Language and tone in Henry Purcell

Uncommon expression

Some of the poem's difficulties lie in the way words are used and in the way they are ordered. The opening phrase has drawn especial attack from critics:

  • By ‘have fair fallen' Hopkins means, ‘I wish you to have died well and in grace' or ‘in God's favour'
  • Yet we never use the particular verbal construction Hopkins uses (a sort of present perfect imperative). We may say, ‘Have a good time', but we never say, ‘Have had a good time (yesterday)'.
  • It's probably easiest just to think ‘be' for ‘have'.
    Despite criticism, Hopkins refused to change the line.

Unusual denotation

  • In l.2 ‘arch' refers neither to ‘a sort of construction', nor ‘a becoming mannerism'. Hopkins means it as in ‘archangel', from the Greek word meaning ‘leading' or ‘first'. Normally the word is attached to another noun: arch-something. We have to wait till l.9 till ‘angels' comes up.
  • ‘nursle' is archaic for ‘nourish, foster', but he needs the –sle for the rhyme.

It is part of the poet's skill to know and love such a variety of words, including dialect forms like ‘wuthering', as not to be stuck for a rhyme.

Unusually for Hopkins, there are very few compound epithets, ‘purple-of-thunder' and ‘moonmarks' being two of the few.

Investigating Henry Purcell
  • Define ‘rehearsal' (l.7); ‘sentence' (l.4); ‘listed' (l.4).
  • How can ‘fear' be ‘sacred' (l.5)?
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