None of the poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, who lived from 1844 to 1889, were published during his lifetime. In 1939, W.H. Auden declared him to be a major poet, a commendation which has stood the test of time. In Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Very Private Life Robert Bernard Martin presents him as a sensitive Oxford scholar who followed his religious mentor John Henry Newman by converting from Anglicanism to Catholicism.

He was ordained as a Jesuit priest in 1877. While not very impressive as a preacher or as a teacher, Hopkins wrote vivid poetry which expressed his unique sensibility. What you look hard at seems to look hard at you, Hopkins believed. That is why the act of careful attention can rightfully be seen as a form of prayer. Biographer Martin sees in Hopkins' verse what he calls "the irrevocable loss of time, the integrity of nature and his love of it, the thoughtlessness of man, and the gradual loss of the England he loved by industrial degradation." Even as his vocation provided him with the structure and coherence he so desperately needed, poetry provided Hopkins with a means of expressing his singular spiritual vision of life.