A Short Analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkins’s ‘That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection’

A summary of a classic Hopkins poem

‘That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection’ is a sonnet, but not as we know it. Or rather, it isn’t strictly a sonnet but the rhyme scheme puts us in mind of the sonnet. Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89) was probably Victorian poetry’s greatest innovator, and ‘That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection’ is a good example of his metrical and linguistic innovativeness. But such unconventional language and metre require some close analysis. (In 1977, in fact, Stephan Walliser published a book-length analysis of the poem.) Here, first, is the poem, followed by some commentary on it.

That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection

Cloud-puffball, torn tufts, tossed pillows | flaunt forth, then chevy on an air-
Built thoroughfare: heaven-roysterers, in gay-gangs | they throng; they glitter in marches
Down roughcast, down dazzling whitewash, | wherever an elm arches,
Shivelights and shadowtackle ín long | lashes lace, lance, and pair.
Delightfully the bright wind boisterous | ropes, wrestles, beats earth bare
Of yestertempest’s creases; | in pool and rut peel parches
Squandering ooze to squeezed | dough, crust, dust; stanches, starches
Squadroned masks and manmarks | treadmire toil there
Footfretted in it. Million-fuelèd, | nature’s bonfire burns on.
But quench her bonniest, dearest | to her, her clearest-selvèd spark
Man, how fast his firedint, | his mark on mind, is gone!
Both are in an unfathomable, all is in an enormous dark
Drowned. O pity and indig | nation! Manshape, that shone
Sheer off, disseveral, a star, | death blots black out; nor mark
Is any of him at all so stark Read the rest of this entry


A Short Analysis of Shakespeare’s Sonnet 64: ‘When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced’

A reading of a classic Shakespeare sonnet

‘When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced’ is one of the more famous sonnets by Shakespeare, and, like Sonnet 60, has a fairly straightforward sentiment at its heart. Also, like Sonnet 60, it is a meditation on the destructive power of Time, which is personified with a capital T once again.

When I have seen by Time’s fell hand defaced
The rich proud cost of outworn buried age;
When sometime lofty towers I see down-razed,
And brass eternal slave to mortal rage;
When I have seen the hungry ocean gain
Advantage on the kingdom of the shore,
And the firm soil win of the watery main,
Increasing store with loss, and loss with store;
When I have seen such interchange of state,
Or state itself confounded to decay;
Ruin hath taught me thus to ruminate
That Time will come and take my love away.
This thought is as a death which cannot choose
But weep to have that which it fears to lose.

We’ve enjoyed analysing these sonnets from the middle stretch of Shakespeare’s sonnet sequence, and Sonnet 64 is another gem. In paraphrase, the meaning of the sonnet can be summarised as follows: ‘When I see time destroy those monuments and buildings which I thought would stand forever, when I watch the tide come in and swallow up the shore, when I observe whole kingdoms change in the way they are governed, all of this destruction has taught me to reflect that time will also take the one I love. Such a thought is like suffering a death, and I cannot help weeping to possess someone whom I know I must, in the end, lose.’ Read the rest of this entry

Karel Capek’s Apocryphal Stories

In this week’s Dispatches from the Secret Library, Dr Oliver Tearle reads the charming short stories of Karel Čapek

The modern meaning of the word ‘robot’ has its origins in a 1920 play by Czech writer Karel Čapek. The play, titled R. U. R. (Rossum’s Universal Robots), begins in a factory which manufactures artificial people, the ‘universal robots’ of the play’s title. The robots are designed to serve humans and work for them, but the robots eventually turn on their masters, wiping out the human race (shades, or rather a foreshadowing, of The Terminator here). This sense of ‘robot’ is taken from the earlier one defined above – namely, the Czech for ‘slave worker’ or ‘drudge’.

Karel Čapek himself didn’t coin the word. The word ‘robot’ was in existence before he wrote his play. But nor did Čapek come up with the idea of taking the word ‘robot’ and using it to describe the man-made droids that feature in his play. He originally called them labori, from the Latin for ‘work’, but it was his brother, Josef Čapek, who suggested roboti. Josef, himself a gifted artist, would later write a volume of poems from the Bergen-Belsen concentration camp in which he was interned. In April 1945, just weeks before the end of the war, he became one of the 6 million Jews who were murdered in Hitler’s Final Solution.

Most readers who know the name Karel Čapek associate it with robots and little else. Yet Čapek was also the author of some charming short stories and skits, which were collected together as Apocryphal Stories (Modern Classics). Read the rest of this entry