William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins: myth, religion and Christianity.



I am going to make a comparative study about William Blake (1757-1827) and Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) and their poems “The Lamb” (1789) and “Pied Beauty” (1877), respectively. The main points of this paper will be the importance of religion for the life of these poets and its influcence in their writings. I will talk also about a poetic world plenty of myth and mysticism that continues fascinating nowadays and I will try to approach the modern readers to a better understanding of both authors.


Blake’s biography and historical context

William Blake was a Romantic, but into a cultural-historical category which is not simple. He was not just a writer, but also a visual artist. He was born on 28 November 1757 into a world unready to receive the artist and poet of genius that he proved to be. However, he was not worried about that and declared his intention of becoming an artist very early. Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and of Experience. New York in association with the Trianon Press. 1967. (page 7)

Romanticism was a complex, self-contradictory artistic, literary, and intellectual movement that originated around the middle of the 18th century in Western Europe, and gained strength during the Industrial Revolution. It was partly a revolt against aristocratic social and political norms of the the Age of Enlightenment and a reaction against the scientific rationalization of nature, and was embodied most strongly in the visual arts, music and literature. “Romanticism”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.10 January 2008 <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism>

One of the most complex developments during this period was the transformation of religion into a subject for artistic treatment far removed from traditional religious art. The Enlightenment had weakened, but hardly uprooted, established religion in Europe. Religion was estheticized, and writers felt free to draw on Biblical themes with the same freedom as their predecessors had drawn on classical mythology, and with as little reverence.

Romanticism. Paul Brian’s Page. 11 March 1998. <http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html> 10 January 2008.

William Blake was a deeply spiritual man, a precursor to the Christian socialist tradition. He railed against the powers of both Church and Crown. Blake's religious beliefs stemmed from a long tradition in Britain of Christian dissenters. This tradition was opposed to established religion, was suspicious of the monarchy and the role it played in religion and had long railed against corruption and abuse of power in the Church and Monarchy. This dissenting tradition reached its zenith during in the English Revolution of the 1640's where the Levellers played a major role in Cromwell's New Model Army, advocating very radical ideas. They also believed that as all men are born equal, that there should be only one social and economic level. Kings and Lords were seen as being in league with the devil as they regarded themselves as being above other men. Unfortunately once in power Cromwell crushed the Levellers. But from this tradition, Christian socialism evolved.

In 1780 Blake joined the people marching through the streets of Soho to sack Newgate prison. He later wore a red bonnet to identify with the French Revolution, describing himself as a 'Liberty Boy'. He also participated in the radical clubs that sprang up in Britain and became acquainted with some of the leading radicals of his day. These including Thomas Paine, author of The Rights of Man, the political philosopher, William Godwin and the feminist Mary Wollstonecraft, author of The Rights of Women and mother of Mary Shelley. All produced radical material right up to the time when the Pitt government's repression made such material "wicked and seditious writings" and liable to carry a long jail sentence. Blake himself put aside a long poem he was working on called the 'French Revolution', for fear of prosecution under the act.

It was said that Blake was a bibliophiliac obsessed and in 1804, he produced his most famous poem, now a popular hymn and anthem of the Women's Institute which was called “Jerusalem”. In actual fact this 'hymn' is part of the preface to one of Blake's epic poems Milton and is a revolutionary message calling on people to rise up and destroy the industrial hell that was destroying their lives. Christ was seen as a radical figure protecting the poor and fighting against oppression. The poem opens by asking if Jesus did indeed walk on England's "green and pleasant land". Blake among others believed that he might have been taken to Britain to escape Herod and that later Joseph of Arimathea returned to Britain with the Holy Grail and set up a church at Glastonbury. He then goes on to proclaim that he will do all in his power to rebuild this state of grace. However, the Jerusalem that Blake wishes to build, replacing the "dark Satanic Mills" is not a physical reconstruction of Jerusalem in Palestine but a metaphorical place where want and misery do not exist, were men and women can live free and happy.

Blake embarked upon his own personal religious philosophy, attempting to explain it in words and painting, intertwined with painting subjects from Shakespeare, Dante and others. Blake's major preoccupation however, is the fight against oppression, whether political, intellectual or religious and the majority of his work reflects this. He also opposed the way in which he saw science overtaking the imagination and replacing it with pure reason.

