Whitlock on Hopkins for Earth Day weekend

Apr 14, 2017
Gerard Manley Hopkins is generally regarded as the first modern environmental poet; Baird Whitlock has timed his Left Bank Books presentation to celebrate Earth Day weekend.

Belfast — To celebrate Earth Day Weekend, Left Bank Books, 109 Church St., will welcome scholar and professor Baird Whitlock Sunday, April 23, at 3 p.m. for a talk on Gerard Manley Hopkins, the first modern environmental poet.

Whitlock has said that Hopkins “purposely set forth a new way of writing poetry and placing human life as an essential part of the physical world. For Hopkins, earth’s ‘landscape’ is God’s ‘inscape,’ which is endangered by human misuse. His poems of concern about our behavior remain a timely warning.”

Born in England on July 28, 1844, Hopkins is regarded as one the Victorian era’s greatest poets. He was raised in a prosperous and artistic family and attended Oxford University where he studied Classics. Upon graduation, he became a Jesuit priest and vowed to “write no more … unless it were by the wish of my superiors.” He burned all the poetry he had written to date and did not write poems again until 1875.

Hopkins resumed writing after a German ship was wrecked during a storm at the mouth of the Thames River. Although conventional in theme, “The Wreck of the Deutschland” introduced what he called “sprung rhythm.” By not limiting the number of “slack,” or unaccented, syllables, Hopkins allowed for more flexibility in his lines and created new acoustic possibilities. In 1884, he became a professor of Greek at the Royal University College in Dublin. He died five years later from typhoid fever. His poems were never published during his lifetime.

Whitlock’s presentation will include a reading of eight poems including “The Windhover,” (1877), which Hopkins himself called “the best thing I ever wrote.” It is a tour-de-force as a piece of nature poetry, and its language is vibrant and inventive throughout. A windhover is an old poetic name for the kestrel, and Hopkins’s poem beautifully captures the experience of seeing the bird majestically in flight.

Whitlock is respected and admired throughout the Midcoast for the breadth of his scholarship and his passion for teaching. At Belfast Senior College, he lectured for 10 years on major English and American poets of the 20th century; the history of art (eight different courses, beginning in 34,000 B.C. and ending as the Romantic Period began in the late 18th century); and Robert Browning’s “Dramatic Monologues,” among other subjects.

Whitlock has taught poetry in 10 colleges, from Colby to the University of Hawaii and, throughout his distinguished career, served as head of several English departments; dean of humanities and social sciences; professor of art; and chairman of English and humanities. He directed the Men’s Glee Club while teaching at Middlebury College, and was president of Simon’s Rock College. His doctorate from the University of Edinburgh centered on the English poet John Donne.

The public is warmly welcomed to this free presentation. To reserve a seat, or for more information, call Left Bank Books at 338-9009 or email leftbank@myfairpoint.net. The shop is located downtown, in the historic Opera House Block across the street from the police station. Ample parking is available in front of the shop and in an adjacent lot.

Courier Publications’ A&E Editor Dagney C. Ernest can be reached at (207) 594-4401, ext. 115; or dernest@courierpublicationsllc.com.

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