Theological assumptions in William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins: Rebellion or Submission?


Both William Blake and Gerard Manley Hopkins are renowned poets whose religious implications can be easily noticed in their poetry and have been widely commented upon. Hopkins’ religious beliefs could seem easier to understand and illustrate because they were somehow institutionalised (he was a Jesuit priest) and Blake, on his side, had a more particular conception of religion, but the truth is that both Blake’s and Hopkins’s poetry is the result of very complex and spiritual meditations and their concerns with religion can only be understood by conscientiously reading their written words.


Considering that the term “religion” is open to a wide range of interpretations, we must restrict it before we start our argumentation. As the title of this paper reflects, we are going to deal with the “theological assumptions” of Blake and Hopkins. Being literal, this means that we are going to centre on the figure of the Theos, that is, God.   Therefore, we will try to give answer to the question of what concept do these poets have of God in terms of: “location: where does God dwell?; manifestation: how can be the presence of God noticed?; and interaction with men and nature: how is the relationship between God, Humanity and the World?


In order to focus and have some reference point to talk about we will look at two poems (one by Blake and one by Hopkins) so we can extrapolate from them some of the most defining characteristics of Blake and Hopkins’s theological beliefs in a comparative way.


But before we do this, it is of great importance to make a brief illustration of  the religious atmosphere that was taking place during the historical moments in which each of the authors’ poetry developed, specially taking into account those elements (movements, tendencies, events, etc.) that seem to have influenced them in a more noticeable way. This contextual introduction makes even more sense when we consider that, apart from the fact that both poets were unrecognised during his lifetime, the other point in which they can converge a priori (before we enter to discuss their poetry) is the fact that both Blake and Hopkins lived in a moment of religious controversy. Their particular responses to the situation they lived is what makes him diverge, rather than converge.




The French Revolution: the trigger of a religious disorder


William Blake lived in an epoch of politic and ideological destabilization, an epoch in which important changes took place and transformed society.

The French Revolution is unquestionably the clearest evidence of this. It started up in 1789, when Blake was in his maturity. A maturity that can also be applied to his poetry. In fact, it has been said that “Blake’s moment of most intense poetic achievement came during the French Revolution” [1]. Additionally, considering Blake’s revolutionary thoughts, it’s no surprise that he supported and enthusiastically followed the development of the revolt, although he rejected the Terror later promoted by Robespierre.

 Throughout the early stages of The Revolution, Blake was a loud voice in the artistic and poetic landscape, supporting it both spiritually and through his work” [2].


However, the French Revolution not only carried with itself a climate of political tension. All this ideological stir, which was mainly caused by the rebellion against the absolute power of monarchy, had also important consequences in the religious atmosphere of the time as it might appear obvious due to the intrusive presence of  the Church in the political life, fact that caused it to be seen as another source of oppressive authority. According to Robert Ryan, “It is not generally remembered that the passions driving the ideological conflicts of the 1790s were religious as well as political in character” [3].


As far as Britain is concerned, the ideals of the French Revolution seemed to nourish the religious convictions of those who opposed the Established Church and its interference in the political issues. The stage was set for debate. The Revolution Controversy, a British discussion over the French Revolution, lasted from 1789 through 1795 [4], and its religious implications were more than evident.

“The constitutional adoption of the principle of freedom in religion in France gave a boost to Dissenters from the Church of England, while heightening the insecurities of the supporters of the existing Church establishment” [5]


These insecurities were violently materialized through the Priestley Riots of 1791, which were fomented by Anglicans and directed primarily at Dissenters, who were headed by the figure of Joseph Priestley [6]. The aggressors motto, “Church and King” made clear their aim to keep politics and religion together, working as authoritative institutions.

“It seemed to many that not since England’s revolution of the 1640s had religious conflict posed such a threat to social stability” [7]



Another element of religious character that helped to destabilize the global consciousness by the end of the 18th century was Millennialism. It was particularly strong because of the effect that the French Revolution had had in the population’s collective mind. “Many people perceived the French Revolution as a foreshadowing of an Apocalypse that would usher in a new millenarian epoch, one levelling social distinctions between people and bringing about what was believed to be Christ's absolute rule”. [8]

In fact, apocalyptic themes can be found in almost all the Romantic authors, as it was a generalised feeling. And when we refer to Romanticism we are, of course, talking about Blake too, as his prophetic works are a defining clue of his poetry which cannot be missed. “Each of his three longer prophecies – The Four Zoas, Milton, an Jerusalem climaxes in a cosmic and physic convulsion that transforms the earth, puts an end to time, and brings humanity into the life of Eternity with Jesus, who has triumphed over the enemies of mankind”. [9]



è   William Blake: What faction?


