Study Guide to “The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo”
Hopkins finished this poem in October 1882, while he was at St. Mary’s Hall, Stonyhurst, Lancashire. These lines are the maiden’s song from a longer poem, never finished, a tragedy on the martyrdom of St. Winifred, a Welsh virgin-martyr of the 7th century. A healing spring at the traditional site of her decapitation and restoration is now a shrine and pilgrimage site called St Winifred’s Well, located at Holywell in Wales, about seven miles from the Jesuit Theologate at St. Bueno’s where Hopkins studied from 1874-77. The well is revered for its healing properties: Hopkins was “filled with devotion every time [he] saw it.” Hopkins thought the poem was the most musical one he had ever composed, and he claimed it was “dramatic and meant to be popular.” Popular is has become: the movie star Elizabeth Taylor proclaimed it her favorite poem, and her actor-husband Richard Burton performed it in public with her on several occasions (for renditions see the Multimedia section of this website).
Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:
- In what ways is the poem “musical” and in what ways “dramatic”? Compared to other Hopkins poems, how does this one seem to aspire to being “popular”?
- What are the two concepts being compared here, and how and where does the shift from one to the other take place?
- Where do you hear echoes in the poems, and tone shifts? What metaphors strike you—for example, the letter-writing metaphor of lines 32-35?
- One of the greatest quests of alchemy in the past was to convert lead to gold. What kind of alchemy does Hopkins propose in his poem?