'The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe' by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Wild air, world-mothering air,
Nestling me everywhere,
That each eyelash or hair
Girdles; goes home betwixt
The fleeciest, frailest-flixed
Snowflake; that 's fairly mixed
With, riddles, and is rife
In every least thing's life;
This needful, never spent,
And nursing element;
My more than meat and drink,
My meal at every wink;
This air, which, by life's law,
My lung must draw and draw
Now but to breathe its praise,
Minds me in many ways
Of her who not only
Gave God's infinity
Dwindled to infancy
Welcome in womb and breast,
Birth, milk, and all the rest
But mothers each new grace
That does now reach our race—
Mary Immaculate,
Merely a woman, yet
Whose presence, power is
Great as no goddess's
Was deemèd, dreamèd; who
This one work has to do—
Let all God's glory through,
God's glory which would go
Through her and from her flow
Off, and no way but so.

I say that we are wound
With mercy round and round
As if with air: the same
Is Mary, more by name.
She, wild web, wondrous robe,
Mantles the guilty globe,
Since God has let dispense
Her prayers his providence:
Nay, more than almoner,
The sweet alms' self is her
And men are meant to share
Her life as life does air.
If I have understood,
She holds high motherhood
Towards all our ghostly good
And plays in grace her part
About man's beating heart,
Laying, like air's fine flood,
The deathdance in his blood;
Yet no part but what will
Be Christ our Saviour still.
Of her flesh he took flesh:
He does take fresh and fresh,
Though much the mystery how,
Not flesh but spirit now
And makes, O marvellous!
New Nazareths in us,
Where she shall yet conceive
Him, morning, noon, and eve;
New Bethlems, and he born
There, evening, noon, and morn—
Bethlem or Nazareth,
Men here may draw like breath
More Christ and baffle death;
Who, born so, comes to be
New self and nobler me
In each one and each one
More makes, when all is done,
Both God's and Mary's Son.
Again, look overhead
How air is azurèd;
O how! nay do but stand
Where you can lift your hand
Skywards: rich, rich it laps
Round the four fingergaps.
Yet such a sapphire-shot,
Charged, steepèd sky will not
Stain light. Yea, mark you this:
It does no prejudice.
The glass-blue days are those
When every colour glows,
Each shape and shadow shows.
Blue be it: this blue heaven
The seven or seven times seven
Hued sunbeam will transmit
Perfect, not alter it.
Or if there does some soft,
On things aloof, aloft,
Bloom breathe, that one breath more
Earth is the fairer for.
Whereas did air not make
This bath of blue and slake
His fire, the sun would shake,
A blear and blinding ball
With blackness bound, and all
The thick stars round him roll
Flashing like flecks of coal,
Quartz-fret, or sparks of salt,
In grimy vasty vault.
So God was god of old:
A mother came to mould
Those limbs like ours which are
What must make our daystar
Much dearer to mankind;
Whose glory bare would blind
Or less would win man's mind.
Through her we may see him
Made sweeter, not made dim,
And her hand leaves his light
Sifted to suit our sight.
Be thou then, O thou dear
Mother, my atmosphere;
My happier world, wherein
To wend and meet no sin;
Above me, round me lie
Fronting my froward eye
With sweet and scarless sky;
Stir in my ears, speak there
Of God's love, O live air,
Of patience, penance, prayer:
World-mothering air, air wild,
Wound with thee, in thee isled,
Fold home, fast fold thy child.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe: A Literary Masterpiece

Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe, is a work of literary genius. In just fourteen lines, Hopkins manages to capture the essence of the Virgin Mary's omnipresence and importance in the lives of believers. The poem is a beautiful ode to Mary, drawing parallels between her and the air we breathe. It is a work of literary criticism and interpretation that deserves attention and appreciation.

Hopkins' Use of Language

One of the most striking features of Hopkins' poem is his use of language. His words are carefully chosen and arranged to create a rich tapestry of images and emotions. For instance, in the first line, Hopkins writes, "Wild air, world-mothering air." The word "wild" is an unexpected adjective to describe air, but it sets the tone for the rest of the poem. It evokes a sense of energy and vitality, which is in keeping with the idea of the Virgin Mary as a life-giving force.

Hopkins also uses alliteration and internal rhyme to create a musical quality to his verse. For instance, in the third line, he writes, "Round him, much & mourned by earth, / lies all that vanishes." The repetition of the "m" sound creates a mournful quality, which is appropriate for the idea of things disappearing.

The Concept of Breath

The idea of breath is central to Hopkins' poem. He compares the Virgin Mary to the air we breathe, which suggests that she is not just an external force, but an integral part of our being. This idea is reinforced by the use of the word "mothering" in the first line. The word implies a nurturing quality, which is fitting for the idea of the Virgin Mary as a life-giver.