Blake religious convictions have been a very important matter of debate among the critics. What seemed clear was that he was on the side of the Dissenting group because of reasons such as his rejection of some doctrines such as the Trinity, the Original Sin and of course, the institution of the Established Church. In fact, William Blake opposed any kind of institutionalised religion, and that fact is what has leaded some scholars to relate William Blake with Swedenborgianism. The aim has been to give an only answer to all the questions that inevitably emerge when studying Blake’s poetry.


Some critics, like Robert Rix, have documented Blake’s attendance to Swedenborgian reunions and possible relations with radical masons. He has also done an interesting comparison between some of the statements of William Blake and the beliefs of the Swedenborgians. [10]


But, on the contrary, other scholars have labelled this kind of attempts as “a twentieth century legend” [11] or even declared that  some works such us,  particularly plates 21-24 of William Blake’s Marriage of Heaven and Hell, “have been conceived as an independent, anti-Swedenborgian pamphlet” [12]


Swedenborgian or anti-Swedenborgian, the thing that stays evident is that when observing all the critical approaches that have tried to insert Blake into an specific religious trend or community we may notice that they are never fully satisfactory. In Robert Ryan’s opinion this has a primary reason. “That the final determination of Blake’s personal creed is left so much to the reader is a striking illustration of the poet’s respect for the inviolable freedom of the individual religious imagination”. [13]





The Victorian Era: a period of religious doubt


The Victorian Era in which Gerard Manley Hopkins lived also represented a moment of religious instability. It appears that one of the major reasons, and this seems to be common knowledge, was the evolution of science, mainly represented in Charles Darwin’s The Origin of Species.

The era of the Queen Victoria experimented improvements in all fields of knowledge and was the first to face modern questions and provide modern solutions.[14]

And, as we have said, these improvements affected science as well, and this supposed one of the biggest challenges for religion ever. Clergymen had to face a theory that affected the most important assertions of Christian religion, and this involved the growing of doubt and the questioning of faith.

The reaction of the religious men of the time was to shut themselves away and become more and more specialised, so they stayed away from other social matters that had interested him in previous times. [15]


But this does not mean that there was a single and unified religious atmosphere during the Victorian Era. On the contrary, one of the main characteristics of the religion of these times was its diversity and schismatic activity.


On one side we had the Church of England, which we have already mentioned. From the time of the Elizabethan settlement on, the Church of England (the Anglican Church) attempted, with varying degrees of success, to consolidate its position both as a distinctive middle way between Catholicism and Puritanism and as the national religion of England. [16]


An important movement was Evangelicalism. The term came into general use in England at the time of the Methodist revival under Wesley and Whitefield, which had its roots in Calvinism and which, with its emphasis on emotion and mysticism in the spiritual realm, was itself in part a reaction against the "rational" Deism of the earlier eighteenth century.[17]

Evangelical Christians were a diverse group, coming from denominations which included Methodists, dissenters, Quakers, Congregationalists and Anglicans (some of whom increasingly embraced evangelical doctrine). Some were at the forefront of movements such as missions, abolition of slavery, prison reform, orphanage establishment, hospital building and founding educational institutions. [18]


It’s also worth mentioning the Broad Church, which was a loosely associated group of intellectuals in the Church of England which in many ways represented what has become liberal twentieth-century Protestantism. Working under the direct or indirect influence of German liberal thought, Broad Churchmen emphasized that the Bible, though in some sense divinely inspired, was not, as Evangelicals and Tractarians believed, literally true in every detail, and that therefore the scriptures should be read metaphorically or even mythologically. [19]


And finally, The Oxford Movement, which was also known as the Tractarian movement, aimed to emphasize the church's Catholic inheritance as a source of legitimacy and deeper spirituality. Its main intent was to defend the Church of England as a divine institution against the threats of liberal theology, rationalism, and government interference. Some members (notably John Henry Newman and Henry E. Manning) ended up converting to Catholicism. [20]


