February 2008


15.

Hope had grown grey hairs,
Hope had mourning on,
Trenched with tears, carved with cares,
Hope was twelve hours gone;
And frightful a nightfall folded rueful a day
Nor rescue, only rocket and lightship, shone,
And lives at last were washing away:
To the shrouds they took, ―they shook in the hurling and horrible airs.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

From the passengers perspective the situation must have been frightful: Some weeks after the shipwreck a bottle was found that must have been cast overboard shortly after the ship hit the shoal: We are ashore one hour, every minute terrific thumping. One boat and passengers already gone. D.J. Behring, Mrs Behring, Bremerhaven. I believe we are lost. I depart in peace with my God, and without anxiety. Love to friends, children and mother-in-law. (Signed D.J. Behring)

A Mr. Behring appears in the survivor listings. A Mrs. Behring does not.

Hopkins was certainly not the only one who was affected by the accounts of this shipwreck. The horror described by eyewitnesses was published in newspapers throughout the UK, Germany and USA. In an article from The Times, the 11 December 1875 one could read the dreadful accounts of the disaster:

After 3 a.m. on Tuesday morning a scene of horror was witnessed. Some passengers clustered for safety within or upon the wheelhouse, and on the top of other slight structures on deck. Most of the crew and many of the emigrants went into the rigging, where they were safe enough as long as they could maintain their hold. But the intense cold and long exposure told a tale. The purser of the ship, though a strong man, relaxed his grasp, and fell into the sea. Women and children and men were one by one swept away from their shelters on the deck.

No hope was still in sight.

 

In this stanza the personification of hope is very suggestive, apart from being imaginative it is almost beaten into us, by the repetition. There is also a small change in rhythm with the enforced stress on the initial syllable in verses one to four (verse=line) which further stresses the word hope. The surge of the rhythm is even more emphasized with the extensive use of alliterations throughout the stanza (e.g. h-h-gr-gr-h in verse one), some wonderful half rhymes (e.g. ful-fall-fold-ful in verse five) and the internal rhymes (fright night light).

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to the first stanza.
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14.

She drove in the dark to leeward,
She struck―not a reef or a rock
But the combs of a smother of sand: night drew her
Dead to the Kentish Knock;
And she beat the bank down with her bows and the ride of her keel:
The breakers rolled on her beam with ruinous shock;
And canvas and compass, the whorl and the wheel
Idle for ever to waft her or wind her with, these she endured.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

 

In this stanza Hopkins continues his play with paradoxes and double meaning. The ship struck the Kentish Knock, but the impact is not hard as stone but smooth as sand and the ship combs into it. This can both be compared with the sentences: sand in an hourglass and combs to the fall from stanza four and/or with how during a storm a wave breaks into a comb.

Furthermore, the SS Deutschland was driven by a steam engine with supporting sails. The whorl and the wheel probably refer to the steam engine and the propeller; to wind her probably to the sails which can be used to steer her. (Shortly after she hit the Knock the Captain ordered to raise the sails so that the wind might help the vessel to steer of the ground, however it had the opposite effect and only drove the Deutschland harder aground.)

In an impressive study conducted by Sean Street (published 1992 by Souvenir Press in the book “The Wreck of the Deutschland”) we can read what happened to the SS Deutschland the very last few moments of its journey: On its way it most probably went very close to the “Edge Knock” light, warning sailors for the Kentish Knock shoal. This warning light most probably was passed at the port side (left), since they where as close to England as they where. However the crew misinterpreted the lights as coming from Hinder, at the Dutch coast. The English Pilot remembered later:

She took the land forward, and slewed round with her port side to the sea. Shortly before she struck, I saw a light which I took to be fixed and not a revolving light. The Captain as well as myself was looking out, and we both saw it, but the snow came, and we lost sight of it. We thought it might be the Hinder and at about three miles distance. When we saw it first, it was about two points at the port bow. The head of the vessel was at this point slewed to port. As we went round we lost sight of it; it was a beam when I last saw it.

When the pilot and the Captain recognized the breakers they tried to steer away but the single screw propeller broke incapacitating the engine. They hit the sandbank with full force. Shortly thereafter the first distress rockets where fired. Life-boats where then launched but this attempt rescuing the crew and passengers proved to be disastrous. One of the boats where immediately lost to the storm and only one boat with three men where overall successfully launched… On a second thought, Successfully might be a bad choice of wording: This single boat where found thirty hours later at the fort at Sheerness with one badly frozen man in it and with two dead bodies blackened by the salt in the water and the cold.

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to the first stanza.

13.

Into the snows she sweeps,
Hurling the haven behind,
The Deutschland, on Sunday; and so the sky keeps,
For the infinite air is unkind,
And the sea flint-flake, black-backed in the regular blow,
Sitting Eastnortheast, in cursed quarter, the wind;
Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivellèd snow
Spins to the widow-making unchilding unfathering deeps.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

 

During Deutschlands last journey the wind was rising. It built up during Sunday from the relative calm but foggy Saturday evening, over periodic snowfall and harder winds until permanent drifting snow and a full ten force gale when the vessel stranded at the sandbank at five o’clock Monday afternoon.

