[posting] As Kingfishers Catch Fire: A Close Reading

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poetry is stunningly difficult to parse, but when exploring the spaces of and between his words, one cannot help but come to a deep appreciation of the ideals that Hopkins imagined within his poetry. In “As Kingfishers Catch Fire”, Hopkins looks at a concept he considered deeply: ‘selving’. Using a combination of skillful poetic technique and patterned metaphors, he explicates ‘selving’ as a complex representation of meaningful and sincere spiritual identity and relationship with the human and natural world.

In “Kingfisher”, Hopkins uses consonance to create a beautiful blended sound with balances thought and action, selah and spoken. I noticed that in support of the theme of the first stanza’s first line (fire), there was a repetition of the use of ‘m’, which creates warmth. In line three, the use of ‘t’ highlights “tucking” which draws attention to the manipulation of instruments – strings and bells. Line Four utilizes a combination of ‘b’, ‘f’, and short vowel ‘u’ sounds to slow the meter down so that it feels like a weighted bell. The first stanza also ends with hard-hitting consonants and blends, giving it more force and picking up the action for the second verse. Due to the second verse being more message-oriented, there is a toning down of consonance use, but the use of ‘j’, ‘g’, and ‘l’ in first five lines gives a sense of force to the injunctions to “justice” and “keep grace” (stanza two, lines 1-2). However, like the ending of “God’s Grandeur”, Hopkins softens the last line using a more gentle ‘f’ sound.

Another interesting technique Hopkins utilizes as a poet is the thread of metaphors linking nature to the arts and humanity and seeing all three united as bearers of divinity. The linking metaphors do appear to me to have a kind of pattern. In the first line, the fire of the kingfisher could be linked to the dragon(fly) which draws flame. In the second line, the ring of the stones in the well could be linked to the instruments (the string and the bell), and the bell’s tongue references forward to humanity which speaks itself. It seems to me that if one takes this odd ‘pay-it-forward’ referencing into account, it appears that Hopkins either consciously or unconsciously emphasized the integral links between nature and humans as beings that ‘selve’. Furthermore, one can also see how animate objects behave like inanimate (kingfishers draw fire), and inanimate are anthropomorphized (bells speak), blurring the lines between animate and inanimate nature, as well as humans, and thus creating a world that is inextricably tied together in acts of self-representation.

‘Selving’, an act of showing one’s true (and divine) nature, links humanity, art, and nature to actions of self-representation, justice, and grace, which better shows Christ’s image within us. Within his injunction to the reader to show his/her better self, Hopkin’s line “just man justices; keeps grace” in the second stanza reminds me of Micah 6:8: “He hath shewed thee, O man, what is good; and what doth the LORD require of thee, but to do justly, and to love mercy, and to walk humbly with thy God?” Here, the Christian poet stress not only the importance of internalizing faith, but also challenging the reader to become Christ in the eyes of God and, thus, to see Christ in everyone else (stanza two). This restorative relationship with God and oneself cannot but help resound within one’s interactions with others, be it other human beings or nature.

In a sense, you could say that this echoing of God in nature, God in humanity, God in art, God in the poem itself, and God in the reader is reproduced within the repetition of syllables, words, and sounds of Hopkin’s poetry. These echoes build upon each other and set each other off anew as one person’s interaction with nature rekindles their heart of grace and allows them to pass goodness onward. As each echo resounds, the understanding of personal worth and dignity based on the image of God is carried on by another and another, just as Hopkin’s poetry will be carried on into the future.

Works Cited

Micah 6:8. KJV. Bible.knowing-jesus.com. <https://bible.knowingjesus.com/Micah/6/type/kjv>

2 Peter 1:4. KJV. Bible.knowing-jesus.com. <https://bible.knowingjesus.com/2Peter/1/4>

Acts 17: 22-34. Bible.knowing-jesus.com. <

https://bible.knowingjesus.com/readings/PaulSpeaksToTheAreopagus>

Romans 1:20. NASB. Bible.knowing-jesus.com.

<https://bible.knowingjesus.com/readings/PaulSpeaksToTheAreopagus>

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “As Kingfisher’s Catch Fire.” Poetry Foundation, 2018. Date Accessed,

April 4, 2018. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44389/askingfisherscatchfire>

Hopkins, Gerard Manley. “God’s Grandeur.” Poetry Foundation, 2018. Date Accessed, April 4, 2018. <https://www.poetryfoundation.org/poems/44395/godsgrandeur>

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