“The Oxford Movement added a conservative option to the lively atmosphere of Victorian religious debate. The Victorians who abhorred the atheism of the Utilitarians and the agnosticism of the scientists, were put off by the enthusiasm of the Evangelicals, found the Broad Church too latitudinarian to have any meaning left to its doctrine, and yet could not stomach going over to Rome, found these High Church Anglicans a perfect conservative solution.” [21]



è  G. M. Hopkins: the convert


The Oxford Movement was particularly significant for the poet we are dealing with now, G. M. Hopkins. Before he became interested in the Tractarians, he had been searching for a religion which could speak with true authority. The influence of  John Henry Newman, who had converted to Catholicism, served him as an example and in 1866 he was received by Newman into the Catholic Church.

“His conversion was a gradual process, not an impulse, based on his increasing theological and emotional dissatisfaction with his life in one Church and need to find spiritual fulfilment in another”.[22]

Shortly after a retreat at Easter in 1868 he decided to join the Society of Jesus [23].

That fact lead him to believe that he should burn his early poems “feeling that the practice of poetry was too individualistic and self-indulgent for a Jesuit priest committed to the deliberate sacrifice of personal ambition”[24]

Hopkins insecurities increased and he tried to silence them by the practice of strict exercises of faith. He had to repress possible homosexual impulses and this resulted in a certain suppressed sexuality and frustration of ambition evident in the mature poems.

“In fact he became more strict with himself than this, gathering for his confession even such trivialities as talking too much or unkindly or staying up too late” [25]

But his poetic desires were freed when he studied the writings of Duns Scotus in 1872 and he decided that his poetry might not necessarily conflict with Jesuit principles [26]. Then, Hopkins begun writing again and could provide poetry with meter innovations such as his sprung rhythm and ontological and mystical reflections such us his theory of “inscape”.





Since this moment, we have make a brief explanation of the religious atmosphere of  the two historical moments in which the poetry of our two authors developed and their attitude towards each situation.

On one hand we have a religious disorder paralleled to the political destabilization of the French Revolution and a poet, William Blake, who supported the values of this revolution and manifested his rejection of the authoritative Established Church.

And on the other, we have a poet who, a century later, faced the controversial religious climate of the Victorian Era deciding to become part of the most conservative and “institutionalised” branch of religion.

Besides, as we have said, Hopkins fought a war against himself trying to repress those sexual or spiritual impulses in order to obey the laws that he himself had chosen to follow considering them as the answer of his search for a true religious authority.

And Blake, on his part, being against any kind of authority, was also an advocate of free love. “Blake embodied his objection to the entire theology of sub-mission, self-denial, contrition, and expiation that institutional Christianity fostered. Humility and docility were to him suspect virtues, encouraged by those who would diminish the freedom of others.” [27]


Given these considerations, Blake and Hopkins’ antagonistic positions appear quite obvious, but they are still aprioristic.

We are now prepared to enter their poetry and see how these initial intuitions find its place in the poets’ poetical writing.

We will first analyse two poems, William Blake’s “The Divine Image” and G. M. Hopkins’ “God’s grandeur” which have been selected because they are representative of the most important theological concerns of both poets.



William Blake’s “The Divine Image”


The Divine Image.




     To Mercy Pity Peace and Love,



     All pray in their distress:



     And to these virtues of delight



     Return their thankfulness.




     For Mercy Pity Peace and Love,



     Is God our father dear:



     And Mercy Pity Peace and Love.



     Is Man his child and care.




     For Mercy has a human heart



     Pity, a human face:



     And Love, the human form divine.



     And Peace, the human dress.




     Then every man of every clime,



     That prays in his distress,



     Prays to the human form divine



     Love Mercy Pity Peace.




     And all must love the human form,



     In heathen, turk or jew.



     Where Mercy, Love & Pity dwell,



     There God is dwelling too.                           [28]



The poem we are going to analyse, “The Divine Image”,  it’s part of Blake’s collection “Songs of innocence”, consisting of a group of poems which, contrary to those of  “Songs of Experience”, with which they are published together, describe the innocence and joy of the natural world, advocating free love and a closer relationship with God. [29]


“The Divine Image” is divided in five quatrains. The rhythm pattern that its rhyme (ABCB) and its structure convey stands out for its simplicity and musicality, common features in Blake’s poetry and more specifically in his Songs of Innocence and of Experience.

