The temptation to despair


This is a theme linked to that of Suffering and faith on the one hand; and The dark night of the soul on the other. Usually despair is caused when humans see no hope ahead, no way out of suffering, and the suffering seems too intense for them to bear. Sometimes the despair is expressed loudly; sometimes it is suppressed. Thoughts of suicide may be a component.

Carrion Comfort

Ending his life is Hopkins' temptation in Carrion Comfort. He resists it by realising that his suffering can be borne (indicated by the phrase ‘I can'), and that there may be some purpose in it:

‘That my chaff might fly'.

However, his prime concern is the experience of wrestling with God. Although he says ‘Of now done darkness', the poem gives much more the impression that the darkness is far from done.

Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves

Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves covers much the same ground but perhaps is prompted more from Hopkins' sheer mental anguish and breakdown, with little obvious thought of God. His earlier joy, especially in the rich variety of Nature, seems to have evaporated, and he can only see everything in black and white. The stark moral and theological choices Hopkins faces go totally against his beliefs in the variety and uniqueness of each individual created thing. In the absence of joy, despair comes flooding in.

The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo

The existential and impassioned plea voiced in Spelt from Sibyl's Leaves stands out in great contrast to the measured dialogue of The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo. For every temptation to despair put up by the Leaden Echo, the Golden Echo has some optimistic response. Hopkins expresses the belief that a full surrender of his life to God will bring peace.

Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord

In Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, Hopkins has realised it is not quite as simple as this. Hopkins' honesty with God allows us to see, paradoxically, a growing spiritual maturity, and also a glimpse into how that maturity is coming about. However, at least in this poem, Hopkins seems to be prepared to live with unanswered questions, rather than to fall into despair. The complaint turns into a humble prayer.

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