Written by Emma Engel
Celebration. No other word summarizes as fully what Corban drama is about. From fun and funny romps through the foibles of life in productions like A Midsummer Night's Dream, Busybody, and Little Women to the more dark and serious journeys of Firstborn, Into the Woods, and Our Town all the productions have the theme of joy. Whether or not a play carries a clear moral, there is a lesson to be learned. Life is beautiful gift. Revel in it.
Many artists wrestle with questions about their craft. What is art? Does a piece have to be moral to be good art? What role does the artist actually play in the creation of his work? While it is perhaps impossible to fully answer these questions, Corban drama gives us a glimpse of the truth.
Art is worship. Whether it is a worship of the Creator, the creation, or the created, all art is an impassioned attempt to do justice to a subject. It might not even be a tangible person or object. Rather, it could be worship of an idea or a belief. While riotously funny, Busybody had no clear message. Murder doesn’t pay perhaps if you stretched. But as the audience laughed their way through the bumbling antics of the detectives and office workers, they were really laughing at life. They were enjoying the frailty and foibles of a humanity that they shared. The gamut of emotions run over the course of the three hours ranged from love to betrayal, happiness to rage, guilt to curiosity, and the audience experienced each in their humorous setting, seeing that they were good. Humanity, with all its failings and short comings, was held up as a thing of beauty, and the Giver was worshiped.
Direct morality is not necessary in a piece to make it good art. There is no moral offered up at the end of Little Women. Yet it remains one of the best loved stories, with a striking reception among the audiences that packed the sold out theatre every performance. There is something “right” in the portrait of strong loving family. Of girls becoming women. Of the family changing as each young person starts to find their place in the world. There is no guide book being offered. No cliché one liner synopsis of how you should honor God , love your family, and protect your country. It isn’t trying to teach you. But it succeeds as art because it shows us what we all want. Into the Woods dealt with immorality in far greater depth than Little Women, but it achieved the same effect of showing morality through story rather than through listing truths. Good art is moral in the sense that it is right or true. And sometime, to achieve that, art must portray immorality. Humanity is fallen and any art that deals with truth must allow for the existence of evil and wrong doing. As Christians, we should have no fear of truth, even when it makes us uncomfortable.
As for the final question, which might be the most pertinent as students embody characters in a variety of settings, the role of a Christian artist is to become a glove on the hand of God. Unable to move on its own; unable to predict the results of its own actions. Empty so that it can be filled for a purpose it doesn’t even understand. An actor must set aside his own personality to embody his character. The audience sees only the character. They can appreciate the actor and his abilities, but the actor himself is masked by his character. In turn, the actor is given the chance to be a mask for God. It is hard. It requires letting go of yourself and giving up your own expectations and hopes. And rarely do you know if you succeed. It requires a reckless abandon and full surrender that results in a most exhausting and exhilarating ride.
In Our Town, a character asks if anyone truly appreciates life while they are living it. The reply is that saints and poets catch a glimpse of it. And that is what Corban drama is about. The worship begins with the artist and merely grows when the audience accepts the invitation to join in the celebration of God and humanity, the celebration of life.
Written by Emma Engel
A skimming of Hopkins leaves the reader with the impression that little matters to the poet other than sounds. However, once the fancy language has been overcome, it becomes much clearer that Hopkins had messages for his readers, but he wanted to reader to find them. It wasn’t a game like Donne played. It was a way of leaving a nice poem to the world, and a deep truth to the diligent reader.
For Hopkins, despite living in the Victorian age, was a Romantic at heart.
"While in literal time he of course belongs to the Victorians, the Romantics of the second and third generation, and while persuasive arguments have been made for his essentially Victorian temperament and intellectual position, in my view it is in the line and spirit of the firstborn, the great early Romantics, that Hopkins stands.