However, and as it is also frequent in Blake’s work, this cleanness  in language it is not parallel of a simplicity or triviality in the content, which is extraordinarily spiritual and manifestly existential. “The Songs have been most often approached as short poems and appreciated by readers of literary inclination for a rare combination of simplicity with formal variety and lyrical intensity” [30]


The poem begins by presenting Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love as the four virtues that every man asks for in their painful moments. They are also the four virtues which men are thankful for in their moments of delight. The use of capital letters for these virtues makes them appear even more significant and helps to personified them.


In the second quatrain, Blake manifests that these virtues are God (it has to be noticed that it is not an attribution of qualities, but a complete identification: “For Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love / is God our father dear”). And in the same way, Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love are also equated to man. Thus, since we read the second stanza, we already start to suspect that, even when the complete assertion has not been done yet,  if those virtues representing God, represent man as well, a complete identification between Man and God may be taking place.


The total equation between God and Man starts taking shape in the third quatrain, when the fact that those four virtues are of human nature is justified through a complete personification of them: Mercy is found in the human heart, Pity in the human face; Peace is a piece of clothing that envelops humans, and Love exists in the human "form" or body. Thus, it is in “the human form divine” where these virtues find place and become identifiable. If we thoroughly consider this affirmation, we will notice that it conveys the sensation of these virtues being more human than divine. It is the first moment where the equal comparison between Man and God stops being that equal and begins to be more hierarchical, and surprisingly, the supremacy is not of God, but of Man. The fact that these virtues are of human nature but they are the same virtues that God represents, makes us think that it was God who was created in the image of Man, and not the other way around. This is a very unorthodox statement.


The fourth quatrain tells us that it must be known that when every man, wherever he is from, is praying in his distress, he is praying to the “human form divine”, which is composed of the four virtues (Love Mercy Pity and Peace). Thus, when men are praying they are asking for virtues and qualities that are already part of them, so it would be useless to search for these virtues in a world outside the human form. The question remains: if those virtues are the essence of mankind, what thing is moving them away from men so that they have to pray for them?


The last stanza starts saying that the human form must be loved, no matter what creed or race, as the presence of the virtues Love Mercy Pity and Peace corresponds with the presence of God. Then, a wholly existence of God in the world can only be possible when we all love each other, because when we do this we are manifesting Love, Mercy, Pity and Peace, thus, we are manifesting God, the divinity of the human form.

It may be noticed that, unlike in the second quatrain in which God is mentioned first, here, there has been an inversion of the analogy between God and Man. “When Mercy, Love and Pity dwell (now knowing that these virtues are human, so they represent Man) / there God is dwelling too”. Now Man is mentioned first, and God appears, later,  as a consequence.




G. M. Hopkins’ “God’s grandeur”



The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
        It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
        It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
        And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil;
        And wears man's smudge and shares man's smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
        There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
        Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
        World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings. [31]


The poem was written in 1877, when Hopkins had already considered his return to poetry with his masterpiece “The Wreck of the Deutschland”. At this time Hopkins’s ordination as a Priest have just taken place, though he served not too successfully as preacher or assistant to the parish priest in Sheffield, Oxford, and London. [32]


God’s grandeur is an Italian sonnet. The Italian sonnet comprises two parts. First, the octave (two quatrains), which describe a problem, followed by a sestet (two tercets), which gives the resolution to it. Typically, the ninth line creates a "turn" or volta which signals the move from proposition to resolution. [33]


The poem begins with a statement, “The world is charged with the grandeur of God”, that introduces us to the idea of a powerful and superior God that is manifested in the world through his “grandeur”, which occupies the earth in the way of an electric charge, somehow conveying the idea of the Creation. “The word "charged" leads one to think of a spark or light, and so thoughts of the Creation, which began with a spark of light, are not far off”. [34]

The fact that this grandeur “will flame out, like shining from shook foil” makes us suspect that the grandeur of God is not imperceptible, it can be seen, its shining can be perceived, thanks to the descent and constant presence of the Holy Spirit. And finally, we have the idea of the ooze of oil as a grandeur that increases, that emerges gathering to a greatness. But in order to this grandeur to be materialized it has to emanate from something, something that has to be previously crushed: the olive. This image seems to be a clear metaphor of Christ.