Blake continued to produce his own personal view of life and religion in his paintings and engraving, occasionally getting a commission to produce some works which kept him in funds. However, he and his wife mostly lived in near poverty. William Blake died in 1827 whilst still working on a project. He was buried, largely forgotten, in a dissenters' burial ground in Bunhill Fields. It was not until nearly thirty years later that he was rediscovered by Rossetti and later proclaimed by the Pre-Raphalite Brotherhood as one of the Ancients. Blake is now regarded as one of Britain's greatest poets and artists.

“Frontline6.Blake”.Frontline Online, an independent Marxist journal produced in support of the Scottish Socialist Party. 10 January 2008. <http://www.redflag.org.uk/frontline/six/06blake.html>


Hopkin’s biography and historical context

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in 1844. He was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose 20th-century fame established him postumously among the leading Victorian poets. His experimental explorations in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse.

“Gerard Manley Hopkins”. Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 10 January 2008.


Religion influenced every aspect of his life, and many considered Hopkins the priest and Hopkins the poet to be one inseperable entity. His parents were High Church Anglicans and he entered the Society of Jesus in 1868; and feeling that the practice of poetry was too individualistic and self-indulgent for a Jesuit priest committed to the deliberate sacrifice of personal ambition, he burned his early poems.

In 1874, studying theology in North Wales, he learned Welsh, and was later to adapt the rhythms of Welsh poetry to his own verse, inventing what he called "sprung rhythm”.

The event that startled him into speech was the sinking of the Deutschland, whose passengers included five Catholic nuns exiled from Germany.

From his ordination as a priest in 1877 until 1879, Hopkins served not too successfully as preacher or assistant to the parish priest in Sheffield, Oxford, and London; during the next three years he found stimulating but exhausting work as parish priest in the slums of three manufacturing cities, Manchester, Liverpool, and Glasgow. Late in 1881 he began ten months of spiritual study in London, and then for three years taught Latin and Greek at Stonyhurst College, Lancashire. His appointment in 1884 as Professor of Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin, which might be expected to be his happiest work, instead found him in prolonged depression. This resulted partly from the examination papers he had to read as Fellow in Classics for the Royal University of Ireland. The exams occured five or six times a year, might produce 500 papers, each one several pages of mostly uninspired student translations (in 1885 there were 631 failures to 1213 passes). More important, however, was his sense that his prayers no longer reached God; and this doubt produced the "terrible" sonnets. He refused to give way to his depression, however, and his last words as he lay dying of typhoid fever on June 8, 1889, were, "I am happy, so happy."

Apart from a few uncharacteristic poems scattered in periodicals, Hopkins was not published during his own lifetime. His good friend Robert Bridges (1844-1930), whom he met at Oxford and who became Poet Laureate in 1913, served as his literary caretaker: Hopkins sent him copies of his poems, and Bridges arranged for their publication in 1918.

Even after he started writing again in 1875, Hopkins put his responsibilities as a priest before his poetry, and consequently his output is rather slim and somewhat limited in range, especially in comparison to such major figures as Tennyson or Browning. Over the past few decades critics have awarded the third place in the Victorian Triumvirate first to Arnold and then to Hopkins; now his stock seems to be falling and D.G. Rossetti's rising. Putting Hopkins up with the other two great Victorian poets implies that his concern with the " inscape" of natural objects is centrally important to the period; and since that way of looking at the world is essentially Romantic, it further implies that the similarities between Romantic and Victorian poetry are much more significant than their differences. Whatever we decide Hopkins' poetic rank to be, his poetry will always be among the greatest poems of faith and doubt in the English language.

 “Gerard Manley Hopkins”.Poet Seers. 11 January 2008.<http://www.poetseers.org/contemporary_poets/modern_poets/gerard_manley_hopkins>

The Victorian era of the United Kingdom marked the height of the British Industrial Revolution and the apex of the British Empire. Although commonly used to refer to the period of Queen Victoria's rule between 1837 and 1901, scholars debate whether the Victorian period—as defined by a variety of sensibilities and political concerns that have come to be associated with the Victorians—actually begins with the passage of Reform Act 1832. The era was preceded by the Regency era and succeeded by the Edwardian period. The latter half of the Victorian era roughly coincided with the first portion of the Belle Époque era of continental Europe and other non-English speaking countries.

