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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


A Short Analysis of Tennyson’s ‘Crossing the Bar’

A summary of a classic late poem

‘Crossing the Bar’ was one of Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s last poems, composed in 1889, just three years before the end of a long life and prolific career. (He would be UK Poet Laureate for 42 years in total, a record still unsurpassed.) Given its elegiac tone, ‘Crossing the Bar’ has often been analysed or interpreted as Tennyson’s elegy for himself: it describes his anticipation of the ‘crossing’ he must make from life to death.

Crossing the Bar

Sunset and evening star,
And one clear call for me!
And may there be no moaning of the bar,
When I put out to sea,

But such a tide as moving seems asleep,
Too full for sound and foam,
When that which drew from out the boundless deep
Turns again home. Read the rest of this entry

‘The Smallness of the World’: Dickens, Reynolds and Mayhew on Wellington Street

In this special guest blog post, Dr Mary Shannon writes about the remarkable London street where a number of noted Victorian journalists worked

Last week, I turned a street corner near Oxford Circus and bumped into a friend from university who I had not seen in a good while. We both exclaimed at the coincidence which had brought us both to this same spot at the same time. If one of us had chosen a different route, or been delayed by a few minutes, we would never have even been aware that we had been in such close proximity. What a chance encounter, we both exclaimed, in a city of 10 million people.

And yet, when I thought about it afterwards, the encounter was not so much of a co-incidence after all. The same factors which made us friends in the first place (age, interests, values) brought us to the same city and then made us familiar with the same areas of it: the same locations, the same streets. Our work and social lives brought us to similar places, week in, week out; it was only a matter of time before we crossed paths again. This kind of encounter is not unusual, I think, for many people who live in London. This may be a city of strangers, but it is also a collection of villages, and on a surprisingly regular basis I find myself bumping into friends on busy tube station platforms, on bridges, and at the theatre. When you share similar interests and lifestyles, London can begin to feel like a much smaller place. When you work in the same part of London, it feels localised. When you work on the same street, it feels simultaneously large and small at the same time. Read the rest of this entry