Language and tone in Inversnaid

Dialect words

Although it is not difficult to make out the general meaning of the poem, particular words and phrases can give trouble. There are some dialect words:

  • ‘degged', meaning sprinkled (actually Lancashire dialect, not Scottish)
  • ‘Braes' is Scottish for hillsides that run up from a stream or river
  • ‘Twindles' is a made-up word, probably from ‘twist' and ‘dwindle'. Like most creative poets, Hopkins was prepared to invent a word if none existed to say what he wanted to say.

Difficult interpretations

‘Rounds and rounds Despair to drowning' is a difficult line:

  • ‘Despair', being given a capital letter, suggests personification. It could mean the sensation of watching the water swirl round could give rise to thoughts of despair, even suicide. However, since in Catholic theology despair was often seen as the worst of sins, and as the overall mood of the poem is celebratory, this seems a forced meaning
  • a better interpretation would be: the motion of the water is so strong that it is strong enough to drown despair itself- the strength of despair (which Hopkins was to experience a few years later) is acknowledged, but the force of Nature is even stronger.
    ‘beadbonny ash' also takes some explaining:
  • the ash tree bears red berries, like beads, but it could also refer to the Catholic practice of using the rosary as a way of saying prayers by moving beads along a cord. ‘Bedesman' can mean someone committed to praying for other people
  • ‘bonny' is Scottish dialect for ‘pretty', so a lot is being said in this little phrase.
Investigating Inversnaid
  • Explain the force of ‘darksome' and ‘groins'
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.