The Romanic movement, impulse, way of seeing…had sprung from the urgently felt need not to escape reality, but to rediscover and re-create a cosmos out of the chaos “reality” had become." (Ellis 25)
We see in his poems the same studied easy, love of nature, and hidden truths as we do in the Romantics. Unlike poets such as Keats, Shelley, and Blake though, Hopkins believed in the God of the Bible, not a god of his own intellect. This has a profound impact on his works. Rather than finding poetry, the god, and the poet, the prophet, at the center of his work, we find God and his servant. Therefore I would call Hopkins the greatest of the Romantic poets. He took what they had begun and perfected it.
"The term [romanticism] designates a literary and philosophical theory which tends to see the individual at the very center of all life and all experience, and it places the individual, therefore, at the center of art, making literature most valuable as an expression of his or her unique feelings and particular attitudes and valuing its accuracy in portraying the individual’s experiences, however fragmentary and incomplete, more than it values its adherence to completeness, unity, or the demands of genre." (Holman 394)
Hopkins takes the rules his predecessors set up and, like any good poet, twists them. Rather than having a humanist individual at the center of all, he places the only perfect individual mankind has ever known, Christ, in the center of all that is communicated or portrayed in his poems.
That’s not to say that Hopkins totally escape the egocentric Romantic tendencies. “The earliest writings embody not only a young Ruskinian’s meticulously detailed and delighted response to the world’s variety but also a young Romantic’s tendency (or perhaps simply any young person’s tendency) to view the self as the center of that variety…” (Ellis 13) But Hopkins was too strong a Christian to continue in the flawed thinking of Keats and Byron. He began adjusting and personalizing many of their theories, tempering them with divine fire. One of Keats’ favorite ideas was “the vale of soul making.” Hopkins did not totally reject the idea that imagination has a particular origin somewhat akin to Plato’s concept of forms. Rather, he reinvented it.
“This concept no longer dominated, if it even survived, by the end of the century , but Hopkins’ concepts of the imagination in general, and of ‘inscape’ and ‘instress’ in particular, make him something of a throwback to the attitudes of his Romantic forbears.” (Ellis 29) Inscape and instress were Hopkins’ signature terms. While they never inter into his poetry, they are scattered throughout his letters and other prose pieces. According to A Handbook of Literature inscape is defined as:
"…the inner structure or nature of a thing; hence, the essence of a natural object, which, being perceived through a moment of illumination – an ephiphany – reveals the unity of all creation. Inscape is the inward quality of objects and events, as they are perceived by the joined observation and introspection of a poet, who in turn embodies them in unique poetic forms.” (Holman 231)
And instress means: “…the force, ultimately divine, which creates the inscape of an object or an event, and impresses that distinctive inner structure of the object on the mind of the beholder, so that he or she can perceive it and embody it in a work of art.” (Holman 231) Instress by its very definition is the influence of God on the artist. Some people would use the word muse, others, divine inspiration. Inscape, though, had more to do with the poet. “Because the artist was a species to himself, he was distinctive; the inscape of his art bore the stamp of his own unity of being…The artist was necessarily though accidentally in his art.” (Heuser 62)
Perhaps the characteristic Hopkins most shared with the Romantic was a love of nature. He did not see in it man’s salvation; he saw in it a means of communicating God’s salvation.
"Then, while the debate between science and religion was going on, Hopkins developed a theory of art using the best of both worlds – the laws of science and the life of religion – combining wild naturalism…with religious idealism….On the one hand, there was a Romantic return to primitive innocence of sensations; on the other, a Christian striving towards the perfect Manhood." (Heuser 95)
While nature pervades Hopkins work, he was neither the first or the last Christian poet to focus on it. “Such naturalistic verse [The Woodlark], especially the mimetic instinct of repeating the same sound in chime, was release of emotion in poetry, catharsis – a Romantic principle taken into religious verse by such a poet-critic as Keble.” (Heuser 56)
Hopkins, like his counterparts Donne and Herbert, believed firmly in divine inspiration. Poetry was more to him than a nice way of expressing himself.
