Hopkins' versification: difficulties and conclusions

Analysing Hopkins' versification sounds complicated, but in many cases, it is easier just to see Hopkins adding an extra foot to his line rather than guessing if he meant this or that phrase to be an outrider. Hopkins himself admitted there were often several ways of reading his lines. Ultimately, it is up to us as readers to ‘perform' the poems in a rhythm with which we feel happy, just as an actor will perform Shakespeare's verse. Shakespeare's later plays, after all, have very loose and flexible blank verse, a point not lost on Hopkins.

Having said that, any good reading will acknowledge the complexity of Hopkins' ear, and will try to take into account his use of full stress, shared stress and unstressed, ‘hurried' syllables. So there is a delicate balance to be struck between how Hopkins may have wanted to contrive his verse, and how we, as readers, would like to read it. This is the challenge that confronts all readers of Hopkins.

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