Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Sonnets

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins chose to use a common, yet somewhat complicated scheme for writing his poems. These sonnets use the sestet to comment on the octave in a unique way. One excellent example of this is found in “The Starlight Night”.(p 1516) In the octave, Hopkins uses words to paint a beautiful setting in the reader’s mind. “Look at the stars!…/ O look at all the fire-folk sitting in the air!” he writes, describing a magically starry night.(ln 1-2) Then, he follows it with a silvery moonlit lawn and “Flake-doves sent floating forth at a farmyard scare!”(ln 7) This eight-line beginning sets the mood and scene with a mysterious, star filled night with emphasis on the stars and their bountiful beauty.

Then, in the sestet, Hopkins changes the view with his commentary. “Buy then! Bid then!—What?—Prayer, patience, alms, vows,” he writes.(ln 9) This indication that prayers to God bid on the stars, earning them through praise to their creator. He goes on to comment on the plethora of stars and how they are a harvest in the sky. However, he ends with “They are indeed the barn; withindoors houses.”(ln 12) This changes the view of the stars to represent the fence, house, and home of Christ, indicating that the stars are not ours, but the visual edges of heaven.

This use of sonnets for Hopkins writing lulls the reader in with a beautiful picture, then surprises them with an idea that might not have been assumed in the first lines. Through this method, the poet makes a political, religious, or other commentary within a beautiful work of poetry.

Works Cited

Greenblatt, S., & M. H. Abrams, e. a. (Eds.). (2006). The Norton Anthology of English Literature (Eighth ed., Vol. D). New York, NY, USA: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc.


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