Asterisk denotes entries on real places.
Hopkins’s poem re-creates the sufferings of the ship’s passengers after their ship struck a sandbar near the mouth of England’s River Thames. He notes that the day after the death of the “tall nun”–December 8–was the Catholic feast day celebrating the conception of Mary without the stain of Original Sin, making her fit to be Christ’s mother. Just as Mary physically gave birth to Christ, so the tall nun, calling out his name before she died, brought forth Christ in a “birth of a brain.” The nun’s faith, Hopkins imagines, served to “Startle” the other passengers–“the poor sheep” he calls them–back to Christ. Hopkins suggests that the site of the wreck is the Lord’s harvest field. He rhetorically asks, “is the shipwrack then a harvest,/ does tempest carry the grain for thee?”
*Britain. The poem ends with Hopkins’s address to the tall nun, the “Dame, at our door/ Drowned,” that she remember “English souls” still on their journey through life, that they might eventually attain the only true shelter, not a port or a political refuge, but a “heaven-haven.” Just as he earlier surmised that the nun’s call to Christ quickened the faith of those on the Deutschland, so he now prays that Christ will be resurrected in the hearts of those in Hopkins’s own “rare–dear Britain.”
*Tarpeian Rock (tar-PEE-yahn). Famous cliff in Rome that made the ancient capital, in John Milton’s words, a “citadel.” Immediately after referring to the tall nun as “The Simon Peter of a soul,” Hopkins says she was “to the blast/ Tarpeian-fast.” To Hopkins, the nun’s faith made her like the rock, and like the Apostle Peter, whom Christ spoke of as the rock on which He would build His church, like the house Christ spoke of that resisted the blasts of storm because it was built on a rock.
*Gennesareth (geh-NEHZ-eh-ret). Another name for the Sea of Galilee in the Holy Land’s Jordan Valley. Sudden fierce storms often occur over it because of cold air masses from the north. Hopkins evokes an incident in the Gospels in which such a storm found Christ asleep in a boat on the lake, with his terrified disciples. Christ then calms the storm and takes note of the disciples’ small faith. Hopkins evokes this incident to suggest that the men on the Deutschland were in the spiritual condition of the disciples in the boat, and to highlight by contrast the strong faith of the tall nun that–he expresses the hope or belief in stanza 31–was a source of comfort to them, bringing them back to Christ.
*Galilee. Region in northern Palestine (now Israel) where Jesus began his ministry. Hopkins notes that God’s mercy dates from the time of Christ’s life in and around Galilee. That ministry culminated with His death on a cross, by which in Christian belief He redeemed humankind. As Hopkins puts it, Christ became “hero of Calvary,” a reference to the hill outside Jerusalem where Jesus was crucified. However, as Divinity, Christ is not limited to time and place and, in Christian belief, is present in a special way wherever and whenever people say “yes” to Him: the main examples in Hopkins’s poem being in the first part, Hopkins’s own assent–“I did say yes”–and in the second part, the cry to Christ of the tall nun in 1875, off England’s coast.