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Gerard Manley Hopkins The Caged Skylark Analysis

The Caged Skylark: A Poetic Analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkins' Sonnet

Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Victorian poet and a Jesuit priest who experimented with poetic style, form and meter. His sonnet, The Caged Skylark, written in 1877 but published posthumously in 1889, is an extended metaphor that compares the human spirit to a skylark that is trapped in a cage. The poem explores the themes of freedom and confinement, nature and art, and life and death.

gerard manley hopkins the caged skylark analysis


The Octave: The Human Spirit as a Caged Skylark

The first eight lines of the sonnet present the contrast between the human spirit and the caged skylark. The poet uses the word scanted to suggest that both the bird and the spirit are limited and deprived of their natural abilities. The bird is confined in a dull cage, while the spirit dwells in a bone-house, a mean house, which are derogatory terms for the human body. The poet implies that the body is a prison for the spirit, which has a mounting or rising tendency, like the skylark that flies high in the sky.

The poet also contrasts the past and present conditions of the bird and the spirit. The bird has forgotten its free fells, or open hills, where it used to soar and sing. The spirit, on the other hand, is stuck in drudgery, or hard work, and is day-labouring-out life's age, or wasting its life away. The poet uses alliteration and assonance to create a musical effect, such as dare-gale, scanted, dull, mounting, bone-house, mean house, beyond, remembering, free fells, this, drudgery, day-labouring-out life's age.

The Sestet: The Human Spirit as a Free Skylark

The last six lines of the sonnet present a shift in tone and perspective. The poet acknowledges that both the bird and the spirit can sometimes sing sweetly, even in their captivity, but they also suffer from despair and anger. He then introduces a conditional clause: Not that. He says that it is not that the bird does not need rest, but it prefers to rest in its own nest, not in a prison. He uses onomatopoeia to imitate the sound of the bird: babble & drop down to his nest.

The poet then applies this logic to the human spirit. He says that after death and resurrection, the human spirit will be free from the bondage of the flesh. He uses an oxymoron to describe this state: flesh-bound. He means that the spirit will still have a body, but it will not be a burden or a hindrance. He compares this state to a meadow-down, or a soft grassy field, that is not distressed by a rainbow that touches it lightly. He also uses another oxymoron to describe this state: bones risen. He means that the body will be resurrected and glorified, like Christ's body after his resurrection.

The Imagery: The Contrast between the Cage and the Sky

The poem uses vivid imagery to create a contrast between the cage and the sky, and between the body and the spirit. The cage is described as dull, poor, and low, while the sky is implied to be bright, rich, and high. The body is described as a bone-house, a mean house, and a prison, while the spirit is described as mounting, sweet, and uncumbered. The poet also uses sensory details to appeal to the reader's sight, hearing, and touch. For example, he uses colors to contrast the cage and the sky: the cage is dull and gray, while the sky is blue and rainbow-colored. He also uses sounds to contrast the bird and the spirit: the bird babbles and drops, while the spirit sings and rises. He also uses touch to contrast the meadow-down and the bones: the meadow-down is soft and gentle, while the bones are hard and rigid.

The Symbols: The Skylark and the Rainbow

The poem uses two main symbols to convey its message: the skylark and the rainbow. The skylark is a symbol of freedom, joy, and creativity. It is a bird that flies high in the sky and sings melodiously. It is also a symbol of nature, which Hopkins admired and celebrated in many of his poems. The skylark represents the human spirit, which has a similar desire to soar and express itself. The rainbow is a symbol of hope, beauty, and harmony. It is a natural phenomenon that appears after a storm and creates a bridge between heaven and earth. It is also a symbol of God's promise and grace, which Hopkins believed in and relied on in his life. The rainbow represents the resurrection, which will bring peace and happiness to the human spirit.

The Poetic Devices: The Alliteration and Assonance

The poem uses various poetic devices to enhance its meaning and sound. One of the most prominent devices is alliteration, which is the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, the poet uses alliteration in the following phrases: dare-gale, scanted, dull, mounting, bone-house, mean house, beyond, remembering, free fells, this, drudgery, day-labouring-out life's age. Alliteration creates a musical effect and also emphasizes the contrast between the words. Another device is assonance, which is the repetition of vowel sounds within words. For example, the poet uses assonance in the following words: sing sometímes, sweetest, sweetest spells, droop deadly sómetimes. Assonance also creates a musical effect and also reinforces the meaning of the words.

The Vocabulary and References: The Unusual and Archaic Words

The poem uses some unusual and archaic words that may require some explanation. For example, the word dare-gale means a storm-chaser, or a