Explore Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poetry for Found-Franciscanism

Paul Keggington

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.


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