“Victorian Age”.Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia. 11 January 2008.



Analysis and comparison of the poems

Once you have read this information about Romanticism and the Victorian Era and both poets, William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins, it is the moment to go into the analysis and comparison of “The Lamb” and “Pied Beauty”.

First of all, I provide you two versions of these poems:


The Lamb

Little Lamb who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?

Gave thee life and bid thee feed

By the stream and o'er the mead;

Gave thee clothing of delight,

Softest clothing whooly bright;

Gave thee such a tender voice,

Making all the vales rejoice.

Little Lamb who made thee?

Dost thou know who made thee?


Little Lamb I'll tell thee,

Little Lamb I'll tell thee;

He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a lamb.

He is meek and he is mild;

He became a little child.

I a child and thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.

Little Lamb God bless thee.

Little Lamb God bless thee.


“The Lamb”.Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.11 January 2008.



Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things--

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him.


“Hopkin’s Poetry:Pied Beauty (1877)”.Sparknotes.11 January 2008.




“The Lamb” is a poem by william Blake and it was published in Songs of Innocence in 1789. Like many of Blake’s works, it talks about religion, specificially about Christianity.

It is said that the poem was intended to be set to music, which is why the words are so simple. The Lamb has been successfully made into a song by Vaughan Williams. It was also set to music by Sir John Tavener, who explained, "The Lamb came to me fully grown and was written in an afternoon and dedicated to my nephew Simon for his 3rd birthday."

The Lamb relates to another of Blake's poems, The Tyger, in Songs of Experience. One interpretation is that The Lamb is a look at childish innocence, and that The Tyger refers to the innocent child growing up. The latter contains the contrasting image, and contemplation, of God.


“The Lamb”.Wikipedia: The Free Encyclopedia.11 January 2008.



“Pied Beauty” was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877. The fact of being sandwiched between the acclamations “Glory be to God,” and “Praise Him” is a reflection of the tremendous diversity found within the created realm and the beauty which issues from it. The sense of irony is strengthened by Hopkins’ playful meter and rhyme at. Intriguing here is Hopkins’ link between the resonating beauty of Creation and the attribution of Glory and Praise to God.

“Classic Readings: Pied Beauty (1877)”.The Christian Studies Center (Kentucky). 11

Janury 2008.


Both William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins were influenced by their historical time periods.  Blake's life (1757-1827) spanned two time periods and reflects both.  He lived at the end of the Enlightenment of eighteenth century and the beginning of the Romantic Period.  The historical events that influenced him were the French Revolution, the Industrial Revolution, and the Agricultural Revolution. Hopkins (1844-1889) lived at the end of the Victorian Period.  He lived at a time when England was the world's richest and strongest country.  He was influenced by the middle-class beliefs in social responsibility and the work ethic.

Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, 'Pied Beauty' gives praises to God for the natural beauty of the world.  Glory is given to God for spotted and splashed things, for skies spotted with a darker color and for fallen chestnuts that are the color of glowing coals.  All opposing, original, spare, strange things; whatever is fickle and feckled, he created them all and deserves praise.

'The Lamb', by Blake starts off by asking who made the little Lamb?  He then asks who gave it life and food, and wooly bright clothing along with a soft voice.  The maker of the Lamb is then questioned again. The author then tells the reader who made the little Lamb.  He says that the creator has the same name, Lamb, and he is gentle and kind.  He was once a little child and people are called by his name.  He then blesses God for the little Lamb.

The main point in both poems is that the natural beauty of the world created by God deserves praise.  In 'Pied Beauty' it talks about how God created things that are multicolored such as skies, cows, birds, landscapes, and tools used by humans.  Hopkins' poem celebrates the wondrous variety that God has created. In 'The Lamb' one of God's creations is admired and praised.  The Lamb is compared to a person and then to God himself:

“He is called by thy name,

For he calls himself a lamb.

He is meek and he is mild;

He became a little child.

I a child and thou a lamb,

We are called by his name.”

(lines 13-16)


The poem, 'Pied Beauty' is set in a colorful world where 'dappled things' and 'fickled and freckled' things utterly fit together:

“Glory be to God for dappled things--

For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;

Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)”

(lines 1-8)


Blake uses setting and mood to support his theme in 'The Lamb.'  The Lamb lives in a perfect world with streams and meadows all around and this helps the author to justify the theme that the amazing beauty of the world proves that a greathearted father exists.

