Commentary on Inversnaid

The sensation of a stream

Hopkins describes the different parts of a highland stream, using word-painting to bring out its wildness, hoping that that wildness might never be destroyed. Mountain burn, photo by Adam Ward, available through Creative CommonsAlthough Inversnaid itself is a small village on Loch Lomond, the focus of the poem is on a mountain stream rushing down the hillside and emptying itself into the lake.

Hopkins describes it mainly from the bottom upwards, which is how he would have experienced it, having arrived on the lakeside, either by road or, more probably, by ferry. He emphasizes its untameable force as it pours over a waterfall, or series of falls, interspersed with whirlpool-like depths at the base of the cliffs.

  • Stanza one describes the final fall of the stream, or burn, in its tumultuous rush into the lake
  • Stanza two describes the movement of the water in a deep pool formed under the cliffs
  • Three moves to higher ground, the plateau on top of the moor, so the stream is smaller and flowing less violently.

All the time, Hopkins is trying to paint detailed pictures of each part of the stream.

  • The final stanza is a repeated sort of prayer: ‘Let them…O let them….'. It is not clear who is to do the letting:
    • Is it a prayer to God or to his fellow humans?
    • Is it a prayer at all, or just a heartfelt desire?
    • Or do they come to the same thing?

Certainly, it is an unusual finish for Hopkins, but very memorable in its simplicity. It only takes a few minutes to learn by heart.

Investigating Inversnaid
  • Locate words and phrases that personify the stream.
  • Try learning the last stanza by heart.
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