Stanzas 24-30: Understanding the nun's cry

Stanza 24

Hopkins is gradually re-focusing on the storm, but before he completely does so, he recalls that all the while this was happening he was safe in Wales, ‘On a pastoral forehead', reminding us of the quiet rural setting of St. Beuno's. We often think of where we were when we hear of some other disaster, and then always associate the two.

Finally, Hopkins is ready to return to the climax of the storm and the poem itself. We hear just what the nun was calling- we've waited for her words from stanza 19 till now. ‘O Christ, Christ come quickly' were her words, echoing almost the last verse of the Bible:

‘Surely I come quickly. Amen. Even so, come Lord Jesus' (Revelation 22:20)
  • ‘christens' is a technical term denoting baptism: to name someone as a Christian
  • the oxymoron of ‘wild-worst Best' comes to mean that in her worst extremity she is calling Christ, her best, to her.
Investigating Stanza 24
  • What do you think the nun meant by her cry?
  • How ironic is the reference to baptism?

Stanza 25

Hopkins asks the question: ‘What did she mean?' He makes two suggestions.

Firstly, that she is wanting Christ as her bridegroom or lover:

  • he contrasts that attitude with the disciples' panic when they thought they were sinking and wanted Jesus as their rescuer:
‘And there arose a great storm of wind, and the waves beat into the ship, so that it was now full. And he was in the hinder part of the ship, asleep on a pillow: and they (the disciples) awake him, and say unto him, Master, carest thou not that we perish?' (Mark 4:37-38)
  • ‘Gennesareth' is merely another name for the Sea of Galilee, the name of the lake in northern Israel, prone to such sudden storms.

The second suggestion is that she was asking for martyrdom (‘the crown') to come quickly.

  • Hopkins plays with the word ‘keen' to mean both ‘biting cold' and ‘eager'.
  • ‘crown' is tied to martyrdom in the Bible, as in:
‘ye shall have tribulation ten days: be thou faithful unto death and I will give thee a crown of life' (Revelation 2:10)

Investigating Stanza 25

  • Why does Hopkins exclaim ‘The majesty!'?
  • Who is the ‘arch and original Breath', do you think? (Go back to stanza 23 if you are not sure.)
    • And what is the sense of ‘Breathe'?
  • Explain the oxymoron ‘lovely Death'

Stanza 26

The stanza expands on this last suggestion of what the nun may have meant, working it up to almost mystical proportions. The contrast, or opposition, set up at the end of the previous stanza forms the basis for a series of further contrasts that become quite visionary.

Just as the heart is lifted on a misty, murky day when a clear blue sky finally emerges, so the nun may have felt comfort now, especially if we imagine a spring day, when the sky seems especially high. Or if it is at night when the mist clears, then how high the sky seems ‘with belled fire and the moth-soft Milky Way'. The soft, sibilant sounds are in stark contrast to the earlier description of the storm. Such a contrast seems almost escapist in its beauty. Certainly, it seems to lift us up right out of the hurly-burly of the storm. Is this what the nun wanted, to be lifted straight into the beauty of heaven? Was this her ‘heaven of desire'?

The last line echoes a biblical verse:

‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him.' (1 Corinthians 2:9)
Investigating Stanza 26
  • Examine the compound epithets.
    • What is their effect on the verse?
  • Why ‘belled' and ‘moth-soft'?
  • How does the language here contrast to that of stanza 24?

Stanza 27

Hopkins rejects both the previous two suggestions. It was neither a cry for help from her lover, Christ, nor a desire to escape to heaven as a martyr that caused her cry. Hopkins explains why not:

  • it is primarily a difficult, sorrowful life that would cause such cries, not the sudden danger of a storm
  • in such a difficult life, the appeal is to the suffering Christ (‘the Passion'), in the sense that Christ understands human suffering, too, and will draw near to comfort, especially in times of private, personal prayer (‘prayer apart')


  • the nun was in a sudden crisis, not in a life of drudgery
  • ‘Other... her mind's burden' means her actual concerns at the moment of her cry were quite different from those of personal comfort or escape.
Investigating Stanza 27
  • What do you think ‘the cart' is in l.2?
  • Do you agree with Hopkins' thinking here?
    • Would you look for quite different forms of help in an ongoing tragic or boring situation than in a crisis?

Stanza 28

Finally we come to what Hopkins believes the nun meant by her cry, ‘O Christ, Christ come quickly'.

The lines and verse form become broken as his excitement and stress grow to an emotional and imaginative climax. He can hardly get the words out. In a sense, this climax is the result of his training in the Ignatian mode of meditation, where the person is encouraged to live through an experience of Christ's life imaginatively and so become connected emotionally to it. Here, he is imagining the physical details of the nun's last moments and gets totally caught up in them.

