Places: The Wreck of the Deutschland

  • Last updated on December 10, 2021

First published: 1918

Type of work: Poetry

Asterisk denotes entries on real places.

Places Discussed*<i>Deutschland</i>

*DeutschlandWreck of the Deutschland, The. Ship whose 1875 sinking caused the deaths of five Franciscan nuns to whom Hopkins dedicates this poem. Also the German-language name for Germany, “Deutschland” is, in Hopkins’s words, “double a desperate name!” because it is both the ship on which the nuns perished and the country that passed the anti-Roman Catholic laws that expelled the nuns from their homeland and forced them to undertake their ill-fated voyage.

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

*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.

BibliographyBoyle, Robert. Metaphor in Hopkins. Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 1960. Chapter 1, “The Heroic Breast,” discusses the theme of heroic sacrifice in “The Wreck of The Deutschland.” This chapter provides a careful, close reading of the many religious allusions in the poem.Downes, David. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Study of His Ignatian Spirit. Boston: Twayne, 1959. Discusses Hopkins’ poetry in the light of his training and background as a Jesuit priest. Chapter 2 applies many of the moral precepts of St. Ignatius to the poem, comparing individual stanzas to specific exercises in St. Ignatius’ spiritual classic.Gardner, William. Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1944. This comprehensive two-volume work encompasses a multitude of topics–from “Diction and Syntax” to “Critics and Reviewers” to “Hopkins and Modern Poetry.” Chapter 2 focuses exclusively on “The Wreck of The Deutschland,” arguing that the poem has a completeness, an intellectual and emotional unity, and a subtlety and variety of verbal orchestrations that are unique in English.Lahey, G. F. Gerard Manley Hopkins. New York: Oxford University Press, 1930. Excellent biography of Hopkins, examining his early life, his years at Oxford, and his friendships with writer Coventry Patmore, Cardinal Newman, and poet Richard Dixon. Chapter 7, “The Artist,” presents a succinct discussion of Hopkins’ poetry, comparing his techniques to the work of other English poets.Peters, Wilhelmus A. M. Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Critical Essay Towards the Understanding of His Poetry. New York: Oxford University Press, 1948. This book renders a close, careful reading of Hopkins’ poetry, analyzing many of the techniques and devices of Hopkins’ verse. Chapter 1, “The Meaning of Inscape and Instress,” offers an especially valuable discussion of two major concepts that inform all of Hopkins’ poetry.
Categories: Places