Imagery and symbolism in The Sea and the Skylark

The second quatrain centres on the skylark, one of a number of birds Hopkins' attention is drawn to in his poetry (falcons and thrushes are two other examples). On his left hand lie the sand dunes, over which the lark is soaring. The imagery seeks to convert sound into sight, as we are asked to see the bird's song as a musical score, pouring out of its throat, then falling like a fisherman's line reeling out. It is not a straight line as there are kinks in it where the line has been pressed into the reel. Each kink represents a bar-line. And the line is being rewound on to another reel, which the bird will take when he swoops downwards, so he can begin again. Such a complicated image is often called a conceit. The word ‘re-winded' is a play on words, as a fisherman rewinds the reel, but also an instrument is winded or played, as in ‘winding a horn'.

Investigating The Sea and the Skylark
  • ‘Trench'(l.2) means 'to make a deep impression on'.
    • What lines or images or ideas in the poem have made a deep impression on you?
  • Some of the metre of the poem is very regular and smooth; other lines are very emphatic, having extra stressed syllables.
    • Can you scan ll.4 and 14 and see this?
    • Why is Hopkins so emphatic?
    • Are there other heavily-stressed lines that you can hear as you read the poem?
  • Do you think Hopkins is making too big a jump between octave and sestet?
    • Is he too ready to ‘preach', or has he laid the foundation of his thought sufficiently in the octave?
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