Synopsis of As Kingfishers Catch Fire


Although this petrarchan sonnet is undated, it is included just after Inversnaid (September 1881), so was probably written while Hopkins was back at Roehampton to complete his novitiate. It also has a philosophical perspective which suggests a period of quiet after parish duties. He turns back to the form of his earlier sonnets, rather than continuing to work with the expanded form he was developing in Felix Randal.

Dramatic yet restrained

Compared to many of the earlier sonnets, the poem is concise and restrained: for example, there are only two run-on lines, and most lines have a recognisable pentameter form without the reader having to take notice of outriders and other devices of sprung rhythm. Yet the poem manages both to say a great deal, and to contain within itself some lovely turns of phrase and some striking thoughts. Its subject matter is philosophical, yet its expression is very natural. Hopkins the poet manages to put into striking, even dramatic, verse what Hopkins the priest holds as theological truth, based on his reading of the medieval philosopher, Duns Scotus.

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