I admire thee, master of the tides,
Of the Yore-flood, of the year’s fall;
The recurb and the recovery of the gulf’s sides,
The girth of it and the wharf of it and the wall;
Stanching, quenching ocean of a motionable mind;
Ground of being, and granite of it: past all
Grasp God, throned behind
Death with a sovereignty that heeds but hides, bodes but abides.

The Wreck of the Deutschland
By Gerard Manley Hopkins




In 1875 Hopkins had started his final year of studies to become a priest. He hadn’t wrote a single poem, until this, like a bursting flood, came out of him. It is drenched with scritual thoughts and imagery. The metaphor of Noah’s dove is a strand from the last stanza continued here as God is called the master of the long past flood, the Deluge: In the six hundredth year of the life of Noe, in the second month, in the seventeenth day of the month, all the fountains of the great deep were broken up, and the flood gates of heaven were opened: And the rain fell upon the earth forty days and forty nights. (Genesis 7:11-12)

At the same time the Yore-flood can also be a reference to the primal waters of Creation and the division of World’s strand, sway of the sea as in stanza 1: And God said: Let there be a firmament made amidst the waters: and let it divide the waters from the waters. And God made a firmament, and divided the waters that were under the firmament, from those that were above the firmament, and it was so. And God called the firmament, Heaven; and the evening and morning were the second day. God also said: Let the waters that are under the heaven, be gathered together into one place: and let the dry land appear. And it was so done. And God called the dry land, Earth; and the gathering together of the waters, he called Seas. And God saw that it was good. (Genesis 1:6-10)

Gardner suggests that line 3 and four should be compared with the imagery of the book of Job: Who shut up the sea with doors, when it broke forth as issuing out of the womb: When I made a cloud the garment thereof, and wrapped it in a mist as in swaddling bands? I set my bounds around it, and made it bars and doors: And I said: Hitherto thou shalt come, and shalt go no further, and here thou shalt break thy swelling waves. (Job 38:8-11)


One interesting aspect is to compare God in this stanza with Man of stanza 4. There Man is soft sift in an hourglass, here God is the master of Time and tide. Man is soft sift, God is Ground of being, and granite of it. But while God is Granite he is also so muck more motionable than Man, when man drifts to a pane God is the stanching, quenching ocean.



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.