Synopsis of Patience, Hard Thing!

The problem of patience

The sonnet was one of those found among Hopkins' papers at his death and was probably written a few years earlier. It clearly indicates the dry and difficult time he was going through, when even being patient seemed almost impossible. More on patience?

More on patience: In earlier poems, Hopkins had not found patience problematic, as in The Starlight Night or The Blessed Virgin Mary Compared. In those two poems, it had formed one of a list of devotional duties, ‘patience, penance, prayer', all necessary for a devout Christian, but all routine. The Bible also lists patience with other such virtues, all part of ‘the fruit of the Spirit':

‘But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness...' (Galatians 5:22)

Elsewhere in the New Testament, patience is especially for those undergoing persecution and suffering, as in:
‘in the suffering and kingdom and patient endurance that are ours in Jesus...' (Revelation 1:9) and ‘we glory in tribulation also, knowing that tribulation worketh patience; and patience, experience...' (Romans 5:3-4).

Patience in desolation

St IgnatiusFor those going through the dark night (of the soul) experience, patience becomes a real problem. Ignatius Loyola, the founder of the Jesuits, recognised the possibility of such periods of desolation, and he wrote about them in ‘Rules for the Discernment of Spirits'. In Rule 8 he wrote:

‘Let him who is in desolation strive to remain in patience, which is the virtue contrary to the troubles which harass him; and let him think he will shortly be consoled, making diligent efforts against the desolation.'

St Ignatius, then, sees patience as the thing with which to oppose the troubles Hopkins was undergoing. The sonnet explores exactly this tension.

Investigating Patience
  • What priority does modern society give to patience?
    • Do you feel patience is a valuable quality?
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