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.