"Carrion Comfort" is Gerard Manley Hopkins's retelling of the story of Jacob wrestling the angel in Genesis 32. The poem reprocesses and reissues the original story by making the wrestling match an experience of metamorphosis: The narrator feels himself transformed into a piece of meat at the hands of his attacker. The first stanza, which envisions the narrator reflecting on the long night of wrestling, discusses the strength and abilities of his attacker in the context of nature. His opponent has "lionlimbs" and his right foot is equated to a "rock." The second stanza envisions a new form of blessing at the hands of the angel, who here becomes a literal expression of God who, in wrestling the narrator confers upon him joy.
And he rose up that night, and took his two wives, and his two womenservants, and his eleven sons, and passed over the ford Jabbok. And he took them, and sent them over the brook, and sent over that he had. And Jacob was left alone; and there wrestled a man with him until the breaking of the day. And when he saw that he prevailed not against him, he touched the hollow of his thigh; and the hollow of Jacob's thigh was out of joint, as he wrestled with him. And he said, Let me go, for the day breaketh. And he said, I will not let thee go, except thou bless me. And he said unto him, What is thy name? And he said, Jacob. And he said, Thy name shall be called no more Jacob, but Israel: for as a prince hast thou power with God and with men, and hast prevailed. And Jacob asked him, and said, Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said, Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there. And Jacob called the name of the place Peniel: for I have seen God face to face, and my life is preserved. And as he passed over Penuel the sun rose upon him, and he halted upon his thigh. Therefore the children of Israel eat not of the sinew which shrank, which is upon the hollow of the thigh, unto this day: because he touched the hollow of Jacob's thigh in the sinew that shrank.
NOT, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist — slack they may be — these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
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 bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?
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, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.
This reading represents one way to interpret an incredibly dense, complex poem. Hopkins' punctuation, accenting, and word choice creates a distinctive rhythm not always designed for the reader's easy comprehension.
1. Hopkins' poems offer a myriad of options for close reading. How does the biblical reference at the end inform the rest of the poem? Does this reading make sense in a sense of using the last line as a key to the rest?
2. What role do accents play in the poem?
3. Hopkins is especially careful in selecting his punctuation and parenthesis placement. Let's take the last line and analyze the effects.
4. Does "carrion" have any significance in a Victorian sense?
- Death and Struggle in Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Carrion Comfort"
- Groping Towards Truth in "Carrion Comfort"
Last modified 19 April 2011