Hopkins, the Pipes and the BBC

Published on 20 Jun 2017

by Brian McClorry SJ

On 11th – 12th June a team visited us to make a programme for the BBC Radio 4 series Poetry Please on the poetry Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote between 1874 and 1877 when he was studying theology at St Beuno’s, A considerable poet, Michael Symmons Roberts, ‘did’ the poetry – I said a little about Hopkins’ time here when Beuno’s was a theological college.

It was a fascinating experience. The team were relaxed and easy to be with. They were very well prepared and yet able it seemed to approach matters on the hoof. Retakes were done with alacrity and given (usually) a grand thumbs up sign of approval.

‘Was he happy to get here?’ they asked, and I said yes but he did notice some drawbacks. Very soon, the day after he arrived, Hopkins wrote home to his father: ‘pipes of affliction convey lukewarm water of affliction to some of the rooms, others more fortunate have fires.’ As I ended the quotation there was a brief moment of silence. Just as the silence became clearly ‘silence’, with a fine sense of occasion our water pipes began to recall their responsibilities, and did their duty with remarkable acoustical precision: clang, clang, clump, clang, clump and so on. And on. And on. Time passed. The recording continued, the furry microphone all agog. The pipes persisted in their marginally varied dirge, oracle, warning, announcement, grudging promise. Quite appropriately, the recording was done in the Hopkins’ Gallery.

It was some time before we were able to move to other matters, like Hopkins’ delight in the theology of the subtle and redoubtable John Duns Scotus, the nineteenth-century Jesuits’ dress sense and habits of prayer, and why Hopkins did not do four years of theology as envisaged, but a mere three… But I rather hope that the pipes’ affecting and afflicting rendition, a strange twenty-first-century effort of historical memory and affinity, are played during the actual broadcast.

Whatever about the pipes the programme should be interesting: Michael Symmons Roberts is good value. The present plan is to broadcast the Hopkins edition of Poetry Please on Sunday 1st October at 4.30 p.m., repeated at 11.30 p.m. on the following Saturday. But check your listings nearer the date.


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