Large turnout for Hopkins lecture

April 26, 2022 in News

Approximately 140 people from around the world participated in the online lecture ‘Reading Gerard Manley Hopkins as Spiritual Practice’ on World Poetry Day, 21 March 2022. Dr Francis X McAloon SJ from Fordham University in New York was the guest lecturer at the event, hosted by the Spirituality Institute for Research and Education (SpIRE).

In his lecture to mark World Poetry Day, Dr McAloon introduced three kinds of reading strategies: ‘reading for information’, ‘reading for aesthetic pleasure’, and ‘reading as spiritual practice’. In the third kind of strategy, he expanded upon religious texts to include the non-biblical poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ, the mid-19th century English poet who composed some of his best poetry while teaching at University College, Dublin.

The event was introduced by Dr Michael O’ Sullivan SJ, Director of SpIRE, who spoke briefly of Gerard Manley Hopkins’ life in Ireland. As a fellow Jesuit, Dr O’Sullivan was pleased to celebrate the poetry of the English Jesuit poet and to introduce the American Jesuit lecturer. He also referred to the launch of the new SpIRE website and the work of the SpIRE Library in Dublin.

Dr Noelia Molina, MA Applied Spirituality Programme Leader at Waterford Institute of Technology, gave the formal welcome to Dr McAloon. She referred to his Jesuit background including his academic work on the poetry of Hopkins and Ignatian spirituality, his role with Spiritus (the journal of Christian spirituality), and his pastoral work with disability communities.

In Dr McAloon’s opening remarks, he said:

“As most of you I’m sure know from earlier years of studying poetry in secondary or higher education, each poem that we read is not simply read once and then digested. Instead, each poem requires repeated chewing, if you will, a first encounter with a good poem demands more readings, second, third, fourth and many more.

“Given this penchant for creative style, rhyme, repeated vowel consonant sounds, let alone his love for neologisms, Hopkins’ poetry is especially challenging to the first-time reader.

“And when I say reader, I mean what Hopkins himself insisted upon: poems are to be read aloud, the verse sounds contribute to understanding the poems sense. No silent internal reading of poems is allowed, although that’s what many or most of us did in school. The voice within the poem comes alive when we voice its content.”

Dr McAloon preferred to engage Hopkins’ poems in terms of the psycho-spiritual themes of consolation, desolation, and everyday life in 1880’s Ireland. He argued that as a spiritual practice, a transformative engagement with his poetry potentially gives rise to a new sense of self in one’s relationships to the transcendent, others, and the environment.

He also proposed that many other poems and literary forms are open to the possibility of the spiritual practice of transformative readings.

A lively questions and answers session followed the lecture. Participants reported much spiritual nourishment and new connections were made across the globe. Click here for the SpIRE website to stay informed on upcoming events ».