Themes in Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves

The temptation to despair

In any sonnet, although a problem may be presented, we expect the sestet to offer a solution. Only at the end do we realise that, in this poem, Hopkins reveals his inner anguish that he is not able to find one. Instead, he gives way to despair because the variety and uniqueness of nature and life itself are all being reduced to simple alternatives - binaries. He knows he is inflicting pain on himself (‘selfwrung, selfstrung') but it seems inevitable in the absence of any Christian consolation upon which he can seize hold.

The Dark Night of the Soul

We might say this is just a deep depression, yet there is a tradition of Christian mysticism which recognises such states as being not just psychological, but also spiritual: hence the term ‘Dark Night of the Soul'. As there is no explicit Christian terminology used, we cannot be sure of this on the evidence of this poem alone. However, when taken with others written at this period, the evidence stacks up that this is what Hopkins was experiencing.

Investigating Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves
  • In a sentence, spell out what ‘Our tale, O our oracle' is.
Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.