Today in 1889 died one of the most influential 19th Century poets, in the English language, a convert to Catholicism and a Jesuit, Gerard Manley Hopkins. A member of the British Province, he had been sent to Dublin to teach as Professor of Greek and Latin at University College, Dublin. This final period of his life was marked by a prolonged depression, and a spiritual crisis, sensing that his prayers no longer reached God. However he refused to give way to his depression and enigmatically his last words as he lay dying of typhoid fever on June 8, 1889, were, "I am happy, so happy."
Hopkins was one of a series of high-profile converts from Anglicanism to Catholicism in the 19th Century, which followed in the wake of Catholic Emancipation, and the Oxford Movement instigated by Blessed John Henry Newman. It was in Oxford at the age of 22, that he entered the church, being baptised by Newman himself. He rose to prominence at Balliol College where he was considered a star, and he won First-Class degrees in Classics and "Greats" (a rare "double-first"). The following year he entered the Society of Jesus; and feeling that the practice of poetry was too individualistic and self-indulgent for a Jesuit priest and committed to the sacrifice of personal ambition, he burned his early poems and refused to write any more.
It was only when he went to St. Beuno’s College in North Wales to study theology, learning Welsh, and encouraged by his superior, he began to write poetry again. Moved by the death of five Franciscan nuns in a shipwreck in 1875, he broke his seven-year silence to write the long poem “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” in which he succeeded in realizing “the echo of a new rhythm” that had long been haunting his ear. In time it was to be seen as a classic, ironically it was rejected by the Jesuit magazine The Month. During this period he wrote a series of sonnets strikingly original in their richness of language and use of rhythm, including the remarkable “The Windhover,” one of the most frequently analysed poems in the English language. His friends continually urged him to publish his poems, but Hopkins resisted; it was only posthumously his work published and recognized as among the most original, powerful, and influential literary accomplishments of his century; it had a marked influence on such leading 20th-century poets as T.S. Eliot, Dylan Thomas and W.H. Auden