FRANCISCANS DISCOVER HOPKINS
5. THE WRECK OF THE DEUTSCHLAND
The Deutshland foundered in a severe storm in the North Sea. All on board were drowned. Far away in Wales, Hopkins was deeply moved by this ship-wreck, and began to compose a long poem about it.
Hopkins was particularly saddened by the loss of five Franciscan nuns on their way to mission. In the poem, Hopkins explores the issues of ‘theodicy‘, the problem of a loving God in a world where things goes wrong.
Hopkins asks why God lets bad things happen to people in general, and in particular, he asks why God would call the Franciscan sisters to a mission and then cut their lives off. He describes their death as an instance of the stigmata like their father Francis’.
In this poem, Hopkins has no answers to the questions raised in theodicy, but he affirms God’s huge power and the tragedy of the ship-wreck.
The whole poem is 280 lines long. I have chosen the three stanzas about the Franciscan sisters.
Five! the finding & sake
And cipher of suffering Christ.
Mark, the mark is of man’s make
And the word of it Sacrificed.
But he scores it in scarlet himself on his own bespoken,
Before-time-taken, dearest prizèd & priced —
Stigma, signal, cinquefoil token
For lettering of the lamb’s fleece, ruddying of the rose-flake.
Joy fall to thee, father Francis,
Drawn to the life that died;
With the gnarls of the nails in thee, niche of the lance, his
And seal of his seraph-arrival! & these thy daughters
And five-livèd & leavèd favour & pride,
Are sisterly sealed in wild waters,
To bathe in his fall-gold mercies, to breathe in his all-fire glances.
Away in the loveable west,
On a pastoral forehead of Wales,
I was under a roof here, I was at rest,
And they the prey of the gales;
She to the black-about air, to the breaker, the thickly
Falling flakes, to the throng that catches and quails
Was calling “O Christ, Christ, come quickly”:
The cross to her she calls Christ to her, christens her wildworst Best.