Language and tone in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire

Dazzling display

Hopkins' return to a dense, rich vocabulary full of words and compounds he has made up may seem surprising after the understated ‘dark sonnets'. There is an enthusiasm for words and images, so that the lines spill over almost uncontrollably. It is a remarkable bravura display of words.

Pairings and compounds

  • Although there is still a very high percentage of monosyllables, many are paired together as adjective-noun: ‘torn tufts, tossed pillows', ‘gaygangs' (‘gay' in the sense of light-heartedness/gaiety), ‘bright wind'
  • There are compounds: Shivelights and shadowtackle'; yestertempest's'; ‘treadmire'
  • Verbs are piled up on each other: ‘ropes, wrestles, beats'; ‘they throng, they glitter'.

This opening splurge of vocabulary quietens as the poem progresses. But there are still lines packed with words, some memorable: ‘disseveral'(l.14), perhaps a new word made out of ‘dissect' and ‘several', is technically known as a portmanteau word.

Sound effects

The wordplay is also energetic: the internal rhyme of ‘flash/crash' is onomatopoeic, for example. The rhyme ‘I am and/diamond' is audacious, especially clever in that the ‘t' of ‘what' actually makes the first rhyme ‘'t-I-am-and'.


The tone varies from:

  • opening enthusiasm, a celebratory tone, as good as anything Hopkins ever wrote
  • through anger and protest (‘O pity and indignation!')
  • to deliberately putting this aside (‘Enough!), determinedly not going the way of depression or despair
  • finally he climaxes on the last trump of the resurrection of the dead, resolving the poem in the daring repetition of ‘immortal diamond'.
Investigating That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
  • Do you feel a little overwhelmed by the sheer number of words thrown at you by Hopkins?
    • Does this excite you or fill you with some dismay?
  • Do you get excited by words? Make them up? Or are you a minimalist with words?
  • There are more polysyllables here than in his previous poem
    • Are there any that you find memorable?
  • Look at the alliteration
    • Is it for dramatic effect, or is it to help pattern the lines?
  • Look at several examples of alliteration
    • Say whether they seem effective to you.
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