'As Kingfishers Catch Fire' by Gerard Manley Hopkins
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As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying, What I do is me: for that I came.
I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.
Editor 1 Interpretation
As Kingfishers Catch Fire by Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Masterpiece of Modern Poetry
When it comes to Gerard Manley Hopkins, one can hardly find a more intriguing and captivating poet in the history of English literature. His works are characterized by their unique style, experimental syntax, and rich imagery, making them a great challenge and delight for both scholars and readers. Among his most celebrated poems is "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," a sonnet that captures the essence of Hopkins's poetry in all its beauty and complexity. In this literary criticism and interpretation, I will examine the themes, structure, language, and form of the poem, and explore its meanings and implications.
Context and Background
Before we delve into the poem itself, let us first consider some context and background information that may help us understand its significance and relevance. "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" was written by Hopkins in 1877, during his tenure as a professor of Greek and Latin at University College Dublin. It was part of a collection of sonnets entitled "The Terrible Sonnets," which Hopkins regarded as his most personal and spiritual poetry.
The poem draws its inspiration from a sermon by John Donne, an English poet and preacher of the seventeenth century, on the theme of self-expression and authenticity. Donne's sermon, which is titled "The First Anniversary: Meditation 17," contains the famous quote: "No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent, a part of the main." Hopkins, who was a devout Catholic and a Jesuit priest, was deeply moved by this idea and sought to express it in his own way.
At the heart of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" are two main themes, namely, the unity of all things and the uniqueness of each individual. The poem celebrates the interconnectedness and interdependence of all creation, while at the same time recognizing the distinctness and individuality of each being. This tension between unity and diversity is a hallmark of Hopkins's poetry, and it reflects his religious and philosophical views.
The poem begins with the assertion that "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame," suggesting that even the most delicate and fleeting creatures have a spark of divine energy within them. This image of fire and flame is repeated throughout the poem, symbolizing the divine presence that animates all things. The poet goes on to say that "each mortal thing does one thing and the same," implying that all beings have a common purpose and destiny. This idea is reinforced by the metaphor of a "brute beauty" that "act[s] in God's eye" and "fiddle[s] at it." The poet sees beauty and goodness in every creature, no matter how insignificant or humble it may seem.
However, the poem also acknowledges the fact that each creature has its own unique identity and expression. The phrase "each hung a tongue" suggests that every being has its own voice and language, and that this language is a reflection of its inner essence. The poet also uses the image of a "Christ-forthcoming" to describe the way in which each creature reveals a glimpse of the divine presence. This implies that every being has a special role to play in the overall scheme of creation, and that this role is irreplaceable and essential.
Structure and Form
Like many of Hopkins's poems, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a sonnet, a form of poetry that originated in Italy in the fourteenth century and became popular in England in the sixteenth century. A sonnet consists of fourteen lines, usually written in iambic pentameter, and follows a strict rhyme scheme. However, Hopkins's sonnets are notable for their innovative structure and rhythm, which he called "sprung rhythm."
Sprung rhythm is a poetic meter that relies on the number of stressed syllables in a line, rather than the number of syllables overall. It is marked by irregular line lengths, internal rhymes, and alliteration. In Hopkins's own words, sprung rhythm "is a quickened pulse, a dance of the intellect," and it allows the poet to capture the natural rhythms and energy of speech.
In "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," Hopkins uses sprung rhythm to great effect, creating a dynamic and musical poem that is both challenging and rewarding. The irregularity and unpredictability of the meter reflects the diversity and unpredictability of the natural world, while the internal rhymes and alliteration create a sense of unity and coherence.
Language and Imagery
One of the most striking features of Hopkins's poetry is his use of language and imagery. His works are characterized by their rich and complex vocabulary, their inventive syntax, and their vivid and original images. "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is no exception, and it contains a wealth of linguistic and visual delights.
The poem is marked by its use of paradox and oxymoron, which create a tension and complexity in the language. For instance, the line "Each hung a tongue" is both paradoxical and oxymoronic, since it combines the idea of being silent and being vocal. Similarly, the phrase "brute beauty" is an oxymoron that captures the idea of something being both wild and beautiful.
The imagery in the poem is also noteworthy, as it blends the natural and the divine in a seamless and evocative way. The image of the kingfisher catching fire is both literal and metaphorical, suggesting the idea of transformation and transcendence. The dragonflies drawing flame also implies a sense of movement and energy, while the "blue-bleak embers" evoke a sense of cooling and fading. The use of colors, such as blue and gold, creates a visual contrast and richness that adds to the overall effect of the poem.
Interpretation and Implications
At its core, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a poem that celebrates the beauty and goodness of creation, while also acknowledging the mystery and complexity of existence. It suggests that all things are connected and interdependent, and that each creature has its own unique role to play in the divine plan. The poem also implies that self-expression and authenticity are essential for spiritual growth and fulfillment, and that conformity and artificiality are a hindrance to this process.
The poem has various implications and interpretations, depending on the reader's perspective and worldview. Some may see it as a religious or mystical poem, celebrating the beauty of divine creation and the unity of all things in God. Others may view it as a secular or humanistic poem, emphasizing the interconnectedness of all beings and the importance of individuality and self-expression. Regardless of one's interpretation, however, it is clear that "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a work of great depth, beauty, and significance, and that it continues to inspire and challenge readers to this day.
