Language Heightened

A Case Study of Poetry and Calligraphy in Dialogue with Gerard Manley Hopkins


  • Devon Abts Henry Luce III Center for the Arts and Religion, Wesley Theological Seminary



poetry, hermeneutics, calligraphy, aesthetics, senses, theology


Poets and calligraphers are united in their appreciation for the beauty of words. Yet whereas many poets compose according to principles of sound, the calligrapher is guided above all by the sense of sight. This essay seeks to elucidate the hermeneutical dynamics at play in contemporary calligraphic renderings of poetic texts composed for oral recitation, using the work and interpretive legacy of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins as a test-case. After briefly introducing my theme, I turn to consider Hopkins’s theory and practice of aural composition, drawing on specific poems to illuminate his mastery of acoustic depth. I go on to examine three transcriptions of his work by three contemporary calligraphic artists, focusing on key interpretive choices each scribe makes when translating Hopkins’s aural art into a visual form. At each stage of my investigation, I demonstrate how both the poet and his interpreters invite recipients of their artwork to a deeper appreciation for the wonder of language in ordinary circumstances.


Bridges, Robert. 1918. “Editor’s Preface.” In Poems, by Gerard Manley Hopkins. London: H. Milford.

Burton, Richard. N.d. “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo.” Audio recording; accessed via YouTube on 25 July 2022.

Carr, David M. Writing on the Tablet of the Heart: Origins of Scripture and Literature. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. 2009. Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works, edited by Catherine Phillips. Oxford: Oxford University Press

———. 2013. The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, vols. 1 and 2, Correspondence, edited by Catherine Phillips. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

———. 2021. The Collected Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins, vol. 6, part I, Sketches and Scholarly Studies, edited by R. K. R. Thornton. Oxford: Oxford University Press.

McKee, Elizabeth. 2022. “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and the Comfort of the Resurrection.” Artist’s website. 25 July.

Niditch, Susan. 1996. Oral World and Written Word: Ancient Israelite Literature. Louisville, KY: Westminster John Knox Press.

Ong, Walter J. 1949. “Sprung Rhythm and the Life of English Poetry.” In Immortal Diamond: Studies in Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Norman Weyland and Raymond V. Schoder, 93–175. New York: Sheed & Ward.

———. 2002. Orality and Literacy: The Technologizing of the Word. London: Routledge.

Plate, S. Brent. 2012. “What the Book Arts Can Teach Us about Sacred Texts.” Postscripts 8: 5–25.

von Arx, Diane. 2022. “‘About’ Page.” Artist’s website. 25 July.

Waters, Sheila. 1988. “Calligraphy in Pursuit of Excellence.” Lecture delivered at the Washington Calligrapher’s Guild.



How to Cite

Abts, D. (2022). Language Heightened: A Case Study of Poetry and Calligraphy in Dialogue with Gerard Manley Hopkins. Postscripts: The Journal of Sacred Texts, Cultural Histories, and Contemporary Contexts, 13(2), 168–186.