THE WRECK OF THE DEUTSCHLAND
Last weekend the television carried many programmes about the sinking of the Titanic exactly 100 years ago. The tragedy of the ‘unsinkable’ ship from Belfast brought to mind a smaller disaster in the winter of 1875 when a German ship, the Deutschland, sank at the mouth of the Thames. The ship was on its way to the United States but ran aground on an off-shore sandbank called Kentish Knock at the mouth of London’s River Thames.
On board the ship were five Franciscan nuns fleeing religious persecution because of the anti-Catholic laws then in force in Germany. All five nuns were among the 57 passengers who were drowned.
Reading about the incident the Jesuit superior in north Wales expressed the wish that someone would take up the tragic story and write a poem about it. In the community was a priest who was to become world famous as a poet, Fr Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. Hopkins read everything available about the disaster and set to work on what was to be one of his greatest poems: THE WRECK OF THE DEUTSCHLAND.
In the poem he experimented with new forms of poetic expression and produced something quite new in English literature – so new in fact that even the Jesuit monthly turned his poem down!
In the final section of the poem Hopkins makes the noun ‘Easter’ into a verb:
Let him easter in us, be a dayspring to the dimness of us,
Hopkins immortalized the moment when the Risen Christ came to the five nuns and he provides us with a paschal prayer: that the Risen Jesus would rise in us, would easter in us, would transform our dimness and our dullness into the radiance of the New Day of Resurrection.
May the Risen Lord easter in us all this holy season.
Seán Wales, C.Ss.R