Poem introduction

This is poem that can reduce me to tears. Written only a month before his death in 1889, and following the six so-called ‘terrible sonnets’ of 1885 when Hopkins was plunged into despair, despair in his faith and his God, in exile and estrangement from a loving family, having sacrificed his position in society, subjugated his poetry to religion, poetry never celebrated in his lifetime, this sonnet nevertheless still speaks as a living soul addressing his God, still living in hope of grace. Gone are the gorgeous verbal pyrotechnics of his earlier verse. The language is stripped, ascetic almost, as if it had been living in penance. Hopkins had been living five years in Dublin, five ‘wasted years’ he called them, facing the fourth deadly sin, that of ‘desolation’. There is a terrible pathos in this sonnet, opening with a paraphrase from Jeremiah, but also, as in the root of the word pathos, great passion.

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