Study Guide to “My own heart let me more have pity”

Study Guide to “My own heart let me more have pity on; let”

This poem is another of the dark sonnets Hopkins wrote in Dublin in 1885. In a letter to his friend Robert Bridges, Hopkins described four of these dark sonnets as coming to him “like inspirations unbidden and against my will.” But unlike the earlier sonnets in this group—one of which Hopkins described as having been “written in blood”—this poem gestures toward a sense of relief from the mental and spiritual anguish that had been plaguing the poet.

Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:

  • The first line announces the speaker’s intention to “have more pity on” himself. Does the speaker achieve that pity in the sonnet?
  • Notice the repetitions: “tormented,” “tormented,” “tormenting” (ll. 3-4); “comfort” and “comfortless” (ll. 5-6); and “all-in-all” and “in all” (l. 8). How do the repetitions lend meaning to the poem?
  • Hopkins uses the term “Jackself” in line eight. (He also uses the term “Jack” in a similar way elsewhere—see “The Shepherd’s Brow” and “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire.”) What does the speaker mean by the term “Jackself”? How does it connect with the other mentions of “self” in the poem?
  • The poem ends not with despair or desolation but with a complex image connecting God’s “smile” to a sky-and-mountain scene. What is the significance of this image? Do you find it a fitting way to end this sonnet (and the series of dark sonnets more generally)?

For this poem you might want to be familiar with the following terms from the Hopkins Terminology:
alliteration | assonance | consonant-chiming | inscape | instress | sprung rhythm

Back to “My own heart let me more have pity on; let”