Sunday, October 23, 2011


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Religion represents the major correlation and contrast between the poetry of Thomas Hardy and Gerald Hopkins. Hardys poems looked at religion with a cynical eye, exposing inconsistencies of the actions of the world as proof of either the ambivalence or lack of a God. Hopkins, on the other hand, saw God as an omnipresent force on the planet and in everyones lives, and his poetry reflects this extreme faith in religion. The poems of both Hopkins and Hardy mirror occurrences in each of their lives, as both led substantially different ones. Despite some similarities between the poets -- significant unhappiness, same era -- the differences in their views on religion and their subsequent effects on their poetry are notable and important.

Hardy, surprisingly enough, was raised in a Christian family and held strong faith in Christianity for the first part of his life. As he aged, however, Hardy began to wonder about the inconsistencies of life. If there really was a God, he asked himself, then why would there be such horrors in society and nature? Why would there be so much suffering in the world? These questions were being asked at around the time that Charles Darwin was revolutionizing the scientific community with his research on creationism. The ideas of natural selection and evolution coupled with the seeming randomness of life led Hardy to believe that God was either uncaring and unresponsible or simply did not exist. Hardy never was exactly sure about the existence of God, but he was often unable to marry his scientific principles to the ideals of religion, and thus found himself remaining agnostic.

The poem Hap demonstrates many of these issues that Hardy was facing. The first word of the poem, If, depicts the uncertainty of Hardys faith in both God and his own idea about what/who God is. If but some vengeful god would call to me / From up the sky, and laugh Though suffering thing, / Know that they sorrow is my ecstasy / That they loves loss is my hates profiting!, (Norton, 6) the poem reads, and we see that although Hardy is uncertain about the existence of God, he has some ideas about the ambivalence that God has if he exists.

Hopkins, contrastingly, would not have started Hap with the word If. Hopkins had a strong devotion to Catholicism, and eventually became ordained as a priest. He often used his faith as a source for his poetry, and throughout his works it is quite evident that Hopkins does not waver in his devotion to God, despite the unhappiness this faith has brought with it. The Habit of Perfection, a poem about a priest who has taken a vow of silence, demonstrates Hopkins zealousness in his faith. In that poem, the narrator seems as if he is unworthy of Gods love and thus becomes silent. The tone of the poem is an overzealous love for God rather than simple faith, and this overzealous love seems to stem from a kind of unworthiness of the narrator when compared to the creator. It is an important testament to Hopkins mental state about religion. Although the narrator obviously is too repressed to be happy, Hopkins seems to envy him and the strength of his servitude.

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Hardys The Subalterns also deals with servitude to a higher power, but the poems speaks of the randomness at which God works rather than Hopkins testimony that God is so wonderful as to deserve a vow of silence. The Subalterns speaks of some natural effects -- the sky, the North, sickness, death -- and how each of these things are directed by a stronger force (Norton, 71). This is implied to be God, and a personified death goes so far as to say that he is a slave to the schedule. The poems seems to demonstrate the indifference and randomness with which God runs the planet.

In He Never Expected Much, Hardy portrays the world as indifferent and void of passion (Norton, 87), but he might as well have been talking about God. At this point in his life (he was eighty-six years old), Hardy was getting more and more cynical about the existence of God, and the poem reflects his resignation that the world will not fulfill any expectations that religion asks of it. Hardy also seems comfortable with this fact, as the poem reveals a stoic persona that seems to be defeated by a haphazardly-run world and comfortable with this knowledge.

Hopkins instead felt more defeated by himself and his own inadequacy in the perceived eyes of God than anything else. Whenever Hopkins approaches God directly, as in the very direct [Though Art Indeed Just, Lord, If I Contend] (Norton, 107), he seems extremely fearful of even the thought of approaching God. What is meant to be a complaint for some of the injustices of the world turns into a passive, fearful, almost apologetic missive. Where Hardy took the injustices of the world to mean there really was not a God (or at least the declaration that he just did not know either way), Hopkins saw this to mean that the omnipresent God was punishing the people for evils. Hardy also felt that whatever was controlling the world was a passive being (He Never Expected Much), where Hopkins felt God was an active participant in the joys and sorrows of the world.

Another of the poems in which Hopkins demonstrates his belief that the stability of the world hinges on either Gods anger or Gods compassion occurs in his epic The Wreck of Deutshland (Norton, ). The poem speaks of a God with the power and wrath to bury a boat with a frown on his face (Norton, 4), then his ultimate mercy in saving some of the boaters from drowning.

Obviously, both Hardy and Hopkins felt that there was much suffering, pain, and hardship in the world. However, their views as to why this occurs are markedly different. Hardy feels that the reasons for these hardships exist because there may not be a God. Or, if there is, the God may feel that ambivalent and uncaring towards humans. Perhaps the creations of human beings were simply a mistake or an accident, and God felt little responsibility for them anymore. He especially demonstrates this in New Years Eve, in which an indifferent God ponders the passing of another year, then explains to one of his followers the following The he (says) My labours -- logicless -- / You may explain; not I / Sense-sealed I have wrought, without a guess / That I evolved a Consciousness / To ask for reasons why / Strange ephermeral creatures who / By my own ordering are, / Should see the shortness of my view (Norton, 77). Here, Hardy portrays God as a kind of bumbling supernatural being who admits that the human being experiment is not one that was undertaken with much consideration or though. Somewhat similarly, in Channel Firing (Norton, 77), Hardy portrays God as a mad scientist type figure, who watches over his subjects with an ironic edge. We get the feeling that God is actually being the conflict, and the war is a medium for entertainment itself. I looked Up From My Writing (Norton, 85) is a similarly cynical view on the world, as a pontificating Hardy is writing his story when the moon interrupts him. The moon, which seemed to be a symbol of the voice in the back of Hardys head, asks Hardy how he could be writing in a world where there is so much suffering. Hardys stoic personality in the poem shines through here, as he seems to be saying that not he, nor anyone else, has any control over the atrocities of the world. Al will be the same no matter what people do, so why should we bother? This implies that there is nothing from which to ask help, or no God.

Hopkins, on the other hand, has a much less cynical view of God. In Gods Grandeur (Norton, 101), the poet bemoans the destruction of the environment (which God created) by humans. The destruction of the environment could be seen as one of the reasons for punishment that god inflicts with his wrath on the planet and society. Hopkins seems to be saying, Did something bad happen? Then, yes, it was God, but it was your fault for _______. The guilt and anguish that Hopkins feels toward God is less cynical than Hardys agnostic views, but is no less unhealthy. Hopkins lived a short life filled with guilt and remorse, and any happiness that he felt was usually tempered by his attitude toward God. He was either disappointed in himself for not being as devout as he should be (The Habit of Perfection) or disappointed in other humans for their behavior to the things that God creates (Gods Grandeur). Hardy spent most of his life looking for meaning to it all, as his faith in religion was lost as he aged. Struggling in an era where Christianity was the norm, Hardy attempted to create an agreement between his own strong views as a realist and the views of religion. He failed time and time again as the random occurrence -- particularly the negative random occurrences -- of the world continued and increased. Hardy searched for meaning in his life, but ended up pessimistically resigning himself to the fact that the world was indifferent and uncaring (He Never Expected Much).

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