Stanzas 11-16: Description of the wreck

Stanza 11

This is a transitional stanza between the two parts. It starts dramatically, and it takes us a few moments to realise the ‘me' is Death, not Christ. Death is personified as a tyrant:

  • the matter of Part the Second is anticipated in ‘storms bugle his fame', a military image
Investigating Stanza 11
  • Hopkins increases the drama by contrasting Death's attitude to ours.
    • How does he achieve the contrast?
  • ‘The flange and the rail' are railway images, referring to railway accidents, which were not uncommon in Hopkins' day. To-day, we would think of motor accidents
  • technically, they are synecdochic (see Figure of speech), synecdoche being the use of part of a thing to represent the whole. So the flange and the rail are just parts of the railway apparatus of death
  • the references to ‘Flesh falls' are biblical echoes from Isaiah:
‘All flesh is grass, and all the godliness thereof as the flower of the field. The grass withereth, the flower fadeth....' (Isaiah 40:6-7)
  • the image of death as the ‘grim reaper' in ‘The sour scythe cringe' comes more from Greek mythology.
  • the ‘share' means ploughshare and re-enforces the reaper image
  • ‘blear' means dull and dim, but has also the idea of tears and crying.

Stanza 12

Hopkins finally begins the narrative of the tragedy. The first half of the stanza changes rhythm drastically, as we are given the main facts. However, by the time he reaches the mid-point of the stanza, he is already questioning God. In fact, the theodicy is worked out as a series of questions. Remember, theodicy is about looking for answers, so the questions have first to be asked, a point Hopkins is even more aware of in his sonnet Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord.

Investigating Stanza 12
  • Can you make out what Hopkins' question is to God?
  • Bremen is a port in northern Germany. The boat was obviously crowdedPort of Bremen with emigrants seeking a new life in America. In fact, they finished up on a shoal of sand in the North Sea at a place known as the Kentish Knock, some 25 miles from Harwich

  • ‘bay' may appear to be a sea image, but in fact it goes with ‘vault', and is architectural. There is also the sense of being ‘at bay' (as in stanza 7)
  • ‘Vault' similarly has several meanings, including a place where the dead are buried.

The plays on words suggest the ambiguity that runs through the theodicy: God is ‘supposed' to protect (his) people - he seems not to do so but is this non-protection actually a greater long-term protection?

  • ‘rounds' also seems an odd word: are these rounds of ammunition? If so, how representative of God's mercy? There is an echo back to ‘in the round' (l.4)
  • ‘reeve' means rope together, but to rope in suggests capture not protection.

Hopkins, even in his questioning, is using deliberately ambiguous, even misleading words.

Investigating Stanza 12
  • Do you think Hopkins' question is a real question, or is it a rhetorical one?

Stanza 13

Hopkins continues with his narrative. The boat had set sail on Saturday 4th December. On Sunday, it was ploughing through heavy seas in the North Sea, driven by winds from east north-east, which would not have been good news (‘in cursed quarter'), though not unusual for that time of the year. Snow had begun to fall, obscuring any warning lights or lightships set to warn of the shallow seas and sandbanks in certain areas.

Investigating Stanza 13
  • How does Hopkins' choice of words bring out the violence of the episode?
  • Examine the compound epithets (see Diction) - both the hyphenated ones and those made into a single word.
    • What effect do they have?

Stanza 14

The narrative continues into Sunday night. Then, at 5 a.m. on the Monday morning, 6th December, the boat hit a shoal, or submerged sandbank. The impetus of the collision drove the ship so far into the shoal that it became fast, and immediately waves started to break over the vessel. Its propeller (‘whorl') - for it was a combined sail and steam-driven boat as was common at the time - was rendered useless to reverse it. Without motion, it could not be steered: so the ‘wheel/Idle for ever to waft (i.e. float) or wind (i.e. steer) her with'. The ‘for ever' is ominous.

Investigating Stanza 14
  • Compare ‘the combs of a smother of sand' with stanza 4.
    • Are there other ways in which Hopkins has prepared us for the physical description of the shipwreck?

Stanza 15

Rescue fails to arrive for the stricken ship. Ironically, the shipwrecked passengers can now see the lightship that should have warned them of the shoal. The only other light is from the distress rockets fired uselessly, since the seas are too heavy for people to attempt rescue. Twelve hours go by on the Monday, and night starts to fall again. By this time, the ship is settling more and more into the shoal, and, as waves are washing over the ship, people can no longer hold on and are beginning to be washed overboard. Hope is personified, more in terms of expectation or anticipation than of any inner quality.

Investigating Stanza 15
  • How does Hopkins increase the pace or tempo of the poem at this stage?
  • ‘shrouds' has a double meaning
    • can you see the irony of this?
  • Compare the ‘hurling' with that in stanza 13.
    • What is the difference?

Stanza 16

Hopkins recounts an incident he had read in the newspaper account. One of the sailors had bravely lowered himself down on a rope from the mast to try to rescue some of the women trapped on deck. He fell and was instantly killed, though his corpse swung grotesquely suspended by the rope. Man's effort is futile in the face of this storm, Hopkins is suggesting.

Investigating Stanza 16
  • Again, compare the rope with the image in stanza 4.
    • What are the ironic differences?
  • How does some of the diction used by Hopkins seem horribly out of place?
    • Why do you think he uses such words?
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