What the nun experiences is no less than a vision of Christ coming towards her, walking on the water, as it were, coming as ‘the Master'.

We can link Hopkins' previous statements about Christ as master (stanzas 1, 10) with the Bible verses when his disciples use that term of him:

‘Peter said unto Jesus, Master, it is good for us to be here.' (Luke 9:33)


‘she called Mary her sister secretly saying, The Master is come and calleth for thee.' (John 11:28)

It is as though Christ has come again and called for the nun, as her master.

The diction here is full of terms of sovereignty:

  • ‘Ipse' is the Latin for ‘himself', and the word used for Christ in the liturgy of the Mass. So it is as if Christ, the Lord and Judge of the living and dead, has come to take the nun personally. Hence her call
  • ‘doom' is an older word for ‘judgement', as in ‘Doomsday'
  • ‘ride in his triumph' could be an allusion to Christ's triumphal entry into Jerusalem:
‘The crowds that went ahead of him and those that followed shouted, ‘Hosanna to the son of David!'' (Matthew 21:9)

or to the following Psalm:

‘When you ascended on high, you led captives in your train; you received gifts from men' (Psalms 68:18)

which Paul quotes in the New Testament in connection with Christ's triumphal Ascension into heaven (Ephesians 4:8).

Investigating Stanza 28
  • What terms relating to sovereignty can you find in the stanza?
  • How can his coming be ‘his triumph'?
    • Is this a paradox you can explain?
  • This is Hopkins' explanation of her cry, reached with some difficulty.
    • Are you convinced by it?
    • Is there any other explanation?

Stanza 29

What has happened to the idea of theodicy? Hopkins establishes in this stanza that a ‘good death' is always possible, however bad the causes of that death, and that this death is therefore a triumph, not a tragedy:

  • the nun ‘read' the night aright, she knew the ‘who and the why', which after all, are the questions theodicy asks - Who did this? Why?
  • if she knew the answers and accepted them, that is a ‘good death'
  • in this, she is a ‘single eye', a reference to:
‘if therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light.' (Matthew 6:22)
  • not only did she ‘read' the truth, but her cry was a ‘wording' of this. Hopkins again plays with the idea of Christ as ‘the Word' of John 1:1, which we have already looked at.

The reference to Simon Peter is complex:

  • it was Simon Peter who went to meet Christ when the latter was walking on the water:
‘‘Lord, if it's you,' Peter replied, ‘tell me to come to you on the water.' ‘Come,' he said.' (Matthew 14:28-29)
  • it is Simon Peter who is called the rock (‘Tarpeian' refers to a rock in Ancient Rome which was variously a place of execution, and where the Capitol was built.):
‘thou art Peter, and upon this rock will I build my church' (Matthew 16:18)

So in ‘the blast' of the storm, the nun is rock-like, unmoveable, and, in fact, becomes a beacon of light (back to ‘single-eye') which burns more brightly the harder the wind blows.

Investigating Stanza 29
  • Can you explain ‘word of, worded by'?
  • What to you makes a ‘good death'?
    • Is dying a good death sufficient to make up for the suffering by which it came?

Stanza 30

Although Hopkins has more or less been addressing Christ, he now focuses on this address:

‘Jesu, heart's light, Jesu, maid's son..'

using the diction of a really simple hymn:

  • ‘Jesu' is only used in devotional language, not theological. It is seen as one of the most intimate, personal ways in which believers can address Christ

  • the language of l.4 is similarly intimate, almost sexual, ‘hadst glory of'.

He relates the date of the nun's actual death, 7th December, early on the Tuesday morning, to the Feast of the Immaculate Conception on 8th December (see Mary). In Catholic doctrine, Mary was conceived and born sinless, ‘without stain'.

In an elaborate conceit, Hopkins plays with the two meanings of the word ‘conceive':

  • to become pregnant (Mary conceived Jesus physically)
  • to form an idea of (the nun conceived Jesus in her mind or heart).

Thus the nun delivered the word/Word (carried over from the previous stanza) in a ‘heart-throe' (as opposed to the throes of physical labour), so that he was ‘birth of a brain'. (In Greek mythology, Zeus is sometimes credited with giving birth to Pallas Athene out of his head.)

Investigating Stanza 30
  • What seems to be the tone of this stanza?
    • Can you pick out words and phrases that support this tone?
  • In the scansion, six out of eight lines begin with a stressed syllable.
    • What effect does this have in reading it?
    • Does Hopkins seem in any way hesitant about his theodicy?
  • Effective metaphysical poetry is said to marry heart and head.
    • Is this what Hopkins achieves here, do you think?
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