The Wreck of the Deutschland: Summary & Analysis

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  • 0:01 Synopsis of the Poem
  • 2:36 Analysis of the Poem
  • 4:56 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Joshua Wimmer

Joshua holds a master's degree in Latin and has taught a variety of Classical literature and language courses.

'The Wreck of the Deutschland' was never even published during its author's lifetime, but it has become one of Gerard Manley Hopkins' most enduring poems. Find out why in this lesson with a synopsis and analysis of this ode to Nature's power!

Synopsis of the Poem

When you think about nature, you might imagine sunny days and grassy meadows, with singing birds and all sorts of critters frolicking in the fields; basically an environment right out of a Disney film. Or maybe you picture serene sunsets and majestic landscapes, like the ending shot of an epic romance. While all of these images are lovely and easily found, Gerard Manley Hopkins interprets the majesty of nature in an entirely different way in 'The Wreck of the Deutschland', his 35-stanza and two-section poem, which is an ode. An ode is a lengthy lyric poem with elaborate stanza structures noted for its formal tone and lofty sentiments.

When I was a kid, I never could appreciate my punishments while they were being given to me. But sometimes I think back and realized the punishment my parents doled out was for a good reason. It's not much different with the narrator's relationship to God in this poem. He thanks God, not for his mercy and grace, but for the sometimes jarring reminders of his authority and the suffering Christ endured for humanity. He sees humans as unruly and in dire need of direction: 'Be adored among men, / God…/ Wring thy rebel…/ Man's malice, with wrecking and storm.' The narrator approves of these drastic measures ultimately as a way of getting people to realize God's majesty and therefore to earnestly seek him out.

The narrator then launches into the second section, which is a description of the intended voyage of the Deutschland from Bremen, Germany, to America and its subsequent wreck. The ship carried two hundred passengers, a quarter of which were drowned when the Deutschland went down off the coast of Britain during a fierce snowstorm. However, as most others began to fall victim to the icy conditions and tossing waves, one 'lioness arose breasting the babble, / A prophetess towered in the tumult, a virginal tongue told.' This fearless woman 'was first of a five' Franciscan nuns who died aboard the Deutschland and to whom the ode is dedicated. The narrator tells that they fled Germany over disputes between Protestants and Catholics and laments that such a condition would have led to the nuns' deaths.

The poem's final stanzas are directed from the narrative voice to God. He expresses his admiration for the 'master of the tides,' particularly for his love and mercy that transcend our greatest tragedies, even death. He asks Christ to come take the soul of the nun who revered him to the end and whom he marked as his own with that disastrous storm.

Analysis of the Poem

When you were a kid, did you ever say to your friend, 'My dad could beat up your dad?' While we might've enjoyed the idea of our dads beating up someone else's, we probably weren't quite as happy to be the focus of their authority. You might not have liked being grounded, but Gerard Manley Hopkins seemed to be quite the fan of terrifying displays of power.

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