Study Guide to The Caged Skylark
This poem is one of the eleven widely-celebrated sonnets Hopkins wrote in 1877 at St. Beuno’s in North Wales. While many of Hopkins’s sonnets set up an image in the first eight lines (the octave) and then leap to an analogy or comparison in the final six lines (the sestet), this poem makes a striking comparison in its first two lines. It then traces out implications of the comparison through several stages until the poem’s end.
Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:
- Note that “bone-house” (l. 2) is a kenning, a compound word containing a metaphor. (This term also appears in the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf (l. 2508)—Hopkins had studied Anglo-Saxon). Where and when do you see other compound words in this poem? What is their effect on the poem’s mood and meaning?
- The First Exercise in the Spiritual Exercises of St. Ignatius (the founder of the Jesuit order, to which Hopkins belonged) asks the reader to consider “that my soul is imprisoned in this corruptible body.” How does this poem imagine the relationship between the soul and the body? Is any harmony between the two possible?
- In the final two lines, the poem introduces a final comparison: “meadow-down” or soft grass with a rainbow “footing” or resting on it. Why does the speaker conclude with this image? How does it alter or augment the tone and attitude of the poem?