Gerard Manley Hopkins: Priest and Poet

by Jason Voegele

Copyright © Jason Voegele

This is a work in development. The following themes and issues need to be addressed or expanded upon.


"Carrion Comfort"

Gerard Manley Hopkins

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist--slack they may be--these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.


Gerard Manley Hopkins was both a great poet and a Jesuit priest. Religion influenced every aspect of his life, and many considered Hopkins the priest and Hopkins the poet to be one inseperable entity. In some of his later poems, however, a dichotomy seemed to be developing between the two, with his poetry dealing with more earthly subjects than God and religion. But in "Carrion Comfort," a sonnet written in his waning years, he refutes the idea that his creative (i.e. poetic) self can exist without the spiritual inspiration emanating from his religious beliefs.

His poem "Carrion Comfort" in particular seems to stress a self-doubt concerning how his poetry might affect his relationship with God. In this poem Hopkins is faced with a decision concerning his poetic imagination and its association with his relationship with God. What is most interesting about this poem is that it not only serves as a key to understanding Hopkins' work, but it also appears to have been a cathartic experience for him. The poem documents the changes that he

Provide more context for this quote.

He questions the purpose of his poetry, saying "Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung me, foot trod / Me? or me that fought him?"

Explain what you mean by "This very doubt".

This very doubt causes Hopkins much turmoil, but he won't allow himself to give in to the Despair, which he calls "carrion comfort." He rejects this carrion comfort with what strength he has left in him: "Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee." He has begun his journey into the unknown, facing that deep, futureless pit of despair, carrion comfort.

Hopkins rejection of this despair allows him to reflect on his thoughts more clearly, and during the first stanza he is pondering his choices. The language and dark imagery of this stanza reflect the confusion that Hopkins is facing: "cry I can no more. I can; / Can something, hope wish day come, not choose not to be."

Again, need more context for this quote.

It is as if he can do nothing until this decision is made. Amidst this confusion, he stops addressing carrion comfort and asks God directly why he is putting him through this turmoil. It seems here that Hopkins' poetic side is coming through, for he portrays God as a terrible being, while he is fleeing in fear. However, this representation of God is not mere poetic imagery, but a christian model of self-sacrifice.

Explain connection between fear, fleeing, and self-sacrifice.

Hopkins is sacrificing his soul to God, and in the process clarifies his beliefs.

With the beginning of the second stanza we see that Hopkins has made his decision. The language has taken on greater clarity and he is answering the questions he raised. He realizes now why God has put him to this test: "So that [his] chaff might fly; [his] grain lie, sheer and clear." He believes that he is now stronger in spirit due to the trial given him by God. His image of God has also undergone a change--from vicious Judge and Punisher to kindly Chastiser.

Explain the reference here.

Hopkins shows his gratitude for God's trial by saying "Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod, / Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, cheer."

Hopkins experience did more than create a poem, it changed him as a person. His renewed relationship with God created for him a new way of viewing himself. Thus we see that Hopkins held God in such reverence that that reverence was intrinsic in everything he did, most of all in his poetry.

Expand upon this idea that the poem actually does something.

As God was three aspects in one, Gerard Manley Hopkins was two. Hopkins the priest and Hopkins the poet, although one and the same, profoundly affected each other. With one half missing, the other would die, but with both present they enhance each other's strengths. "Carrion Comfort" shows Hopkins realization of this fact and shows what the complete Hopkins could accomplish.

Clean up this last paragraph.


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