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As Kingfishers Catch Fire Analysis

Author: poem of Gerard Manley Hopkins Type: poem Views: 3

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As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying, What I do is me: for that I came.

I say more: the just man justices;
Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God's eye what in God's eye he is —
Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men's faces.


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||| Analysis | Critique | Overview Below |||

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Norman Mackenzie dates the When Kingfishers sonnet to March or April of 1877 during the time Hopkins was in St. Beuno's and wrote nine sonnets in pastoral Wales. (These included 'God's Grandeur' 'The Starlight Night', 'In the Valley of the Elwy', 'The Windhover' and 'Hurrahing in Harvest' - all of which he dated; and 'For Spring' , 'The Caged Skylark' 'As Kingfishers..' and 'The Lantern out of Doors', which he did not). Surely a 'wonder-year' - in Mackenzie's words and one which poet Paul Mariani, in his Commentary has described convincingly as one of growing metrical complexity: Hopkins at the height of his powers - or close to it.
He was was 33 years old. We are dealing here with a completed work of art. The imagery of the poem has a corresponding coherence - and is often, perhaps, not fully understood.
The poem starts with a confident assumption: the simile of the first line is based on a comparison of succeeding metaphors: the lightning flight of the kingfisher seems to turn him into a firebolt; the sudden dart of a dragonfly draws (or attracts) a brilliance comparable to that of a fierce blue flame (Mackenzie refers to the blast of a blowpipe).
Hopkins is not finished with his polymetaphorical simile, introducing another - that of stones falling down into a 'roundy' well and echoing with their own material - before he makes the straight comparison in line 5: Each mortal thing does one thing and the same Next he compares these three effects with those of two others before proceeding - in best Scholastic, syllogistic fashion - to a synthesis. In a similar way, he says, each musical string when plucked ('tucked'), sounds, is counted, has its impact ('tells' is used as in 'telling' the beads of the rosary) by making its distinctive, definitive note. Mackenzie suggests another meaning: that the sound tells of the creator - but it seems to me unnecessary to anticipate Hopkins's thesis - particularly when he is dealing with the natural and the inanimate insofar as each is uniquely itself, before he moves onto another level of significance. He is not quite ready to do that yet, until the bell compsarison is made
Irish poet, Desmond Egan, has given a fine, in-depth analysis of this poem and it is available for perusal at The Gerard Manley Hopkins Festival Archive

| Posted on 2009-11-22 | by a guest

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