Structure and versification in As Kingfishers Catch Fire

The sonnet is a sophisticated piece of poetry. Each word takes its place appropriately (in the same way that the life of the ‘just person' is lived). There is no showing off of verbal dexterity, but the patterning bears out the meaning succinctly.


Although Petrarchan sonnets have an iambic pentameter line, there is a tension within the poem between the rising foot of the iambic and the falling foot of the trochee:

  • ll.3,4,6,7,10,11,12, 13 all begin with a stressed syllable, which could easily lead into a trochaic line
  • often in iambic pentameter the first foot is trochaic, and this is called first foot inversion and is typical of the Petrarchan sonnet
  • this is how most of these lines resolve themselves, except 1.8, where the trochaic pattern carries on to the caesura, where it reverts to iambic.
Investigating As Kingfishers Catch Fire
  • What is the force of l.8 being trochaic?
    • Notice Hopkins himself marks in the stresses.
  • It could be argued the ‘Bow' of l.4 should not be stressed, thus preserving the iambic throughout.
    • Try reading it both ways, remembering the enjambement from the previous line.
  • Look at l.12. There are dashes round the first ‘Christ'.
    • What do these signify?
    • How do they affect the rhythm?
  • In l.10, Hopkins has again marked a stress over ‘that'.
    • What does it do to the metre and sense?
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