In conclusion, Gerard Manley Hopkins's "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that captures the essence of his unique style, vision, and voice. The poem celebrates the unity and diversity of all creation, while also recognizing the unique identity and expression of each being. Its innovative structure, rich language, and vivid imagery make it a delight for both scholars and readers, and its themes and implications continue to resonate with us today. Truly, Hopkins was a poet whose works transcended his own time and place, and whose legacy continues to inspire and enrich us all.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Masterpiece of Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins, a renowned English poet, is known for his unique style of writing that combines religious themes with natural imagery. His poem "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a perfect example of his style, as it beautifully captures the essence of God's presence in nature. The poem is a sonnet, consisting of fourteen lines, and is divided into two parts, the octave and the sestet. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, imagery, and structure.
The poem begins with the line "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame." This opening line is a metaphor that sets the tone for the rest of the poem. The image of kingfishers catching fire and dragonflies drawing flame is a powerful one, as it suggests a moment of intense energy and vitality. The use of the word "fire" in both instances creates a sense of unity between the two creatures, as if they are both part of the same divine force. The metaphor also suggests that the natural world is alive with the presence of God, and that every creature is a manifestation of His power.
The next line, "As tumbled over rim in roundy wells," continues the theme of movement and energy. The image of water tumbling over the rim of a well is a vivid one, and it suggests a sense of chaos and unpredictability. The use of the word "roundy" emphasizes the circular motion of the water, which adds to the sense of movement and energy. The line also suggests that the natural world is constantly in motion, and that this motion is a reflection of God's power.
The third line, "Stones ring," introduces a new element to the poem. The image of stones ringing suggests a sense of music and harmony. The use of the word "ring" is particularly effective, as it creates a sense of resonance and vibration. The line suggests that even the most solid and immovable objects in nature are infused with God's presence, and that they too are part of the divine harmony.
The fourth line, "like each tucked string tells," continues the theme of music and harmony. The image of a string instrument being tuned is a powerful one, as it suggests a sense of precision and attention to detail. The use of the word "tucked" emphasizes the care and precision required to tune an instrument, and the line suggests that every aspect of nature is finely tuned and perfectly balanced.
The fifth line, "each hung bell's bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name," introduces a new element to the poem. The image of a bell ringing suggests a sense of proclamation and announcement. The use of the word "tongue" emphasizes the idea that the bell is speaking, and the line suggests that every aspect of nature has a voice, and that it is proclaiming the glory of God.
The sixth line, "each mortal thing does one thing and the same," is a powerful statement that ties together the themes of the poem. The line suggests that every creature in nature is united in its purpose, which is to glorify God. The use of the word "mortal" emphasizes the idea that even the most fleeting and temporary aspects of nature are part of this unity.
The seventh line, "deals out that being indoors each one dwells," continues the theme of unity. The line suggests that every creature in nature is part of a larger whole, and that this whole is infused with God's presence. The use of the word "indoors" emphasizes the idea that this unity is not just external, but that it is also present within each creature.
The eighth line, "selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells," is a powerful statement that ties together the themes of the poem. The line suggests that every aspect of nature is a manifestation of God's power, and that this power is present within each creature. The use of the word "myself" emphasizes the idea that the speaker is part of this unity, and that he too is a manifestation of God's power.
The sestet of the poem continues the themes of the octave, but it does so in a more personal and introspective way. The first line of the sestet, "I say more," suggests that the speaker is about to offer a deeper insight into the nature of God's presence in nature. The line also suggests that the speaker is speaking from personal experience, and that he has a unique insight into the divine.
The second line, "the just man justices," is a powerful statement that ties together the themes of the poem. The line suggests that the just man is a manifestation of God's power, and that his actions are a reflection of God's justice. The use of the word "justices" emphasizes the idea that justice is not just an abstract concept, but that it is present in the actions of the just man.
The third line, "Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces," continues the theme of the just man. The line suggests that the just man is infused with God's grace, and that this grace is present in every aspect of his life. The use of the word "graces" emphasizes the idea that grace is not just a single event, but that it is present in every moment of the just man's life.
The fourth line, "Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is — Christ," is a powerful statement that ties together the themes of the poem. The line suggests that the just man is a manifestation of Christ, and that his actions are a reflection of Christ's presence in the world. The use of the word "Christ" emphasizes the idea that the just man is not just a good person, but that he is a manifestation of the divine.
The final two lines of the poem, "For Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his," are a powerful statement of the poem's themes. The lines suggest that Christ is present in every aspect of nature, and that His presence is not limited to any one place or person. The use of the word "lovely" emphasizes the beauty and wonder of God's presence in nature, and the lines suggest that this presence is available to all who seek it.
In conclusion, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a masterpiece of Gerard Manley Hopkins. The poem beautifully captures the essence of God's presence in nature, and it does so in a way that is both powerful and personal. The poem's themes of unity, harmony, and divine presence are woven together in a way that is both profound and inspiring. Hopkins' unique style of writing, which combines religious themes with natural imagery, is on full display in this poem, and it is a testament to his skill as a poet.
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