AUTOGRAPH DRAFTS AND VIRTUALLY THE FINAL VERSION OF HIS CELEBRATED POEM 'BINSEY POPLARS' INCLUDING IMPORTANT OTHERWISE UNRECORDED AND UNPUBLISHED RECONSIDERED READINGS, with extensive autograph deletions, revisions and repetitions, comprising some 50 lines in all, including 6 lines in pencil (partly over-written in pen and ink), as well as rewritten, cancelled and repeated lines, plus title (written in his engrossing hand) and two versions of the place and date ('Oxford. March 13 1879', one deleted), and with numerous examples of the use of his characteristic stress marks, 3 pages, quarto, very slight soiling, Oxford, 13 March 1879
NO POETICAL MANUSCRIPTS BY HOPKINS HAVE BEEN SOLD AT AUCTION IN THE LAST FORTY YEARS AT LEAST. THE EMERGENCE OF THE PRESENT MANUSCRIPT IS AN IMPORTANT LITERARY EVENT. What is in effect almost the final version of the poem in this manuscript is rendered below:
My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled, or quenched in leaves, the leaping sun,
Áll félled, félled, are áll félled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Spared, no, not one
That dandled the sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow and river and wínd-wändering weed-
O if we but knéw whát we do
When we delve or hew -
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since Country is so tender
To touch, her being só slénder,
That, like the sleek and seeing ball
That a mote will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve.
After comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twélve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of hávoc únsëlve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
'BINSEY POPLARS' IS ONE OF HOPKINS'S FINEST AND MOST ANTHOLOGISED POEMS.
W.H. Gardner considered the poem to be 'one of the most delightful irregular lyrics in the language...with beautifully varied and sustained lyrical feeling.'
The above transcription from the manuscript virtually represents the final text of the poem. The different readings in it (not showing other reconsidered passages -- see below) are the addition of 'no' in line 5 and 'That a mote' (not otherwise recorded) for 'But a prick' of the printed text in line 15. After the text given above, the manuscript becomes a draft over two full pages as described below.
Norman MacKenzie collated the only four other known manuscripts, all in the Bodleian Library: H1, an untitled autograph working draft dated 13 March 1879; H2, most like (in his description) the present manuscript which starts as a fair copy and has many marginal and footnote alternatives; B21, a fair copy by Bridges, revised by Hopkins; and A, an autograph fair copy sent to Bridges. Like the present MS. H1 records 'no' in line 5.
NONE OF THE BODLEIAN MANUSCRIPTS HAS A NUMBER OF SIGNIFICANT RECONSIDERED READINGS PRESERVED HEREIN. On page 2, for instance, are two important, separate and different attempts at at least of four otherwise unrecorded lines in pencil and pen and ink, the first beginning: 'Other Springs, fresh Summers, / Will try, who can tell [that - deleted] they will render...' The manuscript even suggests that Hopkins at one point thought to cut out the famous ending of the poem - the last five lines are written out twice here, the first rendering crossed through and ending with 'Other Springs, more Summers cannot render.' There are a number of other significant unrecorded readings in the present manuscript.
On 13 March Hopkins reported in a letter to R.W. Dixon: 'I have been up to Godstow this afternoon. I am sorry to say that the aspens that lined the river are everyone felled.' He later found that the 100 feet high trees with six-foot wide trucks had been cut down to make brake shoes for the Great Western Railway.
Hopkins's majestic, vigorous handwriting was chosen for illustration in 'English Handwriting', S.P.E. Tract No. XIII. For me, his is one of only a few hands that is truly artistic and his poems come closest to the condition of music. 'Binsey Poplars' was selected by Ted Hughes and Seamus Heaney for inclusion in their anthology The Rattle Bag (1982).
Most of Hopkins's poetical manuscripts are in the Bodleian Library.
PROVENANCE: Anthony Rota ('never on the market', and in his personal possession for many years).
REFERENCES: The Poetical Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Norman MacKenzie, 1990; Alex Brown, 'Gerard Hopkins and Associative Forms', Dublin Magazine, 1928; Norman White, Hopkins: A Literary Biography, 1992; Robert Martin, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life, 1991; W.H. Gardner, Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Study of Poetic Idiosyncrasy in Relation to Poetic Tradition, 2 volumes, 1966; Brian Day, 'Hopkins's Spiritual Ecology in "Binsey Poplars"', Victorian Poetry, volume 42, Summer, 2004; M. Constantini, 'Strikes of Havoc', Victorian Poetry, volume 46, Winter 2005; Index of English Literary Manuscripts, 1800-1900, Volume IV, Part 2, compiled by Barbara Rosenbaum, HpG 33-36; 'English Handwriting', S.P.E. Tract No. XIII, edited by Roger Fry and E.A. Lowe, 1926.