Gerard Manley Hopkins, selected poems Contents
- As Kingfishers Catch Fire
- Binsey Poplars
- The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared to the Air We Breathe
- Carrion Comfort
- Duns Scotus' Oxford
- God's Grandeur
- Harry Ploughman
- Henry Purcell
- Hurrahing in Harvest
- I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Synopsis of I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Commentary on I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Language and tone in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Structure and versification in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Imagery and symbolism in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- Themes in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark
- The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Synopsis of The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Commentary on The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Language and tone in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Structure and versification in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Imagery and symbolism in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- Themes in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo
- The May Magnificat
- My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Synopsis of My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Commentary on My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Language and tone in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Structure and versification in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Imagery and symbolism in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- Themes in My Own Heart, Let Me Have More Pity On
- No Worst, There is None
- Patience, Hard Thing!
- Pied Beauty
- The Sea and the Skylark
- Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves
- Spring and Fall
- St. Alphonsus Rodriguez
- The Starlight Night
- That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection
- Synopsis of That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Commentary on That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Language and tone in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Structure and versification in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Imagery and symbolism in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Themes in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
- Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord
- Tom's Garland
- To Seem the Stranger
- To What Serves Mortal Beauty
- The Windhover
- The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Synopsis of The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Commentary on The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Language and tone in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Structure and versification in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Imagery and symbolism in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Themes in The Wreck of the Deutschland
- Beauty and its purpose
- The beauty, variety and uniqueness of nature
- Christ's beauty
- Conservation and renewal of nature
- God's sovereignty
- The grace of ordinary life
- Mary as a channel of grace
- Nature as God's book
- Night, the dark night of the soul
- Serving God
- Suffering and faith
- The temptation to despair
- The ugliness of modern life
- Understanding evil in a world God has made
Commentary on That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
Joy in nature
The octave is reminiscent of the joy Hopkins felt in nature when he was at St. Beunos and first writing poetry again. The mood of the dark sonnets of the previous two years seems to have dissipated itself. The breathless descriptions of a windy, cloudy day after a rainstorm, has all the technical brilliance of The Sea and The Skylark or The Windhover.
The first few lines describe the scudding clouds, their shape and movement across the sky, and the way they create shadows in the sunshine - the poem was written midsummer. Hopkins personifies the clouds, ‘heaven-roysterers', 'gay gangs', as if they were revellers coming home from a party. Hopkins' fascination with shadows returns with the descriptions in ll.3,4:
- ‘shivelights' means strips of light, as the sun shines through an elm tree, causing light and shade (the dapple effect seen in Pied Beauty)
- ‘whitewash' is elliptical for ‘whitewashed walls' as opposed to ‘roughcast walls', the two creating different shadow effects.
The drying wind
The second quatrain moves on to the wind itself, not here blowing the clouds across the sky, but drying the puddles and mud caused by the previous day's showers (‘yestertempest's creases').
- In l.6 some editions have ‘rutpeel', others have ‘rut peel'. Hopkins is describing the ruts made in the muddy roads being dried by the wind and ‘peeling' off, like flaky skin
- The wind, a symbol of the ‘flux' that Heraclitus talks about, is actively changing the landscape, for instance drying the ‘ooze' and making it into a ‘dough', then a ‘crust' then into ‘dust'
- ‘stanches' means ‘make firm', as when one starches cloth to make it stiff. So the footprints in the mud caused by ‘treadmire toil' (farm workers having to tread their way through the mud / mire when it was still soaking wet) now become hardened into apparantly permanent ‘manmarks' (like physical landmarks).
Hopkins' use of compounds and ellipsis here makes for a very dense texture to his verse.
There is a transition in l.9 as Hopkins suddenly remembers the conclusion of Heraclitus: that in all this flux, man, too, is transitory. The image changes from wind and rain to fire:
- Nature becomes threatening: ‘Million-fuelled nature's bonfire burns on'
- Man seems very fragile: a dried footprint in the road is hardly a sign of permanence
- ‘how fast his firedint' has an ironic pun on the word ‘fast' which can mean ‘quick' or ‘permanent', as in a fast dye. Does man's spark flare and quickly die or shine permanently? The context seems to suggest the former, though as the poem goes on, Hopkins is to argue the latter.
Hopkins particularly protests against death rather than just fire: ‘death blots black out'.
- The darkness seems to suggest the dark of space, its vastness: ‘But vastness blurs and time beats level'
- The ‘dust' of l.7 symbolises the dust of death and nonentity
Hopkins own philosophy is derived from Duns Scotus (see Literary context: Duns Scotus), with its emphasis on the uniqueness of each created thing and person:
‘her clearest-selved spark/ Man'.
What is to happen to this uniqueness in the dust of death and the vastness of space?
The coda response
The sestet has not answered the problem of flux: it has made it worse! This is where the three coda are necessary. They form the Christian response to Heraclitus, who was known as ‘the weeping philosopher', so pessimistic was his message.
The heart of the Christian message is the resurrection, by which Hopkins refers not so much to Jesus rising from the dead after his crucifixion, but the resurrection of all Christians from the dead, as described by Paul in the New Testament:
We can see Hopkins' references to this in ‘In a flash, at a trumpet crash'. This hope of the resurrection is like a beacon light to him in days of dejection: although his ‘corruptible' flesh may be eaten by the ‘residuary worm', and the final destructive fire on earth ‘leave but ash', that won't affect his immortal body. He uses shipwreck imagery that reminds us of The Wreck of the Deutschland.
Since this ‘resurrection body' was first taken on by Christ in his resurrection life, so Hopkins at his own death / resurrection is ‘all at once what Christ is'. And this is possible because of the incarnation, when Jesus took on the nature of humanity: ‘since he was what I am'.
Paul describes what happened to Christ elsewhere in the New Testament:
The Bible states that Christ became human and subjected himself to mortality, yet rose from death to an eternal life. Thus the Christian hope lies in permanence beyond Heraclitus's flux. The final image, of a diamond, suggests this immortality, since not even a fire can destroy the diamond: it has such a permanent structure.
- Work out the descriptions of human beings in 1.23.
- How are they so opposite from the diamond image?
- Why does Hopkins exclaim ‘O pity and indignation'?
- What is your own worldview here?
- Do you see an end to the universe?
- Is there also a complete end to humans when they die?
- Can you get in touch with Hopkins' beliefs in the light of your own world view?
- Is his poetry sufficiently strong to bridge the gap?
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
- English Standard Version
- King James Version
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