Study Guide to Heaven-Haven (a nun takes the veil)

Study Guide to Heaven-Haven

Hopkins wrote this poem while he was an undergrad at Balliol College, probably in July or August of 1864, during his long vacation from school. In a letter to his friend Alexander William Mowbray Baillie, 20 July-14 August 1864, Hopkins records several things that may have provoked and influenced the writing of this poem: he has just met Christina Rossetti and written a response to her poem, “The Convent Threshold,” and he also describes an art show he attended where he may have been influenced by paintings like Charles Collins’s Convent Thoughts (1851) or John Everett Millais’s Vale of Rest (1859). Also, Hopkins’s sister Millicent was interested in the Anglican sisterhood and would later become an “out sister” of All Saints’ Home, an Anglican sisterhood in London, in 1874, and a full sister in 1878. While Hopkins in 1864 was still an Anglican, he had already begun to investigate conversion to the Catholic faith, and two years later he did in fact convert.

Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:

  • The word “blow” (line 4) is from the Old English “blowan” and means to bloom or blossom. Why does the speaker of this poem desire a place where just a few lilies “blow?”
  • Read the poem aloud, slowly. What do you make of the contrasts between very lilting, rhythmical lines (e.g. “And out of the swing of the sea” (l. 8)) and very flat lines with almost no rhythm at all (e.g. “Where no storms come” (l. 6))?
  • The image of a haven or a harbor is a conventional metaphor for the contemplative life. How do you think this image relates to the choices the speaker—and perhaps Hopkins himself—is considering? What does the speaker in this poem desire above all else?

For this poem you might want to be familiar with the following terms from the Hopkins Terminology:
alliteration | assonance | parallelism

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