Hopkins as a Sonneteer / Hopkins's Terrible Sonnets.

Hopkins's Sonnets

Hopkins’s sonnets may be regarded as the culmination of a rich
and long poetic tradition. The sonnet was introduced into England
from Italy by Sir Thomas Wyatt and the Earl of Surrey in the early
ears of the 16th century. It was at that time regarded as a form of
e poetry, and almost every major poet of the Elizabethan Age produced not just one or two, but a whole series of sonnets in honour of
some real or imaginary beloved. In Shakespeare's hands the form
became a medium for profound reflections on human life and death,
on time and immortality as seen through the experience of love. The
religious tendency which was already implicit in the sonnets of Sidney, Spenser and Shakespeare was further developed in Donne's
“Holy Sonnets". From the "Holy Sonnets" the original motive of love
entirely disappeared. The form became more personal and autobiographical. The combined influence of Shakespeare and Milton is particularly evident in the romantic sonnets of Wordsworth and Keats.
In Hopkins's sonnet all these varied elements or aspects of the sonnet tradition are fused in a new synthesis in the sonnets of Hopkins.
Hopkins's sonnets are at once personal, descriptive, religious and
metaphysical. In his poetry we get natural imagery, religious fervour
character-portrayal intimate personal revelation, psychological
analysis and other elements too.

Hopkins's sonnets show a considerable departure from the previous tradition. The intensity of his poetic feeling is likewise reflected
in his original use of "sprung rhythm" which depends for effect not
on the regular alternation of stressed and unstressed syllables but on
regular number of stressed syllables in each line.

Hopkins's Style and Technique

It is worthy to note that Hopkins shows a distinct preference for
the Italian structure of the sonnet form over the Shakespearean or
English structure. The Italian structure has two divisions-the “Octave” consisting of eight lines and the sestet consisting of six lines. Hopkins said that the Italian sonnet was the sonnet proper though
called the Shakespearean sonnet, with its three quatrains and a couplet at the end, a very beautiful and effective species of composition.
And yet he modifies the Italian structure too, by dividing the octave
into two quatrains.

Hopkins has used his own style and technique while writing the sonnets.
The style of his sonnets is by turn dramatic and contemplative, strenuous and graceful. There is variety and originality in his
imagery. In the urgency of feeling he is emitting his sense perceptions in a quick-fire of metaphor. Hopkins's sonnets can be grouped
in two parts-the bright sonnets and the dark sonnets. In "bright”
sonnets the poet celebrates the mysterious presence of God in the
world's splendour. In the “dark” or “terrible” sonnets', the poet
expresses a sense of desolation. In these sonnets the poet seems to be
experiencing spiritual suffering.

Various Themes
The bright sonnets belong to the earlier period of Hopkins's
poetic career. These sonnets were inspired by his experiences as a
priest. These sonnets mainly deals with the idea of the value of sacri-
fice, the transience of moral beauty and the need to give beauty back
to God. In the 'terrible sonnet' the poet depicts the temporary loss of
joy and hope which marks the recoil from a rigorous discipline. In God's Grandeur the poet expresses his happiness over the omnipresent grandeur of God.

In “Pied beauty” the poet's adoration of Nature and his reverence for God are closely interwoven. The sonnet contains a catalogue of dappled things, each presenting a vivid

In “The Sea and the Skylark” the poet's joy in Nature, as represented by the sea and the skylark, is nullified by his disappointment with the way human beings lead their lives in a modern town. The sonnet abounds in compound adjectives and unusual use of words.
“In Hurrahing in Harvest” the poet describes an experience of union
with Christ as seen in Nature. The poem is remarkable for its vivid
imagery presented in an original manner.

“Pied Beauty”
The sonnet Pied Beauty contains a whole catalogue of dappled
things, each presenting a vivid image. In addition, the poet refers also to the general qualities which he appreciates in dappled things swift
and slow, sweet and sour, bright and dim, fickle and freckled. In a few
also manages to pay his tribute to God at the end. His adoration of Nature and his reverence for God are here closely interwoven.

The Sea and the Skylark”
In “The Sea and the Skylark” the way human being lead their lives
is presented by the sea and the Skylark. The imagery in the octave is very vivid -the tide, the roar of the sea,the moon, the ascending skylark. Alliterative phrasing is one of the striking qualities of that style , “with a flood or a fall, Iow lull-off or all
roar”. The whole octave is remarkable for its onomatopoeic effects.

