To the Editors:
As usual Brad Leithauser [“A Passionate Clamor,” NYR, April 29] is insightful and sheds light on his subject. For which, many thanks!
But Mr. Leithauser might be disappointed if he got his wish (“After Shakespeare, Hopkins is the English poet I would most like to hear reading his own verse”). In a letter to his brother Everard (published in Gerard Manley Hopkins: Selected Letters, edited by Catherine Phillips, Oxford University Press, 1991, pp. 216–221), Hopkins writes:
I am sweetly soothed by your saying you cd. make any one understand my poem [“The Loss of the Eurydice”] by reciting it well. That is what I always hoped, thought, and said; it is my precise aim.
In the same letter, Hopkins urges, “perform the Eurydice, then see” and confesses,
I must however add that to perform it quite satisfactorily is not at all easy, I do not say I could do it [emphasis added]; but this is nothing against the principle involved. A composer need not be able to play his violin or sing his songs. Indeed the higher wrought the art, clearly the wider severance between the parts of the author and the performer.
Neither of course do I mean my verse to be recited only. True poetry must be studied. As Shakespeare and all great dramatists have their maximum effect on the stage but bear to be or must be studied at home before or after or both, so I shd. wish it to be with my lyric poetry.
As Mr. Leithauser has pointed out elsewhere, I believe, Hopkins’s modesty did not extend to his poetry.
Rockaway Beach, New York
Brad Leithauser replies:
I am grateful for Reverend DiSenso’s thoughtful and informative letter. He raises the question: Was Hopkins unequal to the task of reading Hopkins’s poetry? Quite possibly, though I can’t imagine anyone else I’d rather hear failing in the attempt.
November 18, 2004