English Literature
As Kingfishers Catch Fire

As Kingfishers Catch Fire

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A Poetic Perspective on Nature: Gerard Manley Hopkins' "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

Have you ever been mesmerized by the vibrant colors of a bird or the glistening iridescence of a dragonfly's wings? If not, it's time to view nature through a poet's eyes. Gerard Manley Hopkins' brief yet thought-provoking poem, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" (1877), invites us to ponder the meaning and self-expression found in nature.

An Overview of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

Originally thought to have been written in 1881, this poem is now recognized as one of eleven sonnets composed by Hopkins in 1877. This was a significant year for Hopkins as he was ordained as a Jesuit Catholic priest and returned to writing after a seven-year hiatus dedicated to his religious pursuits. During his time at St. Beuno's College in North Wales, Hopkins found great inspiration in the beauty of nature, which is evident in his poetry.

The Significance of the Kingfisher

Hopkins' poem focuses on a small yet magnificent bird called a kingfisher, commonly found in the regions of Wales and England where the poet resided. The striking turquoise strip of feathers down its back, which seems to "catch fire" when touched by sunlight, is what captivated Hopkins' attention.

The Influence of Inscape

"As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is just one of many works by Hopkins that is shaped by the concept of inscape - the unique individuality of all things. While there is no concrete definition, Hopkins uses this term to describe the expression and essence of nature, people, and things. He believes that everything is intricately designed and reflects the beauty of God as the creator. In this poem, Hopkins celebrates the self-expression of birds, dragonflies, stones, and people.

Inspiration from John Duns Scotus

One of Hopkins' favorite medieval philosophers, John Duns Scotus, greatly influenced his concept of inscape. Scotus, a Scottish Catholic priest, professor, and theologian, had a profound impact on both secular and religious philosophy. He is best known for his doctrines on existence, being, and individuality, as well as his arguments supporting the existence of God and the Immaculate Conception of Mary.

Literary Context of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

Hopkins' poetry falls between the Romantic and Modernist literary movements of the Victorian Era. Like the Romantics, he has a deep appreciation for nature and utilizes emotional language. However, he also incorporates experimental elements in his work. Unlike his contemporaries, Hopkins does not conform to a specific style, but instead explores sounds, natural rhythms, and vivid imagery in his writing. Themes of God and nature are prominent in most of his poetry.

Interpreting "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

The poem begins with Hopkins' observation that "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame." He draws a parallel between the fiery iridescence of these creatures and the Christian belief that creation is a reflection of God's beauty. Hopkins continues to describe the distinct qualities of inanimate objects, highlighting their individual voices and sounds. He personifies the bell, stating that it "finds tongue to fling out broad its name" (line 4).

The Reflection of God's Justice in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

In his poem, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," Gerard Manley Hopkins utilizes the verb form of the noun "justice" to highlight the qualities of goodness, fairness, and honesty. These qualities are seen as reflections of God in the Catholic faith, and Hopkins suggests that when individuals embody these traits, they are truly showcasing their inner selves and embodying the nature of Christ.

The poem concludes with the powerful lines, "Christ plays in ten thousand places, / Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his / To the Father through the features of men's faces" (lines 12–14). Here, Hopkins seamlessly unites the themes of nature, individuality, and God by stating that the presence of Christ can be seen in the faces of people. He suggests that our inner nature, when revealed, is a reflection of God's unique creation and the embodiment of Christ within us.

The Structure and Techniques of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

"As Kingfishers Catch Fire" follows the traditional structure of a Petrarchan sonnet, with 14 lines divided into an octet and a sestet. The rhyme scheme also adheres to the usual pattern of a Petrarchan sonnet, with ABBAABBA for the octet and CDCDCD for the sestet. However, Hopkins adds his own touch to the form through the use of internal rhyme, where words within a line or across multiple lines rhyme to mimic the sound of a ringing bell. Additionally, instead of the common iambic pentameter, Hopkins utilizes his signature "sprung rhythm," which imitates natural speech patterns and creates a distinct flow in the poem.

In summary, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" conveys a profound message about the inner nature of all beings and their relationship with God. Through the use of imagery, structure, and poetic techniques, Hopkins beautifully captures the essence of our existence and the potential for our inner selves to be revealed.

The Power of Accent Marks in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

The lines in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" strictly consist of five stressed syllables per line, emphasized by accent marks chosen by Gerard Manley Hopkins. These marks draw attention to the important themes of identity and purpose within the poem. In line 8, the emphasized words "what" and "do" suggest that it is one's actions that define their true self.

Central Themes in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

The poem beautifully expresses the theme of identity, with Hopkins using vibrant imagery of kingfishers, dragonflies, stones, and bells to suggest that every being is seeking to reveal its unique purpose and inner self. Additionally, the poem highlights the idea that all of creation is a manifestation of God's intentions and beauty. From the smallest pebble to the most complex human being, each creation embodies a part of God's divine plan.

Poetic Techniques in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

Hopkins utilizes several poetic techniques in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" to emphasize the themes of identity and purpose. These include personification, alliteration, enjambment, and inversion/anastrophe. Through these techniques, Hopkins weaves a beautifully intricate and meaningful poem about the reflection of God's justice in all of creation.

In Conclusion

With its vivid imagery and lyrical language, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a renowned masterpiece written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877. Through its use of poetic techniques and exploration of themes such as identity and purpose, the poem conveys a powerful message about the reflection of God's justice and intentions in all beings. It serves as a reminder of the uniqueness and purpose of each individual in the eyes of God.

Exploring the Profound Meaning of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Dive into the enigmatic world of Gerard Manley Hopkins through his celebrated poem, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire." This timeless piece embodies Hopkins' belief in inscape, which delves into the inner essence and unique purpose of all things. Penned in 1877 during his studies of theology in North Wales, "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" is a Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet that showcases Hopkins' signature sprung rhythm.

Though the title may evoke images of a fiery kingfisher soaring through the sky, the true essence of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" goes far beyond a literal interpretation. The poem revolves around the idea that all things have an innate desire to express their inner selves in order to reveal their purpose and reflect the divine creator.

Get to Know the Poet: Gerard Manley Hopkins

Born in 1844, Gerard Manley Hopkins was a renowned English poet and priest, revered for his unique writing style and unwavering faith. Though his works were not widely recognized during his lifetime, they are now considered some of the most influential pieces in English literature.

The Profound Themes in "As Kingfishers Catch Fire"

"At Kingfishers Catch Fire" encapsulates several noteworthy themes, with the expression of identity being a prominent one. Hopkins firmly believed in the importance of embracing one's inner self, rather than conforming to societal expectations. Another significant theme is the idea of creation as a reflection of God. To Hopkins, everything in nature serves as a testament to the divine essence and should be cherished and celebrated.

Did You Know? The first line of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire" employs the poetic device of alliteration, adding a musical quality to the poem.

Sources: Hopkins, Gerard Manley. "As Kingfishers Catch Fire." Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918.

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