing. In Hopkins, botany, geology and aesthetics served as handmaids to theology. Art and science were both manifestations of the Divine: ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’ Hopkins’s poetry, his letters and journals, all bear witness to this healing truth.


Other talks in this series with Professor Robert Fraser:

Contact Name: Dr Francesca Knox
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