Gerard Manley Hopkins was a weird poet – or so he was considered back in the 1800s.
His innovative poems had a different rhythm, meter, language and style than other poets during his time. But while unconventional, his work paved the way for modern poetry.
Recent St. Thomas graduates Nicholas Check and Chris Vance, senior Ryan Franck and junior Nicholas Vance have learned all about Hopkins’ work. After extensively studying Hopkins through a class last spring, the four students presented papers they had written about Hopkins’ poems at the Gerard Manley Hopkins Society of Jesus Conference in May in Jerusalem.
The conference, held May 15-19 by the Hebrew University in Jerusalem and Regis University in Colorado, included some of the world’s experts on Hopkins.
“It was definitely intimidating,” Vance said. “You’re up there in front of the top Hopkins scholars in the entire world, some of which were quoted in our papers.
“But after, it was like the roles had been switched. The scholars all erupted into discussion, and it felt as if the students were the ones who had to quiet them down … It was gratifying to know that I had played a part in it.”
Vance selected a particularly difficult piece to focus on: an unfinished poem by Hopkins called “The Woodlark.” In addition to writing an extensive paper on the poem, Vance went a step further and performed it at the conference. It was hard work, he said.
“I mean, I did some theater in high school, but I wouldn’t call myself an actor by any means,” he said with a laugh.
Check chose one of Hopkins’ darker poems, “No worse, there is none.”
“The poem was written toward the end of Hopkins’ life, when he was dying of typhoid,” Check said. “You can hear his despair and lack of faith. It’s quite the poem.”
The trip was a result of a class on Hopkins taught by Ann Marie Klein, a Catholic Studies professor at St. Thomas, who has long been a fan of Hopkins’ work. The course focused on creating a deep understanding of Hopkins and his poetry.
The course required each of the students to write a full-length conference paper, analyzing and responding to one of his poems. After the papers had been written, Klein encouraged students to submit their papers to the Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. Conference.
“I had been attending the conference for many years, and I had seen a few young college students presenting papers in front of the scholars in the past,” Klein said. “I thought it would be such an incredible opportunity for students from St. Thomas to take part in it.”
After a few editing sessions with Klein, the four students sent in their papers to the conference because, “Why not?” Check said.
About a month later, Check learned all four students had been chosen to present their papers in front of some of the top Hopkins scholars in the world. Not only that, but the conference was to take place in Jerusalem for the first time, instead of Denver.
The students then did their own legwork to find $1,800 to pay for the trip. They received funding from the Catholic Studies department, the College of Arts and Sciences and the Grants & Research Office. In all, Vance ended up paying about $300 for the trip, he said.
Finally, it was time to take off. The four students and Klein arrived in Jerusalem at 5 a.m. May 15 and spent the time before the conference attending Pentecost Mass at the Basilica of the Dormition, praying at the Cenacle and walking through the Old City of Jerusalem with the help of a guide.
Then, the conference began, and the students were the first to present.
“Scholars kept coming up to me afterward, commenting on the students’ hard work and delivery,” Klein said. “Many were saying that their papers should be published. I was very proud.”
Written by Threesixty Journalism Scholar and intern Danielle Wong