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Gerard Manley Hopkins Amidst the Fire-folk

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Gerard Manley Hopkins Amidst the Fire-folk

“Gerard Manley Hopkins Amidst the Fire-folk” (28 July 1844 - 8 June 1889)
“Look at the stars ! look, look up at the skies !
O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air !”
GM Hopkins from his poem “The Starlight Night.”
This is my second icon of this extraordinary man. The first one shows him amidst the industrial revolution with an apparition of a Kingfisher bird coming to enlighten him, as if its a manifestation of the Holy Spirit.
There are a few teachers who open worlds to you, pull things out of you that you almost didn’t know you had, and change your life forever. They widen your world, immensely, rather than constrict or make your world smaller, frightening, or xenophobic. Some of the greatest saints are this way too. My freshman year at St John Francis Regis High School in North Denver, I had a teacher like that, his name was Ron Miller. He was a Jesuit scholastic at that time, in 1963-64, who later left, and had very loving, significant relationships. He also was deeply involved with Jewish-Christian dialogue, so so many other things, and he was always a brilliant teacher, in school and out of school. His love of people and life was happily, fortunately contagious. He taught us 14 year olds to love and understand both poetry of all different kinds and Shakespeare’s play, “Twelfth Night.” Quite an accomplishment for very young minds ! Ron loved Hopkins and we were taught to memorize Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty.” I heard that he died a few years ago.
Hopkins has been called the “father of modern poetry” and countless poets claim his lasting influence on them, including the Irish poet, Seamus Heaney. Cardinal von Balthasar wrote a magnificent essay on him in his book “Lay Styles” where he states that Hopkins truly lamented the industrial revolution’s scars on nature and Hopkins grieved the loss of “the wild.” There is no poet like him and once you encounter his genius (although in his lifetime he only had one poem published) you never forget his poems or prose which contain some journal and notebook entries and selected letters. Like all of our great artists, he connects you quite naturally, and in his case, with a unique musicality, to the Transcendent.
Hopkins died at the Jesuit residence in Dublin, his room overlooking St Stephen’s Green, on June 8, 1889. He was 44. I painted a kind of ode to his eccentric genius, in the large image with icons, called “Viriditas: Finding God in All Things.” Apparently a Jesuit brother once found him standing in the rain looking down at the beauty of the rain soaked pebbles and rocks, and thought he was very odd. But he truly could find God in all things. I added the glistening stones to the Viriditas Image just for him.
He speaks of our fragile mortality in such a knowing, haunting way in one of his brilliant poems:
“....Death or distance soon consumes them: wind
What most I may eye after, be in at the end
I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind.
Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend.
There, eyes them, heart wants, care haunts, foot follows kind,
Their ransom, their rescue, first, fast, last friend.”
Gerard Manley Hopkins, SJ
from the poem “The Lantern Out of Doors.”
Fr Bill McNichols June 2020