Stanza structure in The Wreck of the Deutschland

By ‘structure' we are talking about verse structure and line structure, not the structure of the argument, which has already been covered in the Going deeper section.


Each stanza has eight lines, rhyming ababcbca, not a usual scheme for an octave. The a-rhyme coming in the first and last lines is an attempt to pull the stanza together, an attempt occasionally contradicted by (or in counterpoint to) the running-on of the sentence structure into the next stanza, as between, for example, stanzas 7 and 8; 32 and 33.

Line length

The length of each line within the stanza is well-defined typographically:

  • In Part the first, the lines' lengths in feet (stressed syllables) are: 2,3,4,3,5,5,4,6. Each line is inset to show its length.
  • In Part the second, the only difference is that the first line has three feet rather than two.

Hopkins does not keep rigidly to the line lengths: his theory of sprung rhythm allows him to add ‘hangers' or outriders which are not counted in the scansion. Thus, in stanza 21, l.8 has 7 or even 8 feet in it, with at least 19 syllables! The last line of the poem is similarly long, with some 8 feet again.


The main variation in the lines, however, is from the number of unstressed syllables he uses, and also from the counting of compounds as only one stress, each half of the compound seen as sharing the stress. Thus, in l.3 of the final stanza, the stresses are counted on ‘-mem-'; ‘roads', ‘heaven-haven' – a compound, sharing the stress- and ‘-ward'. In between are no fewer than 9 unstressed syllables. The final syllable count is 14 syllables, which, in most other poetic forms, would be considered a long line. With Hopkins, it becomes quite a short one.

Investigating stanza structure in The Wreck of the Deutschland
  • Examine the last line of stanza 31.
    • How many syllables has it?
    • Where would you put the stresses?
      • Remember ‘shipwrack' would count as a compound.
  • Now compare the last line of the previous stanza.
    • Can you find even 6 feet for it?
  • What comments would you make on the flexibility of Hopkins' verse?
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