Metre in The Wreck of the Deutschland

A flexible approach

According to Hopkins' notebooks, he wanted his metre to be seen as basically trochaic, as he saw this as the basic speech rhythm. Some critics have tried to scan the verse in this way.

However, it could be equally well argued that English speech rhythm is basically iambic, which is the metre of the great majority of English verse.

It is best to see Hopkins' scansion as being very flexible, rather than to fit it into a rigid pattern in this poem. In later sonnets, he does revert to iambic metre more readily.

Looking at stanza 30:

  • we start with clear trochees at the beginning of most lines: Je-; Je-; What?; Thou; Feast; Word, all begin with a stressed syllable. Only ll.6,7 begin with unstressed syllables
  • however, as we have seen, the final syllable of each line is also stressed, which would be more in line for iambic metre
  • somewhere along the line, the metre switches from a falling metre to a rising one. (It has to be remembered that in iambic, a first-foot inversion is very common.)
Investigating metre in The Wreck of the Deutschland
  • Can you see in stanza 30 where the metre does change in each line?
  • How many lines merely have a first foot inversion of a rising or iambic metre?
    • Would you really say the metre is falling or rising or a mixed metre?
    • Can you see how this affects the rhythm?
  • Hopkins said that poetry needs to be read out loud.
    • Have you found it easier to analyse and understand when you have done this yourself or heard a good reader read it?
  • Has this experimental verse helped you understand some of Hopkins' techniques and ideas of poetry more clearly?
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