Carrion Comfort by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins was a talented poet, and he was also extremely devoted to his faith. He used his poetry as an avenue in which to express his love and praise to his Creator, and many of his poems are beautiful hymns of adoration. “Carrion Comfort,” however, is one of his “terrible sonnets.” Hopkins not only wrote about the beautiful part of faith, but also the questioning and suffering that inevitably comes during a person’s spiritual journey.
The Petrarchan or Italian sonnet was one of Hopkins’s favorite forms of poetry and one that he employed frequently in his writing. Hopkins enjoyed the fusion of form and content, and the structure of an Italian sonnet perfectly lends itself to such a synthesis. An Italian sonnet is divided into two parts, the octave and the sestet. The first eight lines have an ABBAABBA rhyme scheme and the sestet concludes with CDCDCD. The content of an Italian sonnet is very specifically and thematically organized as is the content of Hopkins’s “Carrion Comfort.” The octave is divided into two quatrains, which present and then develop, respectively, a problem or situation on which the poem focuses. The sestet relates the answer or solution to the problem. The transition between the two sections of the poem can be easily identified through dramatic punctuation, or a distinct change in tone. The octave in “Carrion Comfort” powerfully illustrates intense suffering and despair experienced by the speaker. Hopkins masterfully depicts the transformation from the utter despair caused by this suffering to hope and reconciliation with God as he makes a transition into the sestet. Throughout the poem, Hopkins uses various poetic elements, such as the form of the Petrarchan sonnet, diction, word choice, punctuation, and sound devices, as well as particularly strong imagery, to underscore this transformation.
The problem of “Carrion Comfort” is clearly introduced in the first line of the poem as the speaker laments, “Not, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee” (line 1). Despair in this poem is symbolized by carrion. By refusing to feast on the carrion, the speaker is also refusing to allow himself to wallow in despair, though it may produce the same sort of comfort as a great feast might. Though he apostrophizes the carrion, however, addressing it directly as “Despair,” the first quatrain is more of a personal battle as the speaker struggles with himself internally. According to the Oxford English Dictionary (OED), the term “carrion” can be applied to a dead man that walks on the Earth, as well as the carcass of a dead animal. The speaker fears that, should he give in to the despair that is before him, he would be just such a man - alive physically, but emotionally and spiritually dead, similar to a corpse. He declares his desire for humanity when he commands Despair not to “…untwist –slack they may be – these last strands of man / In me…”...