Commentary on I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark

Self questioning

As with several of Hopkins' later, darker sonnets, the meaning is not difficult. It is more the intensity of feeling that is difficult to handle, especially after the comparatively joyful nature poems written earlier in his career. He addresses his heart, which, for Hopkins, seems not only the seat of the emotions, but also a sort of conscience. Thus, he uses ‘we' (see Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves), where the heart, too, is addressed (or apostrophised). In the waking hours of the night, he and his heart have gone along unspecified paths of thought and fantasies.

Symbolic darkness

The night darkness is symbolic of Hopkins' emotional and spiritual state, as is the delay of morning light: there is no escape from the dark via the light associated with from God.

Hopkins' complaint comes in the second quatrain:

  • his cries, or laments, are like undeliverable letters
  • it is as if God (‘dearest him') has gone away and not left a forwarding address
  • he may be echoing the lament voiced in Lamentations 3:2; Lamentations 3:6; Lamentations 3:8
  • there is no way of getting in touch with God whilst he is away.

Man without God

Absence is God's ‘deep decree', and it tastes bitter to Hopkins. In fact, what tastes bitter is himself, his still unredeemed self, under ‘the curse'. This word echoes Genesis 3:17, where God says to a disobedient Adam:

‘cursed is the ground for thy sake'.

In general Christian teaching, the term ‘cursed' is used widely of the fallen nature of humans (and in the New Testament ‘the curse of the law' (Galatians 3:13) is mentioned).

Hopkins sees the experience of being full of the bitterness of the inner self as being similar to the eventual permanent experience which will befall ‘the lost':

  • The term ‘the lost' is used in the Bible of all non-believers, as in:
‘For the Son of man is come to seek and save that which was lost' (Luke 19:10)


‘If the gospel is hid, it is hid to them that are lost' (2 Corinthians 4:3 AV).
  • In the poem, the lost are worse off than people of faith, since there is no chance of heaven for them.
Investigating I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
  • Pick out words that Hopkins uses of ‘the lost'.
    • Does his own dark experience seem to make him more sympathetic to them?
  • Does Hopkins seem to you to have lost his faith?
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