letter from the editor

In 1980, Brigham Young University students were invited to submit ideas for the new title
for the student literary journal, which had been known as Century 2 for five years. Beating
out hundreds of suggestions was Inscape, a word coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins in
1868. During the last nineteen years, the obscure title has probably done more to confuse
our readers than enlighten them. Having spent the last two years as a member of the
Inscape staff, and as the outgoing editor of the journal, I offer a brief commentary
regarding what Hopkins meat by inscape and why it applies to a journal of student writing
here at BYU.

Countless critics have attempted to define the word inscape, some succeeding more
than others. In his biography of Hopkins, W.A.M. Peters muddies the waters considerably
by penning:

               Inscape is to the unified complex of those sensible qualities of the object of
               perceptions that strikes us as inseparably belonging to and most typical of it, so
               that through the knowledge of this unified complex of sense-data we may gain
               insight into the individual essence of an object.

Pardon me? What Peter fails to realize is that although Hopkins loved experimenting with
language, it is doubtful that his goals as a writer included confusing his readers. The
Oxford English Dictionary attempts to clarify such confusing definitions by defining inscape
as "Hopkins's word for the individual or essential quality of a thing: the uniqueness of an
observed object, scene, event, etc." Another biographer, Paddy Kitchen, notes:

               By inscape he meant the inherent and distinctive design of an object, which gives
               it its "oneness" and which has to be discovered through concentrated observation.
               It is not found entirely by analysis, but by a counterpoise between attention and
               reception, and all the senses may be employed in its perception.

Hopkins himself offers several definitions of inscape in various letters and essays. Past
editors of this journal have included the clearest definition a reminder to our readers that
the name does indeed have a factual basis. Hopkins defines his coinage as "the inward
quality of objects and events, as they are perceived by the joined observation and
introspection of the poet, who in turn embodies them in unique poetic forms," but even
Hopkins's own attempt at clarification seems quite confusing.

Perhaps dismantling the poet's definition will prove useful. If we begin with the premise
that every object or evenindeed, everything in existencehas certain qualities that are
uniquely its own, then we have discovered what Kitchen labels "oneness." Althought an
object's oneness or essence is close to what Hopkins meant by inscape, the second half of
his statement must be taken into consideration. Critic Austin Warren explains that "an
'inscape' is not mechanically or inertly present, but requires personal action, attention, a
seeing and seeing into." Hence, an object's inscape is not truly discovered until a poet
combines observation with self-examination. The final step of the process is achieved by
taking what has been discovered and subsequently studied, and ultimately using
innovative techniques to capture the object's essence on paper.

To the casual reader or writer, this process of discovery may seem laborious at best. One
of Hopkins's journal entries, however, holds a clue about his underlying motivation. In
May of 1870, at the age of twenty-six, the poet recorded observing a simple flower as
follows: "I do not think I have ever seen anything more beautiful than the bluebell I have
been looking at. I know the beauty of our Lord by it." This experience, though seemingly
basic, holds the key to what inscape is and why it is important to us as a journal affiliated
with a Christian university. The Norton Anthology of English Literature states that according
to Hopkins, the "individual identity of any object is the stamp of divine creation on it." The
logical outgrowth of such a premise is that by observing objects and events and then
examining ourselves for a sincere reaction, we can ultimately come closer to God. For
readers and writers with foundations of faith, few promises could be more inspiring.

So how do we apply the advice of a poet who died over one hundred years ago? Perhaps
first, we must remember that we are surrounded by inscapes; they permeate everything
that we see and do. Recognizing them, however, is another matter entirely. There will
always be new things to be seen, but only for people who continually discover and create
new ways to look. It takes effortlike Robert Frost's Star, the process "asks a little of us
here." And it cannot be merely a seasonal journey. Hopkins reminds us that "unless you
refresh the mind from time to time you cannot always remember or believe how deep the
inscape in things is." As we revisit familiar literature and familiar scenes with new eyes, we
will be reminded of the depth inherent in the worlddepth just waiting to be discovered.

The authors we have selected for publication in this issue of Inscape come from varied
backgrounds and represent diverse viewpoints. But all of them have one thing in
common: they have seen common things in new ways and have taken the time and effort
to write about them in a manner that captivates us. And why are we captivated? Because
we, too, know what it is like to see something for the hundredth time, and yet to truly see
it for the first, as you join our authors in discovering the inscapes they have recorded, we
hope you will see things you haven't seen beforethat you will not simply read, but
experience the pieces we have selected. The inscapes in this issue of Inscape are buried deep,
waiting to be unearthed. Enjoy the dig.

                                                                                                                                 Quinn Warnick
                                                                                                                                              April 1999