Themes in The Sea and the Skylark

The octave is purely descriptive, giving detailed imagery of sea and skylark as Hopkins forms as precise an inscape of them as he can. It is left to the sestet to make a comment, this time in the form of an exclamation (l.9), rather than by posing a question (as in The Starlight Night or Spring).

The sestet sees the two things which, according to the Bible, were created by God, as shaming the man-made town which lies behind him. The town is a symbol of man's Fall from a much better, more innocent ‘prime'. There is heavy irony here as Hopkins picks up the theme of the ugliness of modern life, and compares it to the uniqueness and beauty of nature.

The irony springs from a further irony. Though Darwinism and Christianity are often seen as opposed, both agree that humankind is the highest form of development in the world. In the Bible, the Psalmist asks:

What is man that thou art mindful of him? and the son of man, that thou visitest him? For thou hast made him a little lower than the angels and hast crowned him with glory and honour. Thou madest him to have dominion over the works of thy hands; thou hast put all things under his feet.' (Psalms 8:4-6 AV)

However, to Hopkins, humanity's so-called progress is ‘towards man's first slime': in its superficiality, it is reversing down any so-called chain of evolution. As in Spring, he believes humankind's Paradise has been lost, and people have fallen away from the way God intended them to be.

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