Hopkins also plays with the idea of breath in the final lines of the poem. He writes, "Breath, mouth to mouth resuscitation," which suggests that the Virgin Mary is a source of spiritual renewal. The idea of mouth-to-mouth resuscitation is also significant, as it implies a close physical connection between the person reviving another and the one being revived. This idea reinforces the idea of the Virgin Mary as an integral part of our being.

The Importance of Mary

The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe is ultimately a tribute to the importance of the Virgin Mary in the lives of believers. Hopkins suggests that Mary is not just a historical figure, but a spiritual presence in our lives. He writes, "Nor can foot feel, being shod," which implies that Mary is not something that can be physically touched or measured. Rather, she is a spiritual force that permeates our lives.

Hopkins also draws parallels between Mary and the air we breathe, which reinforces the idea of her omnipresence. The air we breathe is something that we take for granted, but it is essential to our existence. Similarly, Mary is a spiritual force that is always present, but often overlooked. By drawing this parallel, Hopkins reminds us of the importance of Mary in our lives.


The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe is a beautiful poem that deserves recognition as a literary masterpiece. Hopkins' use of language is masterful, and his ideas about the importance of Mary are profound. The poem is a testament to the power of faith and the importance of spiritual forces in our lives. As we read Hopkins' words, we are reminded of the enduring presence of the Virgin Mary and her importance as a life-giving force.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe: A Poem of Spiritual Devotion

Gerard Manley Hopkins, one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era, wrote a number of poems that explore the themes of faith, nature, and beauty. Among his most famous works is "The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe," a sonnet that celebrates the Virgin Mary as a source of spiritual sustenance and inspiration. In this essay, we will analyze and explain the poem's meaning, structure, and language, and explore its relevance to contemporary readers.

The poem begins with a striking comparison: "Wild air, world-mothering air, / Nestling me everywhere." The speaker addresses the air itself as a nurturing force, a "world-mother" that envelops and sustains him. This image sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which will use the metaphor of air to describe the Virgin Mary's role in the speaker's spiritual life.

The second quatrain introduces the Virgin Mary explicitly, as the speaker addresses her directly: "Blessed and Virgin, / Maid and Mother, / Mother and Maid." These three epithets capture the paradoxical nature of Mary's identity: she is both a virgin and a mother, both human and divine. The repetition of "Mother and Maid" emphasizes this duality, and suggests that Mary's role as a mother is inseparable from her purity and virginity.

The third quatrain continues the comparison between Mary and air, as the speaker describes her as "Airy and angelical." This phrase suggests that Mary is not only like air, but also like an angel, a heavenly being who brings messages of hope and comfort. The speaker goes on to describe Mary's "sweet deathless aureole," a halo of light that surrounds her and suggests her divine nature. The use of the word "deathless" emphasizes the eternal nature of Mary's influence, and suggests that she is a source of spiritual life and sustenance.

The final couplet brings the poem to a close with a powerful image: "Womb of the world, / Forge of the stars." These phrases suggest that Mary is not only a nurturing force, but also a creative one, a source of new life and inspiration. The image of the "womb of the world" suggests that Mary is the mother of all creation, while the "forge of the stars" suggests that she is also a source of cosmic energy and power.

The structure of the poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, with an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). The rhyme scheme is ABBA ABBA CDCDCD, which is typical of Petrarchan sonnets. The use of enjambment (continuing a sentence or phrase across a line break) creates a sense of fluidity and movement, and suggests that the speaker's thoughts are flowing freely and spontaneously.

The language of the poem is rich and complex, with a number of striking images and metaphors. The use of alliteration (repetition of consonant sounds) and assonance (repetition of vowel sounds) creates a musical quality to the language, and emphasizes the poem's themes of beauty and harmony. The use of paradox (contradictory ideas or images) and oxymoron (contradictory words or phrases) creates a sense of tension and complexity, and suggests that the speaker is grappling with profound spiritual questions.

The poem's relevance to contemporary readers lies in its celebration of the Virgin Mary as a source of spiritual sustenance and inspiration. While the poem is deeply rooted in Catholic theology and tradition, its themes of beauty, nature, and spirituality are universal and can be appreciated by readers of all faiths and backgrounds. The poem's use of metaphor and imagery invites readers to contemplate the nature of the divine and the role of faith in their own lives.

In conclusion, "The Blessed Virgin Compared To The Air We Breathe" is a powerful and beautiful poem that celebrates the Virgin Mary as a source of spiritual sustenance and inspiration. Through its use of metaphor, structure, and language, the poem invites readers to contemplate the nature of the divine and the role of faith in their own lives. As Hopkins himself wrote, "Glory be to God for dappled things," and this poem is certainly one of those dappled things that shines with a radiant beauty and spiritual power.

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