Notes on G.M. Hopkins : Sprung Rhythm
by Susan G Holland
Much of Hopkins’s historical importance has to do with the changes he brought to the form of poetry; which ran contrary to conventional ideas of metre. Prior to Hopkins, most Middle English and Modern English poetry was based on a rhythmic structure inherited from the Norman side of English literary heritage. This structure is based on repeating groups of two or three syllables, with the stressed syllable falling in the same place on each repetition. Hopkins called this structure “running rhythm”, and though he wrote some of his early verse in running rhythm he became fascinated with the older rhythmic structure of the Anglo-Saxon tradition, of which Beowulf is the most famous example. Hopkins called his own rhythmic structure sprung rhythm. Sprung rhythm is structured around feet with a variable number of syllables, generally between one and four syllables per foot, with the stress always falling on the first syllable in a foot. In reality, it more closely resembles the “rolling stresses” of Robinson Jeffers, another poet who rejected conventional meter. Hopkins saw sprung rhythm as a way to escape the constraints of running rhythm, which he said inevitably pushed poetry written in it to become “same and tame.” In this way, Hopkins can be seen as anticipating much of free verse. His work has no great affinity with either of the contemporary Pre-Raphaelite and neo-romanticism schools, although he does share their descriptive love of nature and he is often seen as a precursor to modernist poetry or as a bridge between the two poetic eras.
The Curtal Sonnet is a form invented by Gerard Manley Hopkins, and used in three of his poems…
Enjoy a fifteen minute lesson on the subject of Sprung Verse with Professor Brooker! It’s delightful! — -Susan