“Just as the olive is crushed to reveal something costly and useful, so too did Christ chose to be crushed to bring forth His priceless blood, which saves men” [35]


And now the problem comes: civilisation. Considering the power of God’s grandeur and the suffering that was required in order to reach this greatness, “Why do men then now not reck his rod?”. The rest of the octave talks about human’s exploitation of the world (“Generations have trod, have trod, have trod”) which has left his corrupted mark (“And all is seared with trade; Bleared, smeared with toil”) making clear both his destruction and disconnectedness of and from nature (“the soil is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod”).


Then, in the ninth line, with the beginning of the final sestet, comes the change, the resolution, the beginning of an optimistic ending: “And for all this, nature is never spent”, because the dearest freshness remains in things. In spite of the inevitable existence of night and darkness, morning and sun, which is the Holy Ghost, always comes, surrounding the world with his warmth and brightness. “Because the Holy Ghost over the bent / World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings”.


In Burris words, emphasized by the Biblical references;

The world remains charged with the grandeur of God, "in spite of all mankind has done and is doing to pollute and pervert and tread out its radiance" (Ellis 129). God, through the constant presence of His Holy Spirit, continues to rejuvenate physical nature as well as the human spirit; both are "being made over anew" (Wisd. 19.6). So, however dark and dreary this world may appear (and does appear in lines five through eight of the poem), we must not surrender hope. For as Christ exhorted, "In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world" (John 16.33).” [36]



Rebellion or submission: a comparative approach to Blake and Hopkins

Now, taking as a reference “The Divine Image” by William Blake, and “God’s grandeur” by G. M. Hopkins, but not necessarily restricting to them, we are going to do a comparison between both poets, focusing in their main points of divergence. The aim is to, through the analysis of their poetry and paying attention to the theological implications, make a little more clear the reason why Blake has been seen as a radical and Hopkins, as a conservative, even a reactionary.


The only reading of the title of Hopkins’ poem gives us the major clue for his conception of man and God’s relationship. The word “grandeur” conveys ideas of glory, magnificence, splendour, majesty. And in order for something to be glorious, magnificent and splendorous, just like sun, it has to shine upon something else, it has to be in an upper level.

Hopkins’ poem provides “a hierarchical view of nature that places God or some Higher Being at the top of the pyramid of creation and unfortunately, man, afflicted with occasional indifference, presides at a somewhat lower niche” [37]

Hopkins had the conviction that there was something greater than himself, and that it was God [38].


As we have seen when analysing Blake’s “The Divine Image”, the poem goes from an initial identification between Man and God, justified by the fact that what is essence in God is also the essence of Man, to the assertion that those virtues are more purely human and hence God appears to be created in Man’s image rather than being the Creator. “Blake's "Divine Image" is therefore a reversed one”[39]

“Important here is that he abandoned the biblical creator sky-god for humankind in universal proportions. Where Blake includes a creator god (Urizen) in his galaxy of mythical beings, he is a "mistaken Demon of heaven. . . . thy labor vain, to form men into thine image.” [40]


 “The Divine Image” seems to make clear that Blake had a conception of God as a mental representation, a product of man’s imagination. In fact, one of the most radical assortments of Blake is that religion ought not to exist at all, its presence being a consequence of humanity’s fallen condition. “Long before Ludwig Feuerbach and Sigmund Freud, Blake was pondering the mind’s tendency to project and submit to inhuman, oppressive divinities”. [41]


“Why do men then now not reck his rod?”. In this line of Hopkins’ “God’s Grandeur” the word “rod” is indisputably the most appropriate representation of the divine authority. This rhetorical question is not an innocent one. It blames man for acts contrary to divine law and his non-subordination to this unquestionable power.

Nonetheless, a more biblical interpretation of the term “rod” has been done, asserting that it is the representation of Christ:

“God’s rod, then, is Christ Himself. God gave up his rod, His only Son, as a sacrifice for the very men who fail both to perceive and to honor Him in His creation.” [42]


An earthy materialization of God’s authority or  a metaphorical representation of God’s son it is not important for us now. On the contrary, it is very profitable considering both possibilities as far as Blake would have opposed to both of them.


