Stanzas 31-35: Resolution and conclusion

Stanza 31

The nuns were not the only people who died or who lost everything:

  • what good can have come for the others?
  • what theodicy is available to cover them?

As before, Hopkins tries to make a case but, not as with the nuns, can ultimately only ask questions. He has no certainty about what happened to them:

  • for a Christian, the ultimate tragedy would be to die without God
  • for a strict Catholic, the ultimate tragedy is to die ‘unconfessed' - that is to say, with sins still unforgiven, with no absolution from a priest, and also ‘comfortless' or without Christian hope.

With that thought his heart has to ‘bleed at a bitterer vein', though he begins to hope that the nun's cry would have led some of those drowning to turn to Christ even at the last minute.

More on Catholic forgiveness: The Catholic Church views last moment confession as acceptable to God - between ‘the stirrup and the ground' as another Catholic writer, Graham Greene, puts it in his novel Brighton Rock.
  • If there were some who repented of their sins at the last moment before they died, then the shipwreck was worth it, since it was ‘a harvest', and the ‘grain' was human souls.
  • It may be that Hopkins is thinking more widely here, too, of the newspaper account of the nun's cry making people think about their own endings, and so getting right with God: ‘startle the poor sheep back'
  • Hopkins uses ‘sheep' as does Jesus in some of his stories (‘The Lost Sheep' Luke 15:1-7, ‘The False Shepherd'). Jesus saw the bewildered crowds following him as ‘sheep without a shepherd' (Matthew 9:36). See Big Ideas: Sheep, shepherd, lamb)

Some other meanings:

  • ‘be a bell to': a buoy at sea usually has a bell attached to it, which rings with the motion of the waves
  • ‘shipwrack': the spelling is an older spelling but perhaps used deliberately to incorporate another meaning of ‘wrack', meaning ‘seaweed'. Seawrack is frequently harvested
  • Harvest, itself, is a biblical image. God is seen as Lord of the harvest:
‘The harvest truly is great....pray ye the Lord of the harvest that he would send forth labourers into his harvest.' (Luke 10:2)

Investigating Stanza 31

  • Hopkins' language has become very complicated again.
    • Why do you think this is?
  • How appropriate are words like ‘tender', ‘feathery delicacy'?
  • A tempest as a cause of repentance is one of the themes of Shakespeare's The Tempest. Shakespeare also uses the idea of Providence in that play.
    • What do you understand by ‘lovely-felicitous Providence'?

Stanza 32

Hopkins can now begin to draw his poem to a close. The theodicy has not been a complete explanation- it never could be, perhaps- but he feels he has done enough to ‘justify the ways of God to man' (as another Christian poet, John Milton, put as his reason for writing the most famous theodicy in literature, Paradise Lost.)

He re-affirms God's sovereignty: ‘master of the tides'. He is in control still of the world he made, just as he was in Noah's Flood (‘the Yore-flood'). We come back to Stanza 1: ‘World's strand, sway of the sea', also echoing the book of Job. More on Job?

More on Job: Job, too, questioned God about his sufferings. God answers by re-affirming his power in a series of rhetorical questions:

‘Who shut up the sea behind doors ... when I fixed limits for it … when I said ‘This far you may come and no farther; here is where the proud waves halt'?' (Job 38:8-11)

So Hopkins seems to say that humans cannot know all the answers; there is a hiddenness about God (‘throned behind / Death'), but that does not need to stop people trusting that he knows what he is doing: ‘heeds but hides, bodes but abides'.

Investigating Stanza 32
  • Hopkins, as does Job, sees God as setting limits.
    • What words in this stanza suggest limits?
    • What exactly does God limit?
  • Hopkins also contrasts words of motion with words of solidity and stillness.
    • Can you find some of them?
    • What is the point of the contrast?
  • What does ‘heeds but hides' mean?
    • And ‘bodes but bides'?

Stanza 33

The stanza carries straight on from the previous one, the last line of that being carried over into the first line of this one, in the transition from theodicy to celebration.

In a paradoxical way, the shipwreck has become ‘a mercy'. The storm was not the end of the story (‘The all of water'); mercy ‘outrides' it, in several ways:

  • firstly, the nuns became martyrs for their faith, witnesses to the injustice of the German laws against Catholics
  • secondly, they may have been the means of last minute repentances by the others on board
  • now, to the poem's readers (‘for the listener'), the poem about the victims provokes consideration about their own lives, asking questions of them.
    • an ‘ark' is a place of safety, as Noah's ark and as a traditional symbol of the Church.

