In the first of four sections, titled "The Ways of Discovery," Ong explored Hopkins' writings on sprung rhythm in an attempt to figure out where his thinking about sprung rhythm originated. One link in Hopkins' mind might have been between sprung rhythm and Old English verse, but Hopkins' writings (primarily letters to Robert Bridges and Richard Watson Dixon) reveal that while he ultimately came to believe that the two were linked, he does not speak of Old English verse as a source for sprung rhythm. Similarly, Hopkins cites examples of sprung rhythm in later works, such as that of Milton and Shakespeare, but he never refers to them as sources for his discovery of sprung rhythm.
What is more likely, Ong explains, is that Hopkins did not "discover" sprung rhythm in such a straightforward manner, but he simply heard it everywhere because it was so directly linked to everyday language. Once Hopkins realized what the pattern was, the instances of it became rather obvious to him, hence the numerous examples from different time periods cited in his letters to Bridges and Dixon.
In the second section of this article, "Another Economy of English Verse," Ong describes the specifics of alternating stress (which is typical in modern English because of the tendency of putting a stress into speech every few syllables regardless of whether the word demands it or not) and sense stress (the pattern seen in Old English verse and Hopkins' sprung rhythm, in which emotion determines where the stresses should occur). Then Ong judges the sense stress pattern to be more complex than that of alternating stresses.
Sense-stress is like a ballet or a musical composition, Ong explains, with its parts-to-whole approach. Here, readers of Ong's work may expect him to make a connection between different patterns in language and different philosophical points of view, as he does in "Wit and Mystery: A Revaluation in Medieval Latin Hymnody," for Ong's remarks about Hopkins' place in his intellectual milieu and the premise of the collection (to focus on Hopkins' Jesuitness) suggest that Ong may move in this direction.
Instead, Ong goes on to discuss certain aspects of the stress-sense units (such as heavy alliteration, antithetical verse movement, use of "hangers," and so on) and their similarities to Old English verse, and he discusses some of Hopkins' own "pecularities" (use of rhymes, omission of subject relatives, and so on) in detail. The closest Ong comes to making a link between patterns in language and metaphysics in this article is when he states: "Hopkins' language and structure are what they are because his rhythm can support the kind of feeling for which such language is a normal vehicle" (143).
In the third section of this article, "Not Birth, But Resurrection," Ong once again returns to the question of what Hopkins "discovered" when he found sprung rhythm, arguing that Hopkins recovered an ignored tradition, one which even Hopkins did not recognize the extent of because the intellectual milieu of his time so thoroughly eliminated from its canon works written in the sense-stress tradition. Ong then offers examples of poetry from various historical periods that displays at least the "counterpoint" pattern, in which running rhythm and sprung rhythm meet, if not the full sense-stress pattern itself. He cites works such as Chaucer's Canterbury Tales, though it usually is not recognized as such, John Skelton's Phyllyp Sparrowe and Speke Parrot, Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors, and the wit poetry of Thomas Carew, and Ong emphasizes how this tradition existed despite the fact that attention to running rhythm dominated the literary world well through the nineteenth century, when Spenser's style was venerated as the ideal.
In conclusion, Ong notes that the best way to understand sprung rhythm
is not to think of it as a measurement system or analyze it as a measurement
system but simply to listen to it since it is so directly linked to ordinary