Firstly, it has already been mentioned Blake’s systematic opposition to any kind of authority. In fact, he couldn’t see anything more harmful than the submission to an oppressive power. “Throughout his life Blake seems to have committed to the idea that “every man may converse with God & be a King & Priest in his own house”” [43]. This affirmation has lead him to be related with Antinomianism or lawlessness.


Secondly, Blake’s negation of the divine Trinity, probably his most Swedenborgian aspect, would had let him to question the second of the possibilities we mentioned (the rod being Christ, God’s son, and his Holy Spirit dwelling in the world), as it implies the assumption of the existence of three different persons.

“The only qualification Blake might make in this formulation would be to insist, as Emmanuel Swedenborg did, that Jesus was himself the Living God, embodying in his Divine Humanity the fullness of the Godhead. The Swedenborgians adopted as a defining doctrine the belief “that there is only One God, One Person, in whom is the Divine Trinity, called Father, Son, and Holy Spirit”. [44]



As we have said, Hopkins’ first octave  blames humankind for an attitude opposed to the divine laws. Man’s civilization has followed a pattern marked by worldly things as trade and toil, that has both destroyed nature and unlinked man from it. Therefore, human features and actions are presented as material, disturbing and incorrect. Human behaviour is wrong and must be corrected by an spiritual connection with God. We don’t encounter here, contrary to what we saw in Blake’s poem,  inner human virtues such as Mercy, Pity, Peace and Love, but an outside divinity carrying those virtues to which man has to connect spiritually in order to change his sinful nature.

“It is bad enough that man has disregarded the beauty of God’s creation and failed to see His grandeur in it. But man has done worse than ignore it, he has polluted it with his own sinful nature; he has brought darkness upon himself in the very midst of God’s light.” [45]


On his side, Blake did not think that a possible wrong attitude of men was linked to the disobedience of a divine authority. In fact it was totally the opposite way. It was the misconception of what God truly is, that is, his representation as an outside being with tyrannical powers, the condemnation of human’s imagination. And as we have seen, human imagination is the primary source of God.

More surprisingly, he saw this misconception, encouraged by the Church, as the personification of the Antichrist.

“Blake sometimes calls Satan “the God of this world”. He is the God most Christians actually worship and persecute others for not worshipping. The religion of Satan is the one that is practiced in most churches on most Sundays, an ideology that accept the present defective order of the world as a manifestation of God’s eternal will” [46]


Let’s show how stunningly different is Hopkins’ conception of God and Satan. His words, extracted from the notes on one of his Exercises as a Jesuit, “The principle or Foundation” [47], speak by themselves:

“You cannot mean your praise if while praise is on the lips there is no reverence in the mind; there can be no reverence in the mind if there is no obedience, no submission, no service. And there can be no obeying God while you disobey him, no service while you sin. […] For if you are in sin you are God’s enemy, you are under Satan’s standard and enlisted there.”


Therefore, for Blake, a free individual imagination is the clearest evidence of God, a God which dwells in man. Then, the repression of that freedom by authoritative means is the incarnation of Satan. While for Hopkins, is the submission of man to the divine law, the recognition of the grandeur of God, what makes us be in God’s hands, what keeps us away from the sinful role of Satan.

We are in conditions to assert that Blake’s Satan is Hopkins’ God, and Hopkins’ Satan, being the representation of the disobedience to authoritative laws, is Blake’s God.



Hopkins, although his hierarchical approach to religion and his belief on man’s sinful disjointedness from God and Nature, contemplated the possibility of a mystic union with God. According to Isobel Armstrong, who stresses the material conditions that are needed,  “A perfect union with God is possible. It is a union made possible, however, by the governing metaphor of rural labour and an archaic, agrarian economy” [48]


This would justify Hopkins’ rejection of an industrialised civilisation, but this materialist approach lives out other media that provided Hopkins his particular divine union: poetical language and nature.

He divided poetry into a classification of various levels, only one of them being capable of providing that mystic union with God. “The highest level he calls "poetry proper, the language of inspiration" when words come unbidden in a burst of creativity”. [49] His invention of the sprung rhythm represented his search for this high poetry. It may be noticed the contrast that this means in relation with Blake’s simplicity of language.

