Meaning in madness? Theological reflections on the ‘Sonnets of Desolation’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Trevor Stammers

In this article the author explores how two spiritual anchors of the soul enabled the nineteenth century poet and Jesuit Gerard Manley Hopkins to find meaning in his own madness. Trevor Stammers is Programme Director in Bioethics and Medical Law at St Mary’s University, Twickenham.

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne’er hung there.
Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.
(From No Worst)

This paper was originally given at a conference at St Edmund’s College, Cambridge on rethinking ill-health. The conference website stated: ‘Different understandings of “ill-health” end up conflating different and sometimes contradictory moral considerations, which mars political debate and generates insoluble impasses in policy making. As a result, politicians, academics, health practitioners and patients appear to be speaking different languages.’

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