Structure and versification in Duns Scotus' Oxford

An irregular sonnet

As a Petrarchan sonnet, only the poem's rhyme scheme would appear regular. The octave neither proposes a question, nor does the sestet answer any. They simply describe two things that mean a lot to Hopkins. They are not problematised in any way, apart from the modern falling from grace in the second quatrain.


The sprung rhythm is difficult to determine in a few lines, but other lines are remarkably regular in rhythm and metre, as l.7, which is, however, trochaic and not iambic (i.e. a falling rhythm). Many lines actually begin as trochees, as ll.1,2,4,7,8,13, though switching back to iambics at some point in the line. Thus l.1 starts as a trochee ‘Tów-er' but then reverts to iambic ‘-y cít-' and continues as two anapaests, then reverts to another trochee with the repetition of ‘tow-er'.

In l.2, what is best to do with the compounds is to count each stress as a half, so that the whole compound counts as one stress. So ‘rook-racked' counts as just one stress. However, ‘Cuckoo-echoing' is rather too many syllables really to get away with just one stress, though this is what is suggested by some Hopkins' scholars, in order to keep the pentameter line. But ‘cuckoo' really has to have one stress, as does ‘echo-', giving us a hexameter again, with a very distinctly trochaic feel.

Run-ons and pauses

Hopkins uses enjambement with carried-on lines in ll.3,5,6,7,9,10,12- almost half the lines of the poem. More difficult is to say how they counterpoint the rhythm, and whether it is significant or trivial.

However, several significant caesuras (mid-line pauses) do counterpoint the rhythm markedly. Thus in ll.3,4, the clause beginning ‘that country' runs from the caesura in l.3 to the caesura in l.4, and has to be read counter to the metre of the line.

Investigating Duns Scotus' Oxford
  • Can you work out the scansion for l.3?
  • Why do you think the second quatrain is almost entirely carried-on lines?
  • Do you see any significant counter-rhythms being set up by the enjambement?
  • 1.11 has no internal punctuation.
    • How would you shape the line as you read it?
    • Where would you put the emphasis, pauses and climax?
  • Try out which tone you would use to read the poem out loud.
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