Study Guide to That nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection
Due to the length of this poem’s lines (some have as many as 20 syllables) and the total number of lines (24), this poem would not appear to be a sonnet. But Hopkins described the poem’s form and features as follows: “sprung rhythm, with many outrides and hurried feet: sonnet with two [sic] codas.” (“Outrides” are extra words and syllables that do not count in the rhythm, and codas are added passages that conclude the work.) Despite its expansive form, the poem maintains the contrast between opening and closing sections linked by a dramatic turn or volta: “Enough!” Written in 1888 (the year before Hopkins’s death), this poem is a culmination of many of Hopkins’s most pressing questions about human mortality and the destructive beauty of the natural world.
Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:
- Heraclitus (c. 535 – c. 475 BC) believed that fire is the essence of all matter, meaning that the entire cosmos is in a state of constant strife and flux. How does the speaker illustrate this idea? How does he challenge it?
- Note the poem’s many coinages, i.e., compound words, such as “shivelights,” “shadowtackle,” “yestertempest,” “manmarks,” “treadmire,” “footfretted,” etc. How does this odd and original vocabulary function in the poem?
- Many poems explore the contrast between nature’s renewing cycles and the finality of humans’ deaths. How does Hopkins’s poem differ from other famous poems on this subject? (See, for example, Keats’s “Ode to a Nightingale”: “Thou wast not born for death, immortal Bird!”)
- Why does the poem end with the image of a diamond? How does a diamond relate to the other objects mentioned at the poem’s end (“potsherd,” “patch,” “matchwood”) and to the poem as a whole?
For this poem you might want to be familiar with the following terms from the Hopkins Terminology:
alliteration | assonance | coinages | consonant-chiming | curtal sonnet | inscape | instress | sprung rhythm