Study Guide to The Lantern out of Doors
During the years 1878-1879 Hopkins moved frequently—from London to Oxford to Bedford Leigh and eventually to Liverpool—and continued to alternate between curate and teaching duties. “The Lantern out of Doors” (1878) resonates with the priestly concerns of caring for souls and strangers, although it does not specifically reference his priestly duties as he would do in “Felix Randal.” Hopkins’s “The Candle Indoors” (1880), written later in Liverpool, pairs with with “The Lantern out of Doors” not only in its title and first lines but also in its meditative reflection on our very human interest in each other and yet our limitations on knowing one another or even ourselves.
Here are some things to keep in mind when reading this poem:
- The initial event of this poem is rather brief: the narrator is intrigued by a flicker of light from a distant lantern. But the poem moves quickly to a broader, extended reflection on humankind more generally. How might we summarize the narrator’s assertions and observations about humanity from lines 5-11? In contrast to other poems where Hopkins emphasizes a specific individual, here the narrator speaks more generally about humanity. How might we connect these observations back to the image of the “lantern” in the night, i.e. how are humans like that lantern?
- This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet in which the poem’s argument experiences its first major pivot or turn after the eighth line. Hopkins’s eloquent meditation on the wonder of humanity collapses with the announcement that human interactions are ultimately ephemeral: we pass out of each other’s “keen” (to borrow from Keats). So we might describe the first turn in the sonnet as a turn towards disappointment or despairing resignation. But the poem’s argument turns again in the last three lines. How does this final pivot answer the earlier distress?
- The narrator uses the often-quoted expression “out of sight, out of mind” in the eleventh line to describe the ways in which we stop thinking about those we can no longer see. In what ways does the poem as a whole reject such a premise? What does Hopkins choose to do when he “cannot” care for others any longer because of either death or distance?
- How does the use of “friend” as the poem’s last word change the status of the stranger assumed in the first stanza and force us to read the whole poem again?