“The Windhover”

In “The Windhover” the poet's main idea is that the "brute beauty”
of the falcon is only a faint flash of the splendour of Christ.
and energy of Christ belong to a different order, and are a “billion
times told lovelier, more dangerous". The octave describes
the bird, and the sestet begins by recognizing what the bird signifies.
The sonnet is a masterpiece in its originality in the use of words, its
striking imagery, and consonant and vowel chiming, it tends to obsearity when we come to “here buckle” which has been interpreted in various ways.

“Carrion Comfort”
The sonnets “Carrion Comfort”, “I wake αnd feel the fell of dark”,
and “Thou art indeed just” are considered as belonging to the group of “terrible sonnets" or the "dark sonnets". In Carrion Comfort the poet
finds himself confronted with despair but he promptly declares his
resolve to overcome it. The poet asks a question that why God is so
cruel to him? The divine wrath against him, is intended to clean and
purify him of his imperfections and faults. The thought in the poem
develops in a logical manner and is expressed in a metaphorical style.
ln the sonnet “I wake and feel” an experience of frustration and negation is described.
The poet's appeals for help bring no response from God who seems too far away. The poet is a scourge to himself as the
souls in Hell are a scourge to themselves. The ideas, are expressed by the use of figurative language : "the fell of dark". "gal”l and "heartburn"; .dead, letters", etc. There are several examples of the use of alliteration which is an indispensable ingredient of Hopkins style.

The sonnets “Felix Randal” and “Duns Scotus's Oxford” belong to
the middle group. In Felix Randal we find a deep personal involvement of the poet, and as regards style a casual seeming idiomatic
compression takes up into itself common dialect phrases in tribute to
the dead farrier. At the end of the poem, Hopkins moves from elegy
to celebration, capturing in his rhythm and imagery the grandeur that for him runs through the farrier's humdrum trade.

Hopkins's variety of themes impresses us greatly. Each of his
sonnet is a separate entity possessing its own individual character, producing its own single effect, without any division of interest, The expression is condensed in his sonnets. His sonnets reflect a conflict
between the poetic sensibility and religious commitment. The terrible sincerity of the process of Hopkins's thinking inevitably led him
as originality of expression which rejected the ready-made
of contemporary poetics. His originality in this respect is both
verbal and metrical. And perhaps the innovations he introduced into
metre prevent more than anything else the appreciation of his poetry.


The sohnet which resulted from Hopkins's predicament are masterpiece of poetry.
A critic thus sums up the merits of these poems :
“In these Dublin sonnets he treats of loneliness, frustration,
loathing, and despair and yet manages to articulate them within
artistic structures that are condensed, integrated and completely free inflated rhetoric or emotional indulgence. The one note that is never strack in these poems is that of self-pitying self-love. For Hopkins's indomitable courage refused to countenance any such comforting evasions at the same time as it refused to be crushed. He appears determined to probe to the depths these sufferings of his poor self while at the same time shaping and giving them utterance through a
masterly artistic control. Here, as in “The Wreck of the Deutschland”,
trenchant diction and imagery couple with a forceful, masculine
verse movement to make mental events almost physically present. As
a result, tense spiritual states are described with a palpability and
definiteness of outline rare in English poetry since the time of Donne and Herbert :

“I am gall I am beartburn.
God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste : my taste was me
(I wake and feel)”

Like all Hopkins's best poems these sonnets fuse a passionate,
apparently spontaneous rhythmic movement with the complex
modulation a great verse-technician. On one hand they are, just as
much as the joyful Welsh sonnets, though in a completely opposite
mood, sudden unpremeditated outbursts of feeling which came "like
inspirations unbidden and against my will”. On the other hand, the
complex "bettering" of style is as evident as in the earlier poems; only
subtle patterns of alliteration and assonance no longer chime
but are set against one another to convey a world where soul and self,
heaven and hell, jangle and clash against one another incessantly :

“Wisest my heart breeds dark, heaven's baffling ban
Bars or hell's spell thwarts. This to hoard unheard,
Heard unheeded, leaves me a lonely began”

According to David Daiches : "Perhaps the most impressive and
the most profoundly moving of Hopkins poems are his terrible son
nets, where he expresses his experience of the dark nights of the soul
with extraordinary power. The main packed and powerful ofalla the
beginning "Ne worst, there is none, with its terrible seste”.

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