I’ve recently been studying poetry as one aspect of a particular English course I’m doing. Of course, I wouldn’t call myself a fan of poetry, in fact I never read poetry. Over the years I have memorised Banjo Patterson’s ‘Mulga Bill’s Bicycle’, which I think is classic Australian humour, and also John O’Brien’s ‘Said Hanrahan’, which to me is an anthem to my father and his mates. Other than ‘Roses are Red, Violets are Blue…etc’ I haven’t had a lot of time for poetry. But university courses have a way of insisting you pay attention to things that you wouldn’t ordinarily look at.
I chose to do an assignment on late-Victorian British poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins. I found Hopkins, as a person, a rather sad and intense person, but as I looked at one of his poems, ‘God’s Grandeur’, began to appreciate something about him and about the craft of writing in particular.
Gerard Manley Hopkins was brought up in a High Anglican Church family, but in his early adult years, he converted to Catholicism, and was so moved by his religious experience that he committed to the priesthood. He had written some poetry already, but felt that the writing of poems was a self-indulgent ambitious pursuit that did not fit with the life of self-sacrifice that was demanded of being a Jesuit priest. Apparently he burned those early poems.
However, as he progressed, he had read the writings of a medieval thinker who sparked in him an idea that he at once espoused and he used. The idea of what he called ‘Inscape’. It was the notion that the poet or artist would capture the particular detail and intricacy of a God created landscape, creature or object, and paint it either in words or art to show the brilliance of God’s creative ability. In taking this approach to writing, he felt that it fit in with his fierce commitment to God as a priest. He also introduced the notion of ‘Instress’, which simply put means the experience and emotion that an ‘Inscape’ evokes in a reader. Can the reader capture the full picture and experience that same sense of appreciation that the writer has when looking at the scene first hand.
When I began to think about these ideas as related to the work that I do as a novelist, I wondered how I would measure up. Actually, I don’t do a lot of detailed description of people, countryside or animals. The reason I avoid it is because, as a reader, I often get annoyed and bored with an author’s long and painstaking effort to paint the scenery. And sometimes I feel really annoyed when the author shows me what the character looks like, and it is different to how I’ve already imagined. I want to connect with the emotional side of the story, and get on with the rollercoaster that is complication and resolution in a story.
But when I was forced to sit and carefully analyse Hopkins poem, I began to appreciate how he used words to carefully paint the picture of ‘God’s Grandeur’. Each word was carefully chosen and then crafted together with the rest to form the poem. I felt as if I could connect with what he was trying to paint in words. It was a satisfying experience.
I don’t know that I am necessarily going to run out and buy volumes of poetry, but I certainly appreciated what I had seen in this man’s work, and in his ideas.
About fourteen years ago, when one of my writer-mentors had asked me to work on description in my work, I wrote a short piece of ‘inscape’. I don’t think I’ve ever included it in any of my novels, but I thought I’d share it here, and see if the ‘instress’ causes you to see what I saw.
The Setting Sun during Autumn
The sun drops behind clusters of gum tress and it is merely the rays that filter through to give the glorious effect. The sun’s rays seem to be almost a liquid gold that washes through the trees, leaving them sparkling and shining. To say the colour was rose would be equally as accurate as to use the word apricot. Our western aspect is one of vegetation, but when it is dripping with the day’s last rays of sunshine, it comes alive with a picture of God’s jewellery reflecting off the normally mundane dark green.
Author of ‘The Heart of Green Valley’ Series, ‘Cora Villa’ and many more.
New release ‘The Greenfield Legacy’ written in collaboration with Paula Vince, Rose Dee and Amanda Deed.
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