"‘Devotion’, then, is an active, creative state of mind, a ‘poetical’ condition, we might say, in which the mind works at high intensity….The phrase ‘devotional poetry’ should not, then, be taken to indicate verse of rather limited range, ‘merely pious’ pieces without much poetic energy. Devotion is for these poets a state of mind created by one central issue." (Martz 103)
Martz in his definition of devotion hits on perhaps the keystone of Romantic theory and works in the phrase “one central issue.” Despite writing poems that appear on the surface to be light, airy, bubbly poems about birds or flowers, the Romantic poets really wrote about intellect. Most of them believed that intellect’s zenith lay in poetry, so many of their poems are about poetry. Poetry was their god. Hopkins also seemed to have found intellectual growth and perfect to be his prime source of inspiration. Even the poems that are not built around this theme have faint echoes of it. “Romantic theory therefore emphasized, and Hopkins inherited and developed, a concept of the creative reciprocity between creating mind and the existent world….For him also, as for Keats, though perhaps coincidentally, and with the usual difference in emphasis, great truths do not depends on literal present existence…” (Ellis 31) Hopkins with great sincerity turns his back though on his predecessors’ god of poetry. With the same level of intense thought and studied emotion, Hopkins turns to the God of the Bible. Reaching with this twist of theme a hope, glory, and peace that the Romantic fell short of. Setting two poems, Keats’ Ode to a Nightingale and Hopkins’ God’s Grandeur, next to each juxtaposes the successes and failures of the two men’s intellectual themes. Both the poems are about nature and natural things, but in both, these are only symbols of far deeper and abstract issues.
As a romantic, Keats had a lofty vision of what being a poet actually meant. We see in his Ode to Psyche his frequent metaphor of the poet as a prophet, righting the wrongs that had been neglected by others. His letters spoke of a non-entity, emptying himself of being so that his works could live through him. It was not the role of a man
Ode to Psyche may be the firstborn of the two great odes, but it is defiantly second to Ode to a Nightingale.
"Throughout this ode Keats’s genius is at its height. Imagination cannot be more rich and satisfying, felicity of phrase and cadence cannot be more absolute, than in the several contrasted stanzas calling for the draft of southern vintage, picturing the frailty and wretchedness of man’s estate on earth, and conjecturing in the ‘embalmed darkness’ the divers ordours of spring." (Colvin 419)
Keats wrote first of the role of the poet. Now he writes of the end of the poet. The first three stanzas, the poet sounds momentarily human in his desire to escape reality through alcohol. The effort of being the poet-prophet, the pain of being less than human has caught up with him, and he wants nothing more than to escape it. The nightingale was once considered a symbol of love, happiness, and cheer. The poet longs for what the bird has, but, in proper romantic fashion, can’t feel about it personally. Rather, he takes on the feeling of the bird.
’Tis not through envy of thy happy lot,
but being too happy in thine happiness…
Though the poet is falling apart, he is compelled as a poet to feel what his subject feels. “Psyche was a completely happy poem, a picture of harmonious, single-souled creativity uncrossed by shadow. The first stanza of the Nightingale sets up a conflict which, progressively enriched and deepened, governs the structural and emotional pattern.” (Bush 133)
In the fourth stanza, there is a regression. The poet suddenly seems to remember his is poet rather than the average person at the end of a hard day. He rejects himself again, trying to reach what the bird represents through his vision of poetry.
Away! Away! For I will fly to thee,
Not charioted by Bacchus and his pards,
But on the viewless wings of Poesy,
Though the dull brain perplexes and retards:…
He is poet. He is not allowed to think and feel outside of what aids his poetry. In stanza five, he laments loosing touch with the real world. He speaks of sights and smells that he knows he should be able to experience, but that he has lost. He realizes in the next stanza that he is courting death, although what sort of death, he doesn’t detail. It might be physical death; he is certainly edging that way. More likely, it is the death to self a poet must experience according to the romantics.
