The language of Hopkins’s poems is often striking. His imagery can be simple, as in Heaven-Haven, where the comparison is between a nun entering a convent and a ship entering a harbour out of a storm. It can be splendidly metaphysical and intricate, as it is in As Kingfishers Catch Fire, where he leaps from one image to another to show how each thing expresses its own uniqueness, and how divinity reflects itself through all of them.
He uses many archaic and dialect words, but also coins new words. One example of this is twindles, which seems from its context in Inversnaid to mean a combination of twines and dwindles. He often creates compound adjectives, sometimes with a hyphen (such as dapple-dawn-drawn falcon) but often without, as in rolling level underneath him steady air. This concentrates his images, communicating the instress of the poet’s perceptions of an inscape to his reader. Hopkins took time to learn Old English, which became a major influence on his writing. Hopkins held the language in such high regard that in an 1882 letter to Robert Bridges, Hopkins opines that Old English is "a vastly superior thing to what we have now". Added richness comes from Hopkins’s extensive use of alliteration, assonance, onomatopoeia and rhyme, both at the end of lines and internally as in: As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Hopkins was influenced by the Welsh language that he acquired while studying theology at St Beuno's College near St Asaph. The poetic forms of Welsh literature and particularly cynghanedd with its emphasis on repeating sounds accorded with his own style and became a prominent feature of his work. This reliance on similar sounding words with close or differing senses mean that his poems are best understood if read aloud. An important element in his work is Hopkins's own concept of "inscape" which was derived, in part, from the medieval theologian Duns Scotus. The exact detail of "inscape" is uncertain and probably known to Hopkins alone but it has to do with the individual essence and uniqueness of every physical thing. This is communicated from an object by its "instress" and ensures the transmission of the item's importance in the wider creation. His poems would then try to present this "inscape" so that a poem like The Windhover aims to depict not the bird in general but instead one instance and its relation to the breeze. This is just one interpretation of Hopkins's most famous poem, one which he felt was his best. The first stanza describes: I CAUGHT this morning morning’s minion, king-
dom of daylight’s dauphin, dapple-dawn-drawn Falcon, in his riding Of the rolling level underneath him steady air, and striding High there, how he rung upon the rein of a wimpling wing
In his ecstasy! then off, off forth on swing,
As a skate’s heel sweeps smooth on a bow-bend: the hurl and gliding Rebuffed the big wind. My heart in hiding
Stirred for a bird,—the achieve of, the mastery of the thing! During his lifetime, Hopkins published few poems. It was only through the efforts of Robert Bridges that his works were seen. Despite Hopkins burning all his poems on entering the Jesuit novitiate, he had already sent some to Bridges who, with a few other friends, was one of the few people to see many of them for some years. After Hopkins's death they were distributed to a wider audience, mostly fellow poets, and in 1918 Bridges, by then poet laureate, published a collected edition; an expanded edition, prepared by Charles Williams, appeared in 1930, and a greatly expanded edition by W. H. Gardiner appeared in 1948 (eventually reaching a fourth edition, 1967, with N. H. Mackenzie). Notable collections of Hopkins's manuscripts and publications are in Campion Hall, Oxford; the Bodleian Library, Oxford; and the Foley Library at Gonzaga...