The speaker in Gerard Manley Hopkins' "A Soliloquy of One of the Spies left in the Wilderness" has a generally skeptical and somewhat scornful tone. The poem begins with his question, "Who is this Moses? who made him, we say, / To be judge and ruler over us?" (lines 1-2), which immediately places the narrator in historical and biblical context. In addition, with the self-righteous tone of the initial question, and the further evidence of his unsupportive view of Moses' position, it becomes clear that the narrator is not an unquestioning member of the traveling party. The speaker's numerous critiques of the situation and scathing remarks appear throughout the poem, even regarding those times when he is well-treated.
He feeds me with His manna every day:
My soul does loathe it and my spirit fails.
A press of wingèd things comes down this way:
The gross flock call them quails.
Into my hand he gives a host for prey,
Come up, Arise and slay. [lines 13-18]
Why is the speaker's soul still repulsed, even though he seems to recognize that there is a God who, through Moses, is providing him with food?
When he says his "spirit fails," is his use of "fails" intended to suggest that he would believe in God if he could, but he is unable, or simply that he is downtrodden? Does he seem to regret his lack of faith?
At the end of the poem, the narrator wants the group to leave him and says that he is "contented here to lie" (line 55). He then feels ill and thinks he may die. One might expect that the religiously devout Hopkins would have wanted this infidel to be punished at the end of the poem. Yet the speaker's apparent willingness to die suggests a peaceful ending, with no mention of post-mortem punishment. Why does the poem end so peacefully? Is Hopkins perhaps suggesting that there is always a place for someone who challenges what others believe and who does not accept God merely because those around him do?
Last modified 15 November 2003