I WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hoûrs we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light's delay.
With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.
I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, (c. 1885?)
Notes: The mark over "hoûrs" was originally a tilde ~ and indicates that the diphthong must be pronounced almost as two syllables.
This sonnet may be one of those referred to in a letter Hopkins wrote to his friend Robert Bridges dated Sept. 1, 1885: "I shall shortly have some sonnets to send you, five or more. Four of these came like inspirations unbidden and against my will. And in the life I lead now, which is one of a continually jaded and harassed mind, if in any leisure I try to do anything I make no way - nor with my work, alas! but so it must be."
In this poem, Hopkins reverts to regular metre rather than his usual technique of sprung rhythm (irregular metre). If one treats "I am" as one syllable, (maybe Hopkins meant I'm but couldn't bring himself to write something so informal) every line has 10 syllables and corresponds to iambic pentameter.
The rhyme scheme a b b a | a b b a || c c d | c c d is unusually regular and exact, using none of Hopkins' usual innovative tricks. If this is indeed one of the works he mentioned to Bridges, it is an extraordinary proof that unconscious inspiration in the mind of a master poet can create works equal to, or even greater than, those on which much conscious effort is spent.