Study Guide to The Loss of the Eurydice
The Eurydice, a naval training vessel returning from exercises in the West Indies, sank off the Isle of Wight on 24 March 1878; only two of the 319 on board survived. Hopkins’s poem is dated “Mount St. Mary’s, Derbyshire. April 1878.” Hopkins was teaching at Mount St. Mary’s College at the time. Three years earlier he had written “The Wreck of the Deutschland,” a long poem dedicated to the memory of the five Franciscan nuns who also died just off the coast of England in the shipwreck of the Deutschland. Both poems were rejected by the publishers of the Jesuit magazine The Month. This poem tells the story of the loss of the Eurydice and the saving of Sydney Fletcher and one other sailor. Hopkins struggles with the tragedy, trying to understand why “my master bore it.” At the close of the poem he affirms that God has heard his prayer on the sailors’ behalf and granted them grace.
Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:
- One manuscript of the poem has this comment: “written in sprung rhythm. The 3rd line has three beats, the rest 4. The scanning runs on without break to the end of the stanza, so that each stanza is rather one long line rhymed in passages than 4 lines with rhymes at the ends.” Keeping these instructions in mind, read the poem aloud, understanding each stanza as one passage and listening for the beats—four, four, three, four. It may make the poem easier to hear musically by conducting the lines as you read them. Does the regularity of the meter remind you of the waves of the sea?
- Hopkins uses many compound coined words in this poem, new words created by combining two other words. Can you identify some of these words? Look at the compound coined words in Stanza 7— baldbright, Hailropes, Heavengravel, wolfsnow. What two images is Hopkins trying to combine in each compound word? How does the juxtaposition of these two images cause you to think in a fresh way about the image? What about hyphenated compound epithets in the poem–how do they function?
- One way of organizing the poem would be: stanzas 1-10, the wreck of the ship; stanzas 11-21, images of the lost sailors; stanzas 22-30, wrestling with theodicy (why does God permit evil?). What is Hopkins’s answer to the question about God that he raises in line 98—“Wondering why my master bore it”? Theodicy is also a theme of Hopkins’s poem The Wreck of the Deutschland. How do the two poems compare and contrast? Can you see other ways to look at this poem?