Study Guide to Peace
This curtal sonnet, a form of poetry invented by Hopkins (see “Pied Beauty”), is written in alexandrines where lines consist of twelve syllables, six of them stressed, with a line break near the middle (see “Henry Purcell”). It was written in Oxford on 2 October 1879 while Hopkins was curate at St. Aloysius’s church, but he was uneasy about having to leave Oxford very soon for the industrial city of Bedford Leigh, which he was to describe as “probably the most repulsive place in Lancashire or out of the Black Country. The stench of sulphuretted hydrogen rolls in the air and films of the same gas form on paling railing and pavement” (Letter to Bridges, 8-16 October 1879). In this poem, he describes Peace as a dove which hovers nearby but eludes him—the poet lacks the stability and support that real peace would bring. In the second stanza he asks whether “reaving,” robbing, peace shouldn’t leave something in its place (l. 7). He answers that peace hints toward a perfect peace and comes with “work to do,” not merely to make us comfortable but to give birth to some virtue in us (l. 10).
Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:
- Check out curtal sonnet in the terminology guide. How does the use of alexandrines allow Hopkins to apply the .75 principle to the poem’s rhythm as well?
- In line 3, beginning “When, when, Peace, will you, Peace?” Hopkins allows the second ”Peace” to serve as both noun and verb. Hopkins often coerces words into different parts of speech. How does this practice add meaning to his poem here?
- Hopkins questions how pure peace can coexist with war. In 1879 Great Britain was at war in Africa, in Afghanistan (sound familiar?), and in Ireland. What do you think? Is it possible, then or now, to have deep and lasting peace in the midst of war, whether internal or external?
- What point(s) do you think Hopkins is making by pointing out that the real work of Peace is not to “coo” but to “brood and sit” (ll. 10-11)? Have you ever felt the yearning for peace which Hopkins describes, together with the feeling it is so elusive? And does his solution resonate with you?