It dates from day
Of his going in Galilee;
Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey;
Manger, maiden’s knee;
The dense and the driven Passion, and frightful sweat;
Thence the discharge of it, there its swelling to be,
Though felt before, though in high flood yet―
What none would have known of it, only the heart, being hard at bay

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins




The first part of this poem deals a lot with God’s finger and how he touches us (the opening word it in this stanza refers back to the stress felt in the previous one). So what is the nature of divine stress? Well, the best way to study how God reveals himself is by looking at when he actually walked here on earth, Of his going in Galilee. From his birth to the Passion and the resurrection.

Hopkins saw the Passion as the great discharge of God. Donald McChesney (who wrote an extensive commentary in the sixties) compares this with a meditation Hopkins wrote in 1884: The piercing of Christ’s side. The sacred body and the sacred heart seemed waiting for an opportunity of discharging themselves, and testifying their total devotion of themselves to the cause of man.

The line Warm-laid grave of a womb-life grey is a rather ambiguous one. Maybe Hopkins uses this as a simile for the Incarnation, the Son of God conceived in the womb of Mary, the Word made Flesh. Perhaps it’s a metaphor for the Resurrection where Christ ends this natural womb-life, and leads us to a supernatural life with Him in heaven.

But the divine stress was even felt before that – as in the predictions of the Old Testament or as that God has written in all men’s hearts – and it goes on even today, it is in high flood yet – as in the sacrifice of the holy mass.

I cant help associate high flood to the shipwreck. Perhaps Hopkins meant that God’s stress can be felt through the way of the cross, the sufferings of Christians here and today, just as with the poor nuns on board the Deutschland that frightful night of Dec. 7th. 1875.




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.