Felix Randal by Gerard Manley Hopkins (again)

I just conducted a memorial service for a friend and I keep thinking of this poem by Hopkins, posted earlier on this blog.

Years ago I studied Hopkins in a Boston University seminar convened by Geoffrey Hill. As I recall there were six or seven of us, all graduate literature students except for one graduate writing student, Jhumpa Lahiri, now a famous novelist.

Hopkins (1844-1889), a Roman Catholic priest, was an innovator; he tried to write in the cadences of ordinary speech. By experimenting with  sound and rhythm he captured meanings lost in conventionally metered poems. His body of work includes theories of his approach to writing. Poets such as W. H. Auden and many others, including Hill himself, built on Hopkins’ achievements.

Geoffrey Hill was a strict and demanding teacher but I remember him reading this poem aloud and looking up with a faint and momentary but unmistakable smile on his face as he finished. Geoffrey Hill hardly ever smiled.

Felix Randal

Felix Randal the farrier, O he is dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!

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