Inscape: Gerard Manley Hopkins and Aaron Copland

Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1866 (Courtesy:

Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1866 (Courtesy:

“Melody is what strikes me most of all in music and design in painting, so design, pattern, or what I am in the habit of calling ‘inscape’ is what I above all aim at in poetry.” So wrote Gerard Manley Hopkins in a letter to Robert Bridges in 1879. Copland’s 1967 work is a twelve-tone piece that explores the concept. In his journals, Hopkins wrote that by “inscape” he means ‘the unified complex of characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness,’ that is, the distinctive design that constitutes individual identity, and ‘that differentiate it from other things.’ This identity is not static but dynamic, and each being in the universe ‘selves,’ that is, enacts its identity.

Inscape is one of Copland’s last two works for orchestra.

“Music, and particularly melody, expresses universal will. And, in opposition, poetry expresses individuality.” So wrote Hamish Swanston, in his 1978 book, “In Defence of Opera.”

Aaron Copland in his studio in the Berkshires (Courtesy:

Aaron Copland in his studio in the Berkshires (Courtesy:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;

As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same;

Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

Selves – goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came.

— the opening lines of an untitled sonnet in sprung rhythm, Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1882


With thanks to Alex Ross.

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