With authority and sensitivity Plotkin traces the close relationship between Hopkins’s poetry and the theories of language suggested in his Journals and expounded by Victorian philologists such as Max Müller and George Marsh.
Plotkin seeks to determine what changed Hopkins’s perception of language between the writing of such early poems as "The Habit of Perfection" and "Nondum" (1866) and his creation of The Wreck of the Deutschland (1875–76). Did the language of the ode, and of Hopkins’s mature poetry generally, arise as spontaneously as it appears to have done, or does it have a traceable genesis in the ways in which language as a whole was conceived and studied in mid-century England? In answer, Plotkin fixes the development of Hopkins’s singular poetic language in the philological context of his time.
If one is to understand Hopkins’s writings and poetic language in the context in which they developed rather than in the terms of a present-day theory of history or textuality, then that movement in all of its complexity must be considered. Hopkins "translates" into the language of poetry patterns and categories common to Victorian language study.