Structure and versification in Carrion Comfort

An expanded sonnet

The sonnet form has been expanded from the regular pentameter pattern to a hexameter. Sometimes this has been called the alexandrine, technically a 12 syllable line. Many lines here are 12 or 13 syllables in length, but a number are significantly longer, and thus the term is best avoided of this sonnet. The sentence structure goes very tightly with the quatrain/tercet structure.


However, there are significant enjambements, setting up strong counterpointing especially in the second quatrain and second tercet. This is where Hopkins' own agony cannot be contained in the set lines of the sonnet and spills over. Caesurae are apparently dotted haphazardly, again giving the idea of broken-up lines, which are not able to hold a regular pattern.


The metre begins as predominantly falling, with the dramatic stress on the first word ‘Not', an unusual word to stress, re-enforcing Hopkins' emphasis by a second ‘Not' beginning the following line. The third line appears to begin with two unstressed syllables, but, according to Hopkins' sprung rhythm, the foot really begins with the previous ‘man' and the two unstressed syllables follow that, to make the dactyl. The same thing can be done in l.7, taking the first two unstressed syllables back to the previous ‘scan', and in ll.8,13,14.

Investigating Carrion Comfort
  • Try reading the sonnet very slowly, taking long pauses at the question marks.
    • Do you find your voice naturally adopts any particular tone or voice.
    • Does this help to bring out Hopkins' own emotions?
  • Overall, would you say that this was a cry for help, or a particularly honest description of a certain state of mind and spirit?
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