This sonnet by Gerard Manley Hopkins is about an dying man he ministered to in his capacity as a jesuit priest. Felix Randall, as the last stanza informs was a farrier before he was afflicted with four unspecified illnesses. The second stanza informs the reader that he resisted the spiritual comfort offered by the poet at first. However, he soon was persuaded, his confession was heard and absolution granted.
This poem is best read aloud (as Hopkins himself recommended). Hopkins emphasises the brigher past in the last stanza by using broad vowels and 'b' sounds. See also the windhover for another Hopkins poem where alliteration is used to telling effect.
The third stanza suggests a father's love for his sick child. Perhaps the sight of a great powerful man reduced to a helpless child was too much for Hopkins to bear.
FELIX Randal the farrier, O he is dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man,big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?
Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!
This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;
How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!
--Gerald Manley Hopkins