24.

Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling ‘O Christ, Christ, come quickly’:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wild-worst Best.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

 

 

 

While passenger and crew fought for their lifes, Hopkins was on a pastoral forehead in his beloved Wales. At The Jesuit house of St Beuno. It was here he studied to become a priest and it was here some of his most loved poems where created. When you read his letters you can clearly see that this time of his life is when he was as most in a rest with himself and his destiny. His ancestry on his mothers side where also from Wales and he confided in her that he always felt partly Welsh and partly English.

At the same time, early on Monday morning the single screw steamer SS Deutschland hit the sandbank the Kentish Knock and the single screw propeller broke. Distress rockets were fired. Other vessels where spotted, but no help arrived. 42 people, among them five Franciscan sisters, lost their lives during the 30 hours when the ship was stranded in the storm until the tug Liverpool reached the stranded vessel and rescued the survivors.

We can clearly see that the call of the nun is at the absolute center of the poem. It all revolves around this moment and it is described from different perspectives in all the surrounding stanzas. Here, for the first time, we get to know what the words was, when she called to God.

We can also see how closely Hopkins followed his source information:

In an article in the Times from the 11th of December the nuns are described: Five German nuns, whose bodies are now in the dead-house here, clasped hands and were drowned together, the chief sister, a gaunt woman 6 ft. high, calling out loudly and often ‘O Christ, come quickly!’ till the end came.

In an report from the of 13 December the scene described is even more closely linked to the poems narrative: One, noted for her extreme tallness, is the lady, who, at midnight on Monday, by standing on a table in the saloon, was able to thrust her body through the skylight, and kept exclaiming, in a voice heard by those in the rigging above the roar of the storm, ‘My God, my God, make haste, make haste!’

One eyewitness, Adolf Hermann described the sisters calling as: “They prayed aloud that God would send them a speedy death, and so end their misery: Ach Gott! Mach es nur kurz, wenn wir schon sterben müssen!

According to another eyewitness, Leick, the tall nun shrieked: Mein Gott! mach es schnell mit uns! Ach Christ! mach es schnell mit uns.

 

 

 

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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