Commentary on No Worst, There is None

The desirability of death

Hopkins is trying to describe a state of inner torment in a coherent, restrained way. The effort is almost unbearable at times, from its impassioned opening to its sad ending on a note of the most minimal of consolations: there has to be an end.

A universal grief

The opening is direct and striking, its negatives echoing those of Carrion Comfort's ‘Not, I'll not....'. What is so bad that nothing worse can be imagined? The answer is ‘grief', or something beyond grief. Hopkins doesn't indicate a particular cause of grief, rather a general sense of trouble or difficulty. The lack of specificity actually universalises the poem, in that we can read into it whatever negative emotions or situation we identify with.

Where are the comforters?

Hopkins asks the Holy Spirit and Mary (the mother of Jesus) in apostrophes and as rhetorical questions where their comfort may be:

  • The term ‘Comforter' is one given by Jesus to the Holy Spirit:
‘But the Comforter, which is the Holy Ghost, whom the Father will send in my name, he shall teach you all things....' (John 14:26)
  • Most modern translations use the term ‘Counsellor' instead. Literally, the Greek word means someone who stands by you
  • His other focus, Mary, is seen in Catholic devotion as a source of grace and comfort through her nurturing role as mother of Jesus.

Yet none of these expected sources of comfort are there for him.

Hopkins feels totally isolated and his cries of mental pain go unanswered. He feels rather as if a Fury is dealing with him. In Greek mythology, the Furies were avenging spirits, who dealt severely with their victims.

Nightmare vision

The sestet describes Hopkins' nightmarish inner landscape. He doesn't feel people are made to bear such inner agony. The only consolation available to him, in the seeming absence of supernatural help, is that:

‘Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.'

It is some consolation, a mini-death, some sort of oblivion.

Investigating No Worst
  • Collect words and phrases in the sonnet that suggest inner torment.
  • ‘world-sorrow' is probably derived from the German ‘Weltschmerz'.
    • Look up the word.
      • Does the definition seem to fit the sonnet?
  • What other consolation does a poet have besides sleep and death?
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