Structure and versification in That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire

The effect of the coda

The extra coda makes the sonnet technically a caudated sonnet. These coda are used to state Hopkins' Christian faith. The sonnet as it exists in 11.1-14 is also technically known as a Miltonic sonnet, in that some of John Milton's sonnets did not have a neat octave/sestet division, but ran the octave over into the middle of the ninth line. The same can be seen here, the break coming after ‘Footfretted in it'. Similarly, the caudated part does not begin neatly at 1.15, since the meaning of the sestet runs on till the middle of l.16. The additional or third part formally begins in terms of meaning with ‘Enough!', a clear turning away from the Greek philosophy. The sonnet structure is really being pushed even further than in Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves.

Line length and metre

Hopkins has extended the length of line to a hexameter. He has chosen to mark in the caesura, too - unusually for him. A clear example of a hexameter line with an equal division of feet before and after the caesura is l.11:

‘Mán, how fást his fíredint,| his márk on mínd, is góne!'

The first part is trochaic; the second part iambic. It could be argued that ‘firedint', being a compound of two monosyllables, really should have a shared stress, each syllable counting as a half stress. In fact, that barely affects either length or metre, so it doesn't matter here, but elsewhere it could.

However, many of the lines seem to require extra feet in their scansion. For example:

‘Delíghtfully the bríght wínd bóisterous | rópes, wréstles, béats éarth báre'which gives us spondees on ‘wind', 'ropes', ‘beats' earth' and ‘bare', nine feet in all! Hopkins' idea of sprung rhythm would no doubt count some of these as outriders, but in the absence of any notation, it is difficult to see which words he wanted outside the metrical pattern. It is possible to pair words, such as ‘bright wind' and ‘beats earth' and say they share a stress, each word being counted as a half stress. That would keep the first half of the line to its allotted three feet, but still gives us an extra foot in the second half. We need to do some creative accounting here. This is always the problem when there are so many monosyllabic nouns and verbs.


In alliterative verse which is marked by a caesura, there are usually two alliterations in each half, or at least one half. So here the b-alliteration occurs twice in the first part, and twice in the second. Not content with that, Hopkins introduces another alliteration in the second part: the wr-/r one. In the earlier line scanned, we see the m-alliteration once in the first half, twice in the second. But again there is a second alliteration confined to one part of the line in fast/fire.


The rhyming scheme has been briefly commented on in the ‘I am and/diamond' rhyme, almost the only feminine rhyme. Technically ‘resurrection/dejection' are feminine rhymes, but either Hopkins disregarded this to force a male rhyme with ‘gone/shone', or he was making a new rhyme to echo the other. But when we consider ‘burns on'(l.9), again a feminine rhyme, we must presume he is teasing us with this mixed male/feminine rhyme. This is the c-rhyme and forms the glue to stick the coda on to the main sonnet.

Investigating That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire
  • Scan ll. 1,17.
    • How many feet?
      • Can you discern the metre?
      • What about alliterative patterns?
  • How would you read 1.7?
    • Where would you put breaks, pauses and emphases?
    • Do you see any plays on words or sounds that you would like to comment on?
  • What would you say about the enjambement?
  • The caesuras are marked, but do they actually represent mid-line breaks (or pauses)?
    • Can you find lines where the pause comes differently from where the caesura is positioned?
      • If so, what is the point of marking the caesuras in?
  • In the light of your answers above, do you feel confident enough to comment on the counterpointing that is set up?
  • Overall, what would you say is significant about this sonnet?
  • Do you think Hopkins has succeeded in making ‘This Jack, joke' significant enough to be someone worthy of resurrection?
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.