God's mercy is available ‘for the lingerer', ‘The last-breath penitent spirits'. Hopkins goes to a somewhat obscure part of the Bible to exemplify this:

  • Jesus, after his death, went into Hell and preached to those already dead, in order to give them a chance to repent and be freed.
  • This is more than ‘last-minute'; this was ‘past-prayer, pent in prison' mercy:
‘Christ ... being put to death in the flesh, but quickened by the Spirit: By which he also went and preached unto the spirits in prison' (1 Peter 3:18-19)


‘For this cause was the gospel preached also to them that are dead, that they might be judged according to men in the flesh' (1 Peter 4:6)
  • the thought is Christ ‘fetched' or reached out to them ‘in the storm of his strides', referring to:
    • Christ walking, as it were, on the water for the nuns
    • Christ also walking through the fires of hell.

Biblical language is necessarily symbolic and full of images: Hopkins builds on this.

Investigating Stanza 33
  • Can you make any connections between this and stanzas 6 and 7 in Part the First?
    • Consider both the language used and the thought of God's strange mercy.

Stanza 34

Hopkins completes his theodicy by turning it into a celebratory prayer:

  • celebration of who Christ is
  • a prayer that he will be ‘royally reclaiming his own'.

The celebration is made in a series of dazzling compounds in lines 2-5, which must keep even the most nimble theologically minded person on their toes!

Hopkins' titles for Christ:

  • ‘Double-natured name' refers both
    • to his divine and human nature
    • to his double name ‘Jesus Christ', ‘Jesus' being his given, human name (‘thou shalt call his name JESUS' (Luke 1:31), and ‘Christ' his divine name, meaning the Messiah or Anointed One.
  • ‘heaven-flung': as it were, flung from heaven to come to earth.

The following compounds all refer to his Incarnation:

  • ‘heart-fleshed': given a human body, and especially a ‘heart' meaning
    • physical life
    • emotional life and human feelings.
  • ‘maiden-furled': wrapped up in a virgin's womb (Notice Hopkins' liking for words like ‘furled' and ‘hurled'.)
  • ‘Miracle-in-Mary-of-flame'. Fire keeps recurring here, for example, ‘Now burn' in l.1 and ‘not a lightning of fire' (l.8)
  • ‘ three of the thunder throne!': Christ is the second person of the three-personed Trinity, the Christian belief about God. Being second, he is the middle person or aspect of God, termed God the Son.

Hopkins' prayer is that Christ will make himself known to the inhabitants of England. But he is careful to say in what way he wishes this to happen:

  • it is not in judgement ‘a dooms-day dazzle in his coming', when ‘every eye shall see him' as the Bible puts it (Revelation 1:7)
  • nor is it to be secretly, as when Mary bore him - ‘nor dark as he came'
  • but as ‘A released shower', with a few flashes of lightning to get people's attention:
    • ‘Shower' in the Bible suggests God's blessing, as in:
‘and I will cause the shower to come down in his storm; there shall be showers of blessing.' (Ezekiel 34:26)

Investigating Stanza 34

  • Look at how Hopkins takes the storm imagery used of the shipwreck, and weaves it into his prayer for the conversion of England.
  • Explain ‘royally reclaiming his own'.
    • In what sense ‘his own'?
  • Why is there so much fire imagery, do you think?
  • Do you get any sense of punishment here, as is sometimes associated with Christian preaching?
    • Or is Hopkins portraying just God's mercy?

Stanza 35

The final stanza is now addressed to the dead nun rather than to Christ. But it is the same prayer: that of having ‘Our King back, oh, upon English souls!' Hopkins does not talk of ‘English shores', as would be the case of some earthly rule, as if the king were a new Bonnie Prince Charlie or Charles II, both princes in exile in British history. This would be a new spiritual dawn, hence the references to the east in 1.5.

As Hopkins thinks of a new beginning of Christian faith in Britain, so he closes with two lines of praise to Christ the King in a series of dazzling epithets, a final bravura passage to bring this symphonic poem to an end. Some of the epithets will be familiar to you by now, but some may still be obscure, for example ‘high-priest' (see High Priest), a biblical title, given to Christ:

‘Jesus the apostle and high priest whom we confess' (Hebrews 3:1)


‘Jesus has a permanent priesthood...because he always lives to intercede for them' (Hebrews 7:24-25).

In a sense, though, it is the power of the words themselves in their rhythmic force that is meant to move us, not their precise theological meaning. It is with a grammatical tour de force that Hopkins finishes a poem that marked him as a brilliant new star in English poetry.

Investigating Stanza 35
  • ‘roads' and ‘haven' in nautical terms mean safe places for shipping.
    • How does Hopkins use such images?
  • A ‘cresset' is a holder for a burning lamp or torch.
    • What does the phrase ‘crimson-cresseted east' suggest to you?
  • How many of the epithets in the last two lines can you work out for yourself?
    • If you can't are you worried, or does it not seem to matter?
  • Do you have some sense of how Hopkins gets to where he does at the end of the poem?
    • Does he answer all the questions which you might want to ask about the event?
  • Summarise what you think Hopkins has achieved in the poem as a whole.
  • What impact has the poem had on you?
    • What are its most memorable passages or aspects?
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