The Beaufort scale of wind velocity ranges from calm (force zero) to hurricane (force twelve) where a force ten means winds up to 55 knots (equivalent to winds of 102 km/h or 63 mph). On sea this causes very high waves (9–12,5 M or 29-41ft) with long overhanging crests; the resulting foam in great patches is blown in dense white streaks; the surface of the sea takes on a white appearance; the tumbling of the sea becomes heavy with visibility affected.

On land a force ten storm uproot trees.

The gale wind blew east north east and the Captain choose a more westerly course to avoid the shoals of the Dutch coast, however the ship overcompensated and came much closer to the east coast of England than Captain Brickenstein could have expected. SS Deutschland kept her faulty course until her bitter end.

The inquires that followed on the wreckage never successfully established exactly what caused the navigational error that made SS Deutschland drift off its course. The Weather conditions with it’s winds and reduced visibility together with strong currents is the most probable explanation.

When Captain Brickenstein during the hearings described the weather that caused the wreckage, he made an understatement typical for how seamen described this type of weather: It’s “thick”.

Hopkins being a poet and not a seaman of few words, described it as being Wiry and white-fiery and whirlwind-swivellèd snow. I find this line being an echo of the description of the conversion process in stanza three (I whirled out wings that spell). Inner or outer storm connects in this poem and I believe this is one of the places where it is most evidently shown.

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to the first stanza.

The SS Deutschland

12.

On Saturday sailed from Bremen,
American-outward-bound,
Take settler and seamen, tell men with women,
Two hundred souls in the round―
O Father, not under thy feathers nor ever as guessing
The goal was a shoal, of a fourth the doom to be drowned;
Yet did the dark side of the bay of thy blessing
Not vault them, the million of rounds of thy mercy not reeve even them in?

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

 

At half past three Saturday afternoon, December the 4th 1875, the steamer Deutschland of The Norddeutscher Lloyd Bremen company left Bremerhaven heading for Southampton before it would continue towards New York. The weather was still fine, when she left the quay but during Sunday the conditions had deteriorated with bad winds and driving snow.

On Monday the 6th, the ship was heading towards the sandbanks and maelstroms at the northern mouth of the Thames and finally, at Kentish Knock, one of the outermost shoals, the SS Deutschland wrecked.

The exact chain of events that took place this few days is perhaps not always accurate in Hopkins narrative, but neither are exact accuracy that important to the poem and its intentions. Hopkins got his information from newspaper articles as the Times and the London Illustrated News. In a letter to his mother he ask that she will send him further articles, she does so and in his response, dated Christmas eve 1875, he writes the following:

I am obliged for the cuttings, nevertheless you made two oversights. You sent two duplicates, for one thing, and the other was that you omitted the most interesting piece of all, the account of the actual shipwreck: fortunately I had read it but still I should have been glad to have had it by me to refer to again , for I am writing something on this wreck, which may perhaps appear but it depends on how I am speeded. It made a deep impression on me, more than any other wreck or accident I ever read of.

The cuttings he is speaking of is probably the cuttings from London Illustrated News. My son took the picture above on my own copy of one of these cuttings.

In the stanza Hopkins note that the people on board did not guess that the vessel not was under God’s protecting feathers and that their goal would be a shoal, and that the fourth, as in 25 percent, of them would be drowned. (Compare to the heedlessness of people in the stanza before this one). In the two last lines Hopkins asks rhetorically if their death might be God showing them mercy.

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to the first stanza.

 

 

Part the second

11.

‘Some find me a sword; some
The flange and the rail; flame,
Fang, or flood’ goes Death on drum,
And storms bugle his fame.
But wé dream we are rooted in earth―Dust!
Flesh falls within sight of us, we, though our flower the same,
Wave with the meadow, forget that there must
The sour scythe cringe, and the blear share come.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

The nineteen century was a century of change, Hopkins got his news from newspapers, trains where beginning to change the landscape. The Industrial Revolution where spinning faster and faster…

The spinning wheels of modern times (flange and the rail) must have seen as a predator (with fangs) just as a stormy ocean might seem like one. Both fang and flood causes death to man (drumming it out like crying with a loud voice). And still man faces end of life in a heedless manner… As we all would just keep on living here on this earth, (like rooted here forever) – When in fact, in the end, we will all be Dust. We live our life careless of what will come, one day we will be judged, and even though we see and hear death all the time all around us: We don’t seem to bother us with it though we must actively ask for forgiveness to be able to attain it.

Instead we forget that the meadow of our lives will be reaped – as in by the Reaper – or Son of Man – with a scythe. The ploughshare will overturn and bury the meadow.

The poem is echoing Death and the Apocalypse and in this stanza it’s quite evident, with it’s swords and fires, floods and beasts. I believe this stanza strikes a chord for the whole of the second part, something to murmur through the rest of the poem, just as the apocalyptic theme will. In part two we will witness a metamorphose from the harvest of death to that of life.