The snare is sprung in stanza seven for the poet. For a glorious, dazzling, pitiful moment, the poet hears the siren song. He believes the fallacy of a mortal immortally. He tries to catch the song and become one of its peddlers. But like the fruit of Rossetti’s goblins, it only brings grief. For in the next stanza it is gone, leaving behind a mourning poet.
Or is it gone? Something has been lost, but is it the poetic vision? No. It is the real world. Many years later, Yeats would write of a human child lured away by faeries. The real world was harsh, they told the boy. Our world is eternal and ethereal. The changling learns it is a lie, but he can no longer return. Perhaps Yeats wrote of Keats. The music that is fled, the vision he doubts are the things from stanza five, the real things, the things, he finds, that matter.
“Keats expressed in his Ode to a Nightingale the inadequacy of a romantic escape from painful reality into an ideal world of natural beauty.” (Finney 623) This is not a poem about poets and making poetry. This is poem about the death of a poet. The romantics tried to become demi-gods. They became less than human.
Hopkins, on the other hand, writes about the redemption of the poet. Like the poet of Keats, Hopkins’ poet has been given a “charge.” However, this charge is not the making of an imaginary temple to the goddess of poetry, or the capturing of an elusive nightingale song. It is declaring the glory of God. For the world represents the poet in this piece. Again, he takes the image of nature like so many Romantic’s before him, but it is what nature represents that is most important.
Many of the images in this poem return to Romantic roots. Shelley wrote that poetry was “a sword of lightening, ever unsheathed.” Hopkins writes that God’s glory will “flame out, like shining from shook foil.” Hopkins like so many of the Romantics seems to mourn nature.
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil…
Use of the word “trade” here invokes the image of Christ cleansing the Temple. As a poet, Hopkins may not be building temples to Psyche, but he is definitely involved with the House of God.
More than a call to preach to message of God though, this poem suggests that the poet finds himself not a non-entity doing to will of a capricious muse, but a “little Christ” showing the Father to world. Placing the above lines into a little context gives a fairly clear illusion to Christ.
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 Romantic failed their great quest, turning to a god of their own making, a god invented by their intellect. They ended in despair.
Was it a vision, or a waking dream?
Fled is that music: - Do I wake or sleep?
Hopkins takes their theories, principles, and ideas, and uses his intellect to find the true God. He ends in hope and comfort.
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast, and with ah! bright wings.
Just as with the same basic wings, Daedalus soared to freedom and Icarus fell, Hopkins earns the crown the Romantic sought using the their own ideas.
"This poem [That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire] represents the end of a long journey: the Romantic search throughout the century for vital permanence and someway of understanding the intersection of actual and ideal; the late-century Aesthetic search for a life lived with the intensity of a ‘hard, gemlike flame’; Hopkins’ personal search, expressed throughout his life and in all his poems. Because he never lost sight of the order behind the transience of life, the One ‘past change’ behind the changing many, the actual as well as potential splendors or humanity and nature in spite of their physical mortality, he could return near the end of his life to one final major affirmation of his pervasive vision. " (Ellis 235)
Bush, Douglas. John Keats: His Life and Writings. New York: Collier Books, 1966.
Colvin, Sidney. John Keats: His Life and Poetry, His Friends, Critics, and After-fame.
New York: Octagon Books, 1970.
Ellis, Virginia Ridley. Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Language of Mystery.
Columbia: University of Missouri Press, 1991.
Finney, Claude Lee. The Evolution of Keats’s Poetry, vol 2. New York: Russell and
Russell, Inc. 1963.
Holman, C. Hugh. A Handbook to Literature. Indianapolis: Bobbs-Merrill Educational
Heuser, Alan. The Shaping Vision of Gerard Manley Hopkins. Oxford University Press,
Martz, Louis L. “The Action of the Self: Devotional Poetry in the Seventeenth Century.”
Metaphysical Poetry. Bradbury, Malcolm ed. Bloomington: Indiana University