Imagery and symbolism in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire

Elemental humanity

The poem's imagery is based round the four elements: earth, air, fire and water, as befits the philosophical structure of Heraclitus' philosophy. It also marries Hopkins' nature poetry with this discussion, though the transition is rather sudden in l.9.

Humanity is described mainly in terms of fire : ‘quench...spark', 'firedint', 'shone...a star'. Humankind's end is described more in terms of water: ‘unfathomable', ‘drowned'. This water image carries on to the shipwreck image of ll.18,19, but is then superceded by the fire imagery again: ‘A beacon, an eternal beam' and ‘world's wildfire'. The final image of diamond is, if anything, an earth image.

Investigating That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
  • Compare the ideas suggested by ‘bonfire' and ‘wildfire' with those suggested by ‘spark' and ‘beam'.
  • Pick out two images for each of the four elements.
    • How original and dramatic do they seem to you?
  • What in each element causes change and flux, as expressed in the poem?
  • Explain ‘squadroned masks' and ‘squandering ooze'.
  • Why is the Resurrection a ‘heart's-clarion'?
  • Which images stand out to you most?
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