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.