A Letter: “To Emily Dickinson”

Imagined that Gerard Manley Hopkins were reading “Poem 668” by Emily Dickinson and how Hopkins might analyze Dickinson’s poem and which lines from his poems might he quote as relevant to his analysis of the poem in the form of a pastoral letter to Dickinson.1


T O  E M I L Y D I C K I N S O N

June. 30 2014.


My dear Emily Dickinson,

I have long been meaning to write to you since your song of nature as lamentation of human limits in the external world reached me from your poem. I think it is a beautiful work of attempt to define nature in the terms of pure sensation and it gave me great pleasure to read your words. But I shall tell you that I do not want you to stay in a humble, but hopeless poetic definition of nature and humanity.

Through a juxtaposition of optical and auditory things in your poem, I think, the range of the world of eye and ear is brought to mind. However, you do not seem to affirm this objective reality as the whole truth. Rather, the creatures – from ‘hill’ to ‘cricket’ – which are figured by common-sense, are false and described as the outer shells that contain an inner truth of nature; in fact, the truth of nature is ‘heaven’ and ‘harmony,’ not seen and heard but perceived in mind. I hope I do not leap easily to the conclusion, but you seem to recognize nature’s pure manifestations of itself, unmediated by human interpretation, but through intuition and to believe that this constitutes what you know about nature and it obstructs you from reaching the truth.

I have believed, however, ‘the world is charged with the grandeur of God.’2 The truth is intuited through a process of visual and acoustic cognition: the outer shell which God created is the first step to the truth and a part of the truth. As I can find peace after the harvest from silk-sack and meal-drift clouds, truth is visualized in what I see and is ruralized what I hear. To glean the truth – glory in the heavens – ‘I walk, I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes.’3

Do you remember what the first word God said to humans was when he created nature in the beginning? It was “see.”4 It was the first command of God for humans in relation to nature. God probably wants human to assure consequences of creation and then recognize the grandeur of nature. We get to know through what we see, and what we know leads us to admire nature and to reach God, truth. Unlike the ironic limitations on your ability to ‘know’ the inner truth of nature caused by remoteness, I think our pure sensation closes the distance between truth in the objective nature and human being. And I believe that ‘nature is never spent; There lives the dearest freshness deep down things.’5 Even though the human is powerless in our limited ‘wisdom’ to understand the inner truth of nature — our ability to know is limited by impotence and inadequacy – I trust infinity of nature like ‘a strain of the earth’s sweet being in the beginning in Eden garden.’6

I would not like to alienate the human on the outside of nature. As you know, in a creation story, God creates nature prior to the human. God blesses every living and moving thing, but does not make sure of their meaning and purpose of existence. It becomes clear after God creates man. God makes man in his image, and all over the creatures can receive their purpose of existence as being ruled by humans from God. It means that the human and nature completes each other’s meaning of existence.

Several days ago, when I wrote a poem The Starlight Night in the middle of darkness, but in the beautiful night that I could not help praising the beauty of God’s work, a thought of Jesus Christ struck me. Yes, as you said, man is sincere. Jesus Christ, who was God, was willing to be limited so that he could not fully understand the truth as a man. Didn’t he cry out when he was crucified, “Eloi, Eloi, lama sabachthani?”7 At any rate, when the man, Jesus Christ, told a secret of heaven, he used to use parables of nature. He let people know the truth through what they saw and heard in nature, such as seeds, birds, trees and soil. Of course, it was related to where historical Jesus has grown and lived. But I think Jesus probably knows an interdependence between nature and human, and a close relationship between what we see and hear and what we get to know beyond our sincerity.

Believe me your affectionate friend,

Gerard M. Hopkins S.J.


Chanhee Heo

MDiv Candidate w/ the Certificate in Religion in the Art, Vanderbilt Divinity School

  1. Poem 668 “Nature” is what we see – / The Hill – the Afternoon – / Squirrel – Eclipse – the Bumble bee – / Nay – Nature is Heaven – / Nature is what we hear – /The Bobolink – the Sea – / Thunder – the Cricket – / Nay – Nature is Harmony – / Nature is what we know – / Yet have no art to say – / so impotent Our wisdom is / To her Simplicity. 
  2. A Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur. 
  3. A Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Hurrahing in Harvest. 
  4. “God said, ‘See, I have given you every plant yielding seed that is upon the face of all the earth, and every tree with seed in its fruit; you shall have them for food.’” Genesis 1:29 (NRSV) 
  5. A Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, God’s Grandeur. 
  6. A Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, Spring
  7. “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” Mark 15:34 (NIV) 

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