"Unsought, presented so easily" : A Phenomenological Study of Awe in the Poetical Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins

University dissertation from Stockholm : Department of English, Stockholm University

Abstract: As a phenomenon, awe is not reducible to any combination of distinct elements such as wonder, fear or reverence, but combines all of these together with surprise or even anguish. The metaphors with which awe can be described therefore never fully define what it feels like to be affected by awe: awe is motion, elevation, lightness, and flight. As experience, awe constitutes a shattering jolt that brings about a fundamental and revelatory re-conception of life: a full awareness of the invisible life, filled, "in a flash", to the brim. This study explores awe’s coming to poetical givenness in the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins by taking into consideration experiential and existential as well as epistemological concerns. A phenomenological approach, for instance Edmund Husserl’s epochetic method and Michel Henry’s concept of the invisible, helps illuminate Hopkins’s poetics; a poetics which solicits a special focus precisely on awe in its various aspects. Hopkins’s poetry has a unique ability to constitute a crossing where in-depth feelings and forces of the wondrous in the striking aspects of awe can be vocalised. The focus on the phenomenon of awe’s poetical appearing therefore allows for a consideration of this life-transforming jolt as an irresistible force reverberating throughout Hopkins’s work and as such allows us to explore the experience of invisible life that lies at the heart of the possibility of conversion as a fundamental change of world-view.

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