NO worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing -
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked `No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief'.

  O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.


Gerard Manley Hopkins, prob. 1885


This sonnet was written on the same sheet of paper as the last existing draft of Carrion Comfort. The rhyme scheme a b b a | a b b a || c d c d c d is extremely tightly-structured, as in many of Hopkins' sonnets: he only once resorts to the neologism of rhyming in the middle of a word, and even introduces rhyme-words in the middle of a line.

Another mark of Hopkins' style is the large deviations from regular iambic pentameter: every line has five metrical stresses, but some feet are trochees (Máry; Ó the mínd, mind; Fríghtful; Dúrance déal with), spondees (hèave hérds; Mòre pángs), dactyls (móther of), anapaests (on an áge; -ry had shríeked; force I múst) etc..

However these features are more easily explained by Hopkins' theory of sprung rhythm, by which each metrically stressed syllable is accompanied by any number of unstressed ones. A more subtle aspect of the theory is the "outriding foot", meaning "one, two, or three slack syllables added to a foot and not counting in the scansion", used before a pause. In

{Woe, wórld-sorrow;}{on an áge-}{old án}{vil wínce}{and síng}
I have marked the feet, thus "sorrow" is an "outrider" attached to the first foot. "Húddle in a máin" is an example of a "hurried foot", where three unstressed syllables are compressed into the time of one.

The effect of this rhythmic variation is to increase the range of dramatic expression. In lines 2 and 3, the reversed rhythms underline the urgency of the direct questions; the hurrying of "Húddle in a máin" somehow intensifies the image of herds of sad creatures crowded together; the quickly-springing rhythms of "únder a cómfort sérves in a whírlwind" both serve the image of violent motion and contrast strongly with the slow, measured dejection of "Here, creep, wretch" and the concluding line.

Hopkins' vocabulary is noteworthy: his (seriously intended) wordplay is shown in the double (or quadruple?) use of "pitch" - both to throw upwards, or to fix firmly, or set the tone of, and the black, tar-like substance which gives the emotional colour of the piece. The echoing of "More pangs" and "forepangs" is less convincing, "forepangs" being an artificial way of saying presentiments of coming pain. "Wring" is also heard as "ring", combining the ideas of writhing and pinching, and cries ringing out.

Line 8 requires explanation: fell meaning cruel, savage (but also prefiguring the extended image of falling down from great height), force is used as an adverb, as perforce - I am forced to be brief. Hopkins marked a pause on "fell" to prevent the reader interpreting it as "fell force".

"World-sorrow", "herds-long" and "no-man-fathomed" are typical examples of his compound adjectives formed somewhat as in German; a poetically useful way to compress meaning into few words. Hopkins achieves an unusual fusion between the intellectual curiousness and emotional content of such constructions.

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