In Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem, "Carrion Comfort," the speaker struggles to confront and overcome the stagnation of his despair and desolation. The beginning of the poem is a direct response to a personified "Despair":

Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me or, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.

The speaker's last three words, "not choose not to be," echo Hamlet's famous question in soliloquy, but Hopkins' dispirited speaker knows what the answer should be. Although the speaker refuses to accept despair, he is still incapable of fully moving beyond it. He asserts that he intends to look to the future and possibility rather than succumbing to negative thinking. Whereas the opening of the poem is a response to the temptation of falling into despair, the rest of the poem is a series of questions which seek an answer to the problem:

But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? Lay a lionlimb against me?
            scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruised bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid
            thee and flee?

By the end of the second quatrain, the speaker has distanced himself from his former despondency through his imagination. The speaker has shifted his focus from the present to the past as he comments on himself as if through the lense of memory: "me heaped there." As the images are presented, they become successively more fearsome and the questions become more rapid and urgent. As a result of the distancing, the speaker reaches a turning point in his thinking. The speaker has been slowly groping towards an all-encompassing idea of truth, and in the sestet he arrives at least a partial answer:

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would
            laugh, cheer.

As the speaker finds himself on the brink of reaching a more conclusive answer to his questions, he becomes more eager and energetic. The speaker's questions become a source of internal pressure which drives him out of his depression. The questions are also markers of how far the speaker has come since the sonnet's start:

Cheer whom though? The hero whose heaven-handling flung
            me, foot trod
Me? Or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one?
            That night, that year
Of now done darkness wretch lay wrestling with (my God!)
            my God.

In the conclusion of the sonnet, the previous sense of loss and desolation is replaced with the wonder of God coming in revelation. In this poem as in Tennyson's In Memoriam the speaker reaches out of himself as a result of his realization of God in the world.

Questions

How does the mode and structure of the poem dramatize the speaker's exchange with his own interiority and the exterior world?

What is the effect of the variations in syntax? Do the beginning statements signify a bleak finality in contrast to the succession of questions which reflect a sense of hope and regeneration?

The dense syntax of many of the other "terrible sonnets" reflects a claustrophobic interior consciousness. For instance, in "To seem the Stranger lies my lot, my life," the energy of the speaker is trapped and spirals inward, and he is unable to interact with the exterior world. What are the spatial dimensions of this poem and how do they contrast with the other "terrible sonnets."

In poems such as "I wake and feel" and "God's Grandeur," the speaker uses exclamatory interjections. How are they used differently in this poem?

How does the speaker's communion and exchange with God in this poem contrast with "I wake and feel"?


G. M. Hopkins Leading Questions

Last modified 24 November 2003