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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

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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

A Short Analysis of T. S. Eliot’s ‘Portrait of a Lady’

A reading of a classic early poem by Eliot

‘Portrait of a Lady’ first appeared in T. S. Eliot’s first collection of poems, Prufrock and Other Observations, which was published in 1917. The title is a nod to Henry James’s 1878 novel, The Portrait of a Lady, although this is a piece of misdirection on Eliot’s part, since the poem that follows will be much more about its young male speaker than it will about his older female companion. The poem is the other long monologue Eliot wrote satirising early twentieth-century society, alongside ‘The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock’, the title poem of that debut collection. You can read ‘Portrait of a Lady’ here before proceeding to our short analysis of the poem below.

‘Portrait of a Lady’, in summary, charts the friendship between a man – though this time a younger man than J. Alfred Prufrock – and an older woman. In the first section, they attend a concert together; in the second, she talks regretfully of being old, and envies the young man his youth (he, meanwhile, busies himself reading comics and the sports pages of the newspaper); in the third, he tells her he is going abroad, and she makes him promise to write to her. After he leaves her, he reflects on how he has treated her. Does he have the right to smile? Has he treated her badly? Read the rest of this entry