Synopsis of Carrion Comfort

A ‘terrible sonnet'

This is one of the ‘terrible sonnets' written while Hopkins was in Ireland, probably in 1885, with its revision dated to 1887. The title was made for the sonnet by Robert Bridges, being taken from the first line. For a general note on these sonnets, see Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves. Unlike that poem, however, this is a very God-centered poem, with frequent allusions to the Bible.



God talking to JobThere are a number of subtexts. The book of Job in the Bible is about a man wrestling to understand why God has allowed all sorts of calamities to fall on him, and is thus the model theodicy. In the end, God speaks to him when he comes to the end of his questions. In the sonnet, Hopkins is still left with his questions. He does attempt one answer, but it seems only to lead to further questions.

Keats, Tennyson and Shakespeare

Other subtexts include:

  • Keats' Ode to a Nightingale, where the poet considers suicide as a way out of his intense misery, and also Ode to Melancholy, where he discusses embracing misery, as a way of entering into life more fully
  • Tennyson's The Two Voices also discusses suicide, and we note the two voices in the sestet here- ‘O which one?' Hopkins cries
  • Hamlet's ‘To be or not to be' speech in Shakespeare's Hamlet.
Investigating Carrion Comfort
  • Try to read Hamlet's ‘To be or not to be' speech.
  • What is the difference between deep depression and despair?
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