Po-Chop: Gerard Manley Hopkins: [As Kingfishers…]

“Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name”


GM Hopkins

You are enjoying a delicious cut of genius, courtesy of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

Lines like these, from Hopkins’ 1918 poem “[As Kingfishers Catch Fire, Dragonflies Draw Flame],” demonstrate the poet’s remarkable ability to use form (in this case, the rhythm of the English language) in tandem with content (strings being plucked, a bell ringing).


Hopkins coined the term “sprung rhythm” to describe his method of allowing any number of stressed syllables in a foot. In the first line above, for example, the words following “like” (“each tucked string tells”) are evenly stressed. Together with “like,” they form a five-syllable foot that, in the persistence of its stresses, mimics the sound and motion of a repeatedly plucked string. Hopkins begins the next line with irregular meter, as the hung bell struggles into motion, and then settles into rhythmic iambic feet that mimic the back and forth swinging of the bell (“to fling out broad its name”).


“In sum,” say the editors of The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry, “Hopkins saw his verse as eliciting the special identity of a thing or person, releasing its private energy, and conveying the particular animation of it, by every means of formal activity” (65). This is precisely what happens in these phenomenal lines.


Works Cited

The Norton Anthology of Modern and Contemporary Poetry. Ed. John Ramazani, Richard Ellmann, and Robert O’Clair. New York: WW Norton and Company, Inc. 2003.


More Gerard Manley Hopkins:

Read all of [As Kingfishers…] and a full analysis at Sparknotes.

Read other Hopkins poems at Bartleby.com.

Visit Hopkins’ Wikipedia page.

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