In his journals, Gerard Manley Hopkins used two terms, "inscape" and "instress," which can cause some confusion. By "inscape" he means the unified complex of characteristics that give each thing its uniqueness and that differentiate it from other things, and by "instress" he means either the force of being which holds the inscape together or the impulse from the inscape which carries it whole into the mind of the beholder:
There is one notable dead tree . . . the inscape markedly holding its most simple and beautiful oneness up from the ground through a graceful swerve below (I think) the spring of the branches up to the tops of the timber. I saw the inscape freshly, as if my mind were still growing, though with a companion the eye and the ear are for the most part shut and instress cannot come.
The concept of inscape shares much with Wordsworth's "spots of time," Emerson's "moments," and Joyce's "epiphanies," showing it to be a characteristically Romantic and post-Romantic idea. But Hopkins' inscape is also fundamentally religious: a glimpse of the inscape of a thing shows us why God created it. "Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:/ . . myself it speaks and spells,/ Crying Whát I dó is me: for that I came. "
[Hopkins] felt that everything in the universe was characterized by what he called inscape, the distinctive design that constitutes individual identity. This identity is not static but dynamic. Each being in the universe 'selves,' that is, enacts its identity. And the human being, the most highly selved, the most individually distinctive being in the universe, recognizes the inscape of other beings in an act that Hopkins calls instress, the apprehension of an object in an intense thrust of energy toward it that enables one to realize specific distinctiveness. Ultimately, the instress of inscape leads one to Christ, for the individual identity of any object is the stamp of divine creation on it.
The theoretic stuff about inscape and the sprung rhythms is fascinating but my personal experience is sometimes it's got in the way of me just appreciating the poems themselves. But that's what tends to happen with me, I read the background notes more than the thing itself.
I only vaguely understood the echo poem but it didn't matter because it was so bewitchingly written.
Inscape was the thing that drew me to Hopkins in the first place but I never got beyond the theory and to actually pick that theory out of his poems. I always thought he was a handsome chap though. So an interesting thread to me.