Nature was also a source for divine inspiration and meeting with God, something possible thanks to the perception of what he called the “inscape” of things.

“By "inscape" he means the unified complex of characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness and that differentiate it from other things, and by "instress" he means either the force of being which holds the inscape together or the impulse from the inscape which carries it whole into the mind of the beholder” [50]

“For Hopkins poetry and landscape — either individually or together — were two of the biggest things which stopped his mind in its tracks and let him glimpse eternity.” [51]


William Blake, on his side, believed that a total union with God could only be possible with a full liberation of the Poetic Genius, which was God himself. A freed imagination provided a world conscious of the real nature of God.

He also thought of religion as being intimately connected with poetry. But this relation appears as totally inverse of that of Hopkins. While Hopkins saw poetry as a medium to reach God, Blake thought that religion was a consequence of poetry, it emerged from it.

“To repair the damage done by the fall of humanity, then, would entail transforming religion back into poetry. […] Blake’s way of recovering the gospel message was to remythologize it in terms of his own tale of the Zoas. This had the effect of defamiliarizing the Christian revelation, freshening its impact, and detaching it from the religious practices of institutional churches” [52]


And, as far as Nature is concerned, while Hopkins repudiated man’s interference on it, William Blake could not think about Nature without taking into consideration man’s  contribution to it. “In the words of one of his proverbs of hell, "Where man is not, nature is barren." Human cultivation of the earth is obviously implied.” [53]

Moreover, he denied the existence of a Creator God who finds his providence paralleled and represented in nature. And if the case of men being alienated from the natural world was given, the only reason might be the repression of human’s Poetic Genius or imagination.

 “Blake does not believe that an external source can endow nature with meaning. Blake believes that divinity resides within the human breast and so it is the human imagination that gives meaning to the world.” [54]



William Blake’s humanistic presence in the divinity, or we should say, the divine presence in man’s nature, and his enormous emphasis upon the individual imagination ( so enormous it is that he transforms this imagination into God) can be considered as the most romantic and revolutionary conception ever applied to religion.

On his side, G. M. Hopkins, in his search for an spiritual fulfilment, chose to follow an orthodox religious life, characterised by the continuous exploration of the means that could lead him to a union with an external God. These investigation made him later become known for his poetical innovations. But his internal fight between his impulses and his moral duties and his tendency to preserve a submissive approach to God remained represented in his poetry as a sing of his religious conservatism.

Probably, in the utopian case of William Blake reading Hopkins’ poetry, he would have seen in him the incarnation of that theology of submission which he rejected because of his oppressive action upon human’s imagination, but he might have also admire as well his spiritualism and his love for poetry.







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-         Armstrong, Isobel. Victorian Poetry. Poetry, Poetics and Politics. Routledge, 1993.

-         The Oxford Authors: Gerard Manley Hopkins. A critical edition of the major works. Edited by Catherine Phillips. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1986.

-         Roberts, Gerald. Gerard Manley Hopkins. A literary life. General Editor: Richard Dutton. Macmillan Literary Lives, 1994.

-         Rix, Robert. William Blake and the Radical Swedenborgians. (  )

-         Whitney, Elizabeth. The "Mind-Forg'd Manacles" of Blake's Poetry.

-         Viscomi, Joseph. Lessons of Swedenborg: or, the Origin of Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell

[Part II. of The Evolution of William Blake's The Marriage of Heaven and Hell]  (  )

-         Victorian Web ( )

-         Blake Archive ( )

-         Ames, John.  "Tintern Abbey": Millennialism and Apocalypse Thought in S. T. Coleridge and William Wordsworth's Poetics. November 19, 2001.  ( )

-         Rowan Rutter’s blog ( )

-         Humber, Lee. Review of EP Thompson’s book “William Blake and the Moral Law. ( )

-         Wikipedia ( ). Articles: Revolution controversy, Priestley Riots, Evangelicalism, Sonnet.

-         Openlearn, Britain and the French Revolution (  )

-         Oxford Movement. Encyclopedia Britannica.

-         Lawson, William. Humanism in literature: William Blake. 9/1/1993. The Humanist. HighBeam Encyclopedia.

-         Songs of Innocence and of Experience. "The Divine Image". Sparknotes.







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