The Literary Corner: Ghostface Killah & Gerard Manley Hopkins

10.18.09 8 years ago 30 Comments

In my past life, I majored in English at Davidson and came across a multitude of poetry. Naturally, I would look for connections between the fathers of poetry and our modern-day Hip-Hoppers. I’ve been able to find a few similarities and parallels that I’m going to show you from time to time.

For our first installment we will look at the similarities between one Gerard Manley Hopkins and Ghostface Killah.

Tale of the Tape

Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in 1844 in England. Hopkins struggled through most of his life to balance his fervent religious values (he converted to Catholicism in 1866) and his homosexuality. Hopkins died after experiencing years of diarrhea and typhoid fever.

Ghostface Killah: Dennis Coles comes from Shaolin or Staten Island as some people refer to it. He is a Muslim who has integrated his religion into his rhymes. He has made many songs about his adventures with the fairer sex. Ghostface is a diabetic. Arguably, his most critically-acclaimed album is Supreme Clientele which features stream of conscious lyrics and non-sequitors galore.

The Link

Gerard Manley Hopkins spent a considerable amount of his poetry career trying to, well, sound fly. One of his main concerns as a writer was the way words sounded. He played around with language in way previously unforeseen in poetry. We loved the way words bounced of the pages, focusing on internal rhymes and sounds to drive his literature.

Arguably his most famous poem that employs his wordplay is “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”:

“As king fishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
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 What I do is me: for that I came.”

Peep the internal rhyme. These are as much lines to a poem as they are bars. The meaning becomes secondary to the words’ presentation.

Does this sound like anything else to you guys?

Exactly. Supreme Clientele. Do you know what Ghost is spitting on “Nutmeg?” Me neither, but the way the syllables smack into each other only to ricochet off of more rhymes have make Ghost’s verses on that song legendary:

“Scientific, my hand, kiss it
Robotic listed, gotta miss it
You probably missed it watch my dolly-dick it…”

Listen to “Nutmeg” again and you can see distinct similarities with Hopkins’ “Duns Scotus’s Oxford”:

“Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded;
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country and town did
Once encounter in, here coped and poisèd powers…”

Look at the string of made-up, conjoined words in the second line. You could almost fit a “Scooby snack Jurassic plastic gassed booby trap” into one of Hopkins’ works and not miss a beat.

Ghost and Hopkins would go on to make more coherent poetry throughout their lives. But they both faced distinct moments in their careers where the words were the poetry. The musicality of assonance and alliteration became the focus of their works.

Thanks for tuning in to the TSS Literary Corner. Check us next time when we take on Wordsworth and Coleridge and their connection to Speakerboxx/The Love Below.

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