Themes in The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo


The idea of a dialogue is common enough in poetry. Alfred Tennyson used a dialogue in several of his poems, such as The Two Voices. Here, ‘The Leaden Echo' represents a sort of pagan, certainly non-Christian pessimism about beauty and ageing. Time will certainly devour beauty:

‘nothing can be done / To keep at bay / Age and age's evils...'.

To Hopkins, who felt beauty keenly, this can lead only to despair.

True beauty

However, ‘The Golden Echo' brings a Christian consolation. Mortal beauty has to be surrendered to God: ‘Give beauty God', as St. Winefred had done. How exactly this is done is not spelled out, but it presumably links in with Bible verses about not trying to save one's life:

‘For whosoever will save his life, shall lose it; and whosoever will lose his life for my sake shall find it.' (Matthew 16:25)

At the very least, it means not caring more about mortal beauty than immortal. In a sonnet, Hopkins asks To What Serves Mortal Beauty? He doesn't reject mortal beauty, but he doesn't see it as a good to be desired for its own sake, any more than he sees the beauty of Nature an important thing in itself. In Christian belief, the body will be resurrected to a new body - ‘its own best' - and that is the body which ultimately matters:

‘The body that is sown is perishable, it is raised imperishable; it is sown in dishonour, it is raised in glory...' (1 Corinthians 15:42-43)
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