And I saw, and behold a white cloud; and upon the cloud one sitting like to the Son of man, having on his head a crown of gold, and in his hand a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the temple crying with a loud voice to him that sat upon the cloud: Thrust in thy sickle, and reap, because the hour is come to reap: for the harvest of the earth is ripe. And he that sat on the cloud thrust his sickle into the earth, and the earth was reaped.

And another angel came out of the temple which is in heaven, he also having a sharp sickle. And another angel came out from the altar, who had power over fire; and he cried with a loud voice to him that had the sharp sickle, saying: Thrust in thy sharp sickle, and gather the clusters of the vineyard of the earth; because the grapes thereof are ripe. And the angel thrust in his sharp sickle into the earth, and gathered the vineyard of the earth, and cast it into the great press of the wrath of God: And the press was trodden without the city, and blood came out of the press, up to the horses’ bridles, for a thousand and six hundred furlongs.

(Apocalypse 14:14-20)

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to stanza 1.

10.

With an anvil-ding
And with fire in him forge thy will
Or rather, rather then, stealing as Spring
Through him, melt him but master him still:
Whether at once, as once at a crash Paul,
Or as Austin, a lingering-out sweet skill,
Make mercy in all of us, out of us all
Mastery, but be adored, but be adored King.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

This the second half of the prayer continues the play of paradoxes. or rather contrasts. The forging of will as a blacksmith or alluring like a spring day.

God forged Saul’s will with fire. His conversion was as a crash (of lightning and love): And as he went on his journey, it came to pass that he drew nigh to Damascus; and suddenly a light from heaven shined round about him. And falling on the ground, he heard a voice saying to him: Saul, Saul, why persecutest thou me? Who said: Who art thou, Lord? And he: I am Jesus whom thou persecutest. It is hard for thee to kick against the goad. And he trembling and astonished, said: Lord, what wilt thou have me to do? And the Lord said to him: Arise, and go into the city, and there it shall be told thee what thou must do. Now the men who went in company with him, stood amazed, hearing indeed a voice, but seeing no man. And Saul arose from the ground; and when his eyes were opened, he saw nothing. But they leading him by the hands, brought him to Damascus. And he was there three days, without sight, and he did neither eat nor drink.(Acts 9:3-9)

Austin refers to St Augustine of Hippo. Perhaps you could say that he was forged by time; as in seasons; as in the sweet force of spring. In his Confessions we can read about his conversion. It was a movement in slow pace with the prayers of his mother leading the way over the years until he finally found his faith: I was saying these things and weeping in the most bitter contrition of my heart, when, lo, I heard the voice as of a boy or girl, I know not which, coming from a neighbouring house, chanting, and oft repeating, “Take up and read; take up and read.” Immediately my countenance was changed, and I began most earnestly to consider whether it was usual for children in any kind of game to sing such words; nor could I remember ever to have heard the like. So, restraining the torrent of my tears, I rose up, interpreting it no other way than as a command to me from Heaven to open the book, and to read the first chapter I should light upon. (Confessions VIII:12)

Hopkins prays for our conversion and that we will evangelize. He prays that mercy be sent through us. That God gives us grace and that we may imitate him: in all of us, out of us all. God is mastering us, lets pray for mercy to adore him.

And so ends part one of this multithreaded poem.

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to stanza 1.

9.

Be adored among men,
God, three-numberèd form;
Wring thy rebel, dogged in den,
Man’s malice, with wrecking and storm.
Beyond saying sweet, past telling of tongue,
Thou art lightning and love, I found it, a winter and warm;
Father and fondler of heart thou hast wrung:
Hast thy dark descending and most art merciful then.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

When Hopkins friend Robert Bridges (who more than 40 years later would introduce this poem to the world) first read this poem he did not like it. In a (lost) letter he told Hopkins that he refused to ever read it again. This is Hopkins reply:

You say you wd. not for any money read my poem again. Nevertheless I beg you will. Besides money, you know, there is love. If it is obscure do not bother yourself with the meaning but pay attention to the best and most intelligible stanzas, as the two last of each part and the narrative of the wreck.

In his letter he refers (among others) to this and the next stanza. These are the two last of part one. Together they form a concluding prayer to God that he should fulfill his Glory in us.

Here, in the first half of the prayer, the image of water and storm reappear. God is beyond sweet and alluring words, He consists of paradoxes, Lightning and love, winter and warm.

There is an beautiful movement going on. From wring to wrung: The dogged in den, the wreck, over the sayings and past tellings, the expression “Thou art…” until the Father and fondler unfolds:

– The compassionate in the downward dark.

 

 

During lent I will publish the stanzas from the Wreck of the Deutschland, one by one. Sometimes with a small commentary or with some aspect about the poem. Hopefully someone will be able to use this as a form of prayer during Lent. Click here to get to stanza 1.

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