Saturday, April 22, 2006

G. M. Hopkins: inscape and natural kind

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:
Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;
Selves—goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,
Crying Whát I do is me: for that I came.
Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—for Christ plays in ten thousand places,
Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his
To the Father through the features of men’s faces.
Gerard Manley Hopkins, "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme," 1918

For Hopkins's theory of inscape and instress, and their relation to the poem as a whole, see this description. This poem always seems to me a better argument for natural kinds than any argument in Armstrong's Scientific Realism (as good as that book is). The Beowulfian flavor of the poem comes, first, from Hopkins's push from the Norman side of English's parentage to the Anglo-Saxon, and his use of "sprung rhythm" with its irregular stresses; and second, from his Welsh cynghanedd, with its strong alliteration.


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