decorative initial 'I' found this poem interesting, though perhaps not as "terrible" as some of the other late poems. Nonetheless, it bleakly explores one of Hopkins' major themes: the inability to take up faith. Structurally Hopkins uses the sonnet form to break the poem up into two parts, which focuses this theme especially well. The octet relates the thoughts of the faithless wanderer, who, seeing the candle in the window, recognizes its power to dispel the darkness. In the fourth line the light is seen through squinting eyes, where eyelashes form delicate streams of light the "tender trambeams" which can be read as imbuing the simple candle with a hallowed effect. But the speaker cannot take comfort in the simple light alone, for he wants the the "task" of the owners of the candle to be God's work ("there/God to agrandise, God to glorify") so that the simple flame can truly represent an "answer" and end his wandering.

Some candle clear burns somewhere I come by.
I muse at how its being puts blissful back
With yellowy moisture mild bight's blear-all black
Or to-fro tender trambeams truckle at the eye.

By that window what task what fingers ply,
I plod wondering a-wanting just for lack
Of answer the eagerer a-wanting Jessy or Jack
There/ God to aggrandise, God to glorify. —

In answer, the sextet seems to pose a challenge to the speaker of the octet, asking "what hinders?" him and commanding him "to come indoors." Is this actually the same speaker or some other figure who asks him to come indoors? I found myself thinking of the sextet as a plea to the speaker of the octet, willing him to mend his "fading fire" and "vital candle in close heart's vault" — to take strength from the candle.

Come you indoors, come home; your fading fire
Mend first and vital candle in close heart's vault;
You there are master, do you own desire;

What hinders? Are you beam-blind, yet to a fault
In a neighbour deft-handed? Are you that liar
And, cast by conscience out, spendsavour salt.

Yet I found myself stumbling in the fourth stanza. The tone here, with the short concise feet and the pouncing rhythm, seems to be cynical and negative. There are the accusations of being "beam-blind" and a "liar", that the figure is out in the darkness due to his own guilty conscience. Is this speaker accusing the figure in the octet of being tied up in matters of the flesh by using the phrase "spendsavour salt"? Is "spendsavour" a verb here? If the sextet is indeed addressing the speaker of the octet, then who would be the speaker here?

As I reread the sextet yet again, I found myself thinking that perhaps, it could be read as the thoughts of the same speaker in the octet, who is addressing God in a very bitter voice. In this case the speaker would be seeking God to mend the speaker's fading faith in the third stanza, where the "indoors" would be his own internality. Then in the fourth stanza the speaker would be addressing God in angered tones with brash sounding consonants. What would it mean though to call God a liar in this situation? How would God "spendsavour salt"?

In reading this poem, I found it interesting to compare it to "The Lantern out of Doors" (40), which serves as a companion to it, and is from the view of a faithful speaker who watches from an interior as a bleak figure passes by in the dark who "death and distance soon consumes." But this speaker also says, in Hopkins' characteristically layered and compounded manner, that Christ is the keeper of men like this. He affirms that Christ is "their ransom, their rescue, and first, fast, last friend." (line 14). Does this contrast of warm tones to the cynicism of "The Candle Indoors" give a different meaning to the poem? Can we shape the speaker in "The Candle Indoors" in a more concise way after looking at this companion piece?


G. M. Hopkins Leading Questions

Last modified 30 November 2003