Explore Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poetry for Found-Franciscanism

by Sister Julie Ann on July 22, 2009

Sister Caritas Stodthoff, OSF, shares some ‘Pied Beauty’ garden photos of Summer 2009. Find Camp Franciscan painted bricks displayed.

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Exploring the aspects of Franciscanism contained 3502397638_7c5c3e7bd4_m.jpgin the nature poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins, Sister Renita Tadych, OSF, opened the eyes of ten Franciscan Sisters of Christian Charity to the influence of the Franciscan philosophy of John Duns Scotus on one of the Victorian era’s superior poets. This summer course was held at the Motherhouse.

One of the students, Sister Pamela Catherine Peasel, OSF, comments on Hopkins ‘Franciscanism’ in the rich aural design of the The Caged Skylark. (Photo by Andrew Steele.)

The Caged Skylark

As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage

Man’s mounting spirit in his bone-house, mean house, dwells-

That bird beyond the remembering his free fells;

This in a drudgery, day-labouring-out life’s age.


Though aloft on turf or perch or poor low stage,

Both sing sometimes the sweetest, sweetest spells,

Yet both droop deadly sometimes in their cells

Or wring their barriers in bursts of fear or rage-

Why, hear him, hear him babble and drop down to his nest,

But his own nest, wild nest, no prison.


Man’s spirit will be flesh-bound when found at best,

But uncumbered: meadow-down is not distressed

For a rainbow footing it nor he for his bones risen.


Poetry Reflection:

St. Francis, very much a free-spirited soul, had a love for all living creatures, for all creation and is quite well-known for having once preached to a group of birds.  However these birds were free, completely glorifying God in their true state of being.  St. Francis saw the joy in the birds and he himself was a, “joyful bird,” finding his true self by the complete gift of himself over to God.  Perhaps Hopkins, through his writing and reflection upon “The Caged Skylark,” was seeking how to “uncage” the bird within him, to free himself and give himself completely to the Lord of love and joy.

Our spirits within go through seasons of joy and sorrow, there are times we can become frustrated with the limitations of our bodies yet scripture is there to remind us that our spirits are eager and ready to do God’s will but the flesh is feeble.  There may be something we seek after and desire that our spirit is longing for but the mind can inhibit us, stirring up fears and doubts and in turn we become frustrated and anxious.  It’s as if one can see the prize but must overcome oneself to obtain it.  It is a process we all undertake known as, “selving,” or emptying oneself.

Hopkins reflection upon the soul is one of hope.  The soul, for a stint of time may seem as bird caged within, desiring to spread its wings and soar.  This will eventually come to pass at the second coming of Christ and the soul of a man as Hopkins states, “will be flesh-bound when found at best,” for the earthly body, now glorified in the light, will allow the spirit to soar reaching unimaginable heights.


Please let us know your comments.



10 thoughts on “Explore Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poetry for Found-Franciscanism”

  1. This is what I call “Franciscan integration”. A summer course, a reflection, photographs of Motherhouse flower gardens and bricks painted at Camp Franciscan all add snippets of summer activities and summer beauty. This ties together the contributions of countless people each offering their “bit of beauty” to the posting. Glory be to God for dappled things!

  2. Since Sister Anne Marie mentioned another one of Hopkins’ well-known poems, we can’t forget “the world is charged with the grandeur of God…” Because in all truthfulness, our world IS! And our Sisters are part of the creative process!

  3. Sister Pat Sevcik says:

    Thank you, Sister Pamela Catherine! Having just come from retreat, I went to this site. The flower garden photos and your reflection were a welcome home sign for me. I recognize and prize these lovely sights and words. They all attempt to describe the deepest longings of our hearts for God. Words cannot. May God be exalted in us and through all of His creation!

  4. Sister Adrianna says:

    Having shared in the course, nature comes alive with much of the grandeur of God. It was both a challenging and enjoyable two weeks. GMH’s way with words can be challenging, but he knows well the human spirit. Thanks for sharing your reflection.

  5. When highlighting Franciscan-Hopkins overtones we can not forget the 1875 poem ‘The Wreck of the Deutschland’. Not only is the death of five Franciscan Sisters remembered, but Hopkin’s unique ‘sprung rhythm'(imitating the sound of speech) is introduced.

  6. Jean-Pierre says:

    Hopkins is among my favorite Christian poets!

  7. I agree. It is difficult not to admire someone who could think of lines like this: “I caught this morning morning’s minion, kingdom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon.”

  8. Sister Kathleen Murphy says:

    Love the beauty of the garden and LOVE the beauty of Sister Pamela Catherine’s poetry. Hopkins has surely inspired you and through you–us!

  9. Sister Sharon Paul says:

    Sister Caritas, THANK YOU for sharing the beauties of God’s CREATION in the colorful pictures of flowers planted and bearing fruit in such unique shapes to feast one’s eyes and soul.

  10. Sister Natalie says:

    How often it happens that simple joys are missed because of higher expectations. The insights gained from the poetry of Gerard Manley brought one to the reminder of the simple beauty all around us. There is a lesson in living each day to the full and being aware of goodness and beauty from dawn to dusk and throughout the night. All is not without challenge but the reward is gratifying.

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