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Luke Coppen's Catholic Herald Blog

Colm Tóibín: Why Gerard Manley Hopkins disliked Ireland

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Writing on the New York Review of Books website, author Colm Tóibín describes a Dublin building that has housed three great men.

Cardinal Newman, James Joyce and Gerard Manley Hopkins all lived in Newman House on St Stephen’s Green at some point. Hopkins spent the last years of his life in its lofty halls, writing his “terrible sonnets” in a state of profound depression. The building recently hosted a play about the Jesuit’s life, performed for an audience of 25 who followed the actors through its rooms.

Tóibín writes:

Hopkins disliked Ireland – in one poem he wrote: ‘I am in Ireland now; now I am at a third/Remove’ – and it is possible that part of his despair arose not merely from his doubts about God, or his general malaise, but his feelings about being stuck in a country he had no sympathy for. Towards the end of the one-hour show, we were led to the very upper rooms of the building, the rooms where Hopkins must have slept and where he woke ‘to feel the fell of dark not day’.

Somehow, the low ceilings and the more cramped spaces conjured up a gloom all of their own; this gloom was not dispelled by the dwindling light in the city outside, the slow sense of winter coming with all its dampness, or the pervading news of the Irish economy which is in ruins. As we watched the poet in the bed, the 25 of us, who had bonded somewhat as we moved from room to room contemplating the precise spaces where Hopkins had felt his dark despair, had reason to join him in believing that ‘no worst, there is none’ and asking, as he did, someone to send our roots rain.

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Written by Luke Coppen

October 27, 2009 at 8:25 pm

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