The first person is used in 'Pied Beauty' and in 'The Lamb.'  In Hopkins' poem, a first-person narrator speaks to the reader.  In the first stanza, the speaker is in amazement.  He talks about the variations in color of the animals and things of the world.  In the last stanza he mentions the 'fickle' and 'freckled' things and their creator.

Blake uses also the first person.  In the first stanza, the narrator is talking to the Lamb and questioning it: Dost thou know who made thee?”(line 2). The use of the first person gives emotion and intensifies the amazement the speaker sees in the Lamb's beauty.  He then draws a comparison between the Lamb, himself and the creator: “I a child and thou a lamb” (line 17).

Both Gerard Manley Hopkins and William Blake use symbolism in their poems. Hopkins uses God to symbolize what is constant and unchangeable. Blake uses the lamb to symbolize innocence, serenity, a child, Jesus, or sacrifice. The poem gives credit to God for making such a beautiful being as the lamb.

“Echeat”.Analysis and Comparison of The lamb and Pied Beauty.11 January 2008.


“Pied Beauty” is one of his "curtal" (or curtailed) sonnets, in which he miniaturizes the traditional sonnet form by reducing the eight lines of the octave to six (here two tercets rhyming ABC ABC) and shortening the six lines of the sestet to four and a half.

“Hopkins Poetry: Pied Beauty 1877”.Sparknotes. 11 January 2008.


“The Lamb” contains many sentences with an irregular rhyme and length. The vocabulary that is used by Blake is mainly clear and not contrived. There is also a constant use of questions to make sure the idea that beauty exists thanks to God.

As we have already seen, it is clear that Blake and Hopkins shared the same idea: The beauty of Earth proves the existence of a holy creator and without God, beauty would not exist.


Blake and Hopkins as mystic poets

Both poets were poets of spirit and it was illustrated in their works. Their mysticism combined these two themes: love for the natural
world and passion for Christ.

When reading their poems, we may sometimes wonder if the world they inhabited was the same one as our own. How can we live in
the earthly world yet be ever conscious of the presence of God as they did? Hopkins went very far into this theme and wrote a book trying to answer these questions in September 1870 : “Hopkins, the Mystic Poets”.

“Mystic poets: Hopkins”.Explore faith.12 January 2008


It is curious that both Blake and Hopkins had mystical visions of God in the natural world. Do you know that Blake continued seeing his brother Robert after his death in 1787? At the moment of Robert’s death his visionary faculty enabled him to see “the released spirit ascend heavenwards, clapping its hand for joy”. For the res of his life William claimed that he could communicate his brother’s spirit and gain strength from his advice.

This faculty was of special service in 1788-1789, when Blake was puzzling over the problem of how to produce his poems in a form that satisfied him. He assured that Robert’s spirit instructed him in how he should proceed, with the result that he quickly evolved his peculiar method of etching both poem and design on a copper-plate.

Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and of Experience. New York in association with the Trianon Press. 1967. (page 10)

I really hope that you have enjoyed the reading of this paper very much and that it would help you to approach to these pair of poets who were so influenced by God and religion in different time periods like Romanticism and the Victorian Era.




·         Blake, William. Selected Poetry.Oxford World’s Classics .1996.

·         Blake, William. Songs of Innocence and of Experience. New York in association with the Trianon Press. 1967.

·         M. Guy, Josephine. The Victorian Age.Routledge.1998

·         <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Romanticism>

·         <http://www.wsu.edu/~brians/hum_303/romanticism.html>

·         <http://www.redflag.org.uk/frontline/six/06blake.html>

·         <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Gerard_Manley_Hopkins>

·         <http://www.poetseers.org/contemporary_poets/modern_poets/gerard_manley_hopkins

·         <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Victorian_age>

·         <http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Lamb

·         <http://www.sparknotes.com/poetry/hopkins/section3.rhtml>

·         <http://www.thechristianstudiescenter.org/article/10/classic-readings-pied-beauty-1877

·         <http://www.echeat.com/essay.php?t=31724

·         <http://www.explorefaith.org/mystery/poetsHopkins.html