Cowslips capriciously colouring meadows in creamy drifts

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Although not widely acclaimed during his lifetime, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889) is now recognised as one of the most brilliant poets of the Victorian era, celebrated for the masterful use of language, rhythm, and evocative imagery in his poetry. A committed Jesuit priest, Hopkins’ work frequently explored themes of nature, spirituality, and the individual’s deep connection with God, and his innovative metrical system, known as “sprung rhythm,” introduced more natural speech patterns into verse, amplifying the allure of his poems. Hopkins’ profound appreciation for the natural world is unmistakable in his writings, particularly in his diaries, which teem with vivid and detailed descriptions of the natural world. This is just one example, written in 1866 while studying Classics at Oxford, enchanted by the local landscape.

The Diary Entry

May 3

Cold. Morning raw and wet, afternoon fine. Walked then with Addis, crossing Bablock Hythe, round by Skinner’s Weir through many fields into the Witney Road. Sky sleepy blue without liquidity. From Cumnor Hill saw St Philip’s and the other spires through blue haze rising pale in a pink light. On further side of the Witney Road hills, just fleeced with grain or other green growth, by their dips and waves foreshortened here and there  and so differenced in brightness and opacity the green on them, with delicate effect. On left, brow of the near hill glistening with very bright newly turned sods and a scarf of vivid green slanting away beyond the skyline, against which the clouds shewed the slightest tinge of rose or purple. Copses in grey-red or grey-yellow – the tinges immediately forerunning the opening of full leaf. Meadows skirting Seven-bridge road voluptuous green. Some oaks are out in small leaf. Ashes not out, only tufted with their fringy blooms. Hedges springing richly. Elms in small leaf, with more or less opacity. White poplars most beautiful in small grey crisp spray-like leaf. Cowslips capriciously colouring meadows in creamy drifts. Bluebells, purple orchis. Over the green water of the river passing the slums of the town and under its bridges swallows shooting, blue and purple above and shewing their amber-tinged breasts reflected in the water, their flight unsteady with wagging wings and leaning first to one side then the other. Peewits flying. Towards sunset the sky partly swept, as often, with moist white cloud, tailing off across which are morsels of grey-black woolly clouds. Sun seemed to make a bright liquid hole in this, its texture had an upward northerly sweep or drift from the west marked softly in grey. Dog violets. Eastward after sunset range of clouds rising in bulky heads moulded softly in tufts or bunches of snow – so it looks – and membered somewhat elaborately, rose-coloured. Notice often imperfect fairy rings. Apple and other fruit trees blossomed beautifully.

Further Reading
  • Hopkins’ journals, first published in 1937, can be found at the Internet Archive. They contain many beautiful entries similar to the above.
  • To learn more about the poet himself, you should visit the Poetry Foundation website.
  • I had never heard of “sprung rhythm” before researching Hopkins, so I found this 8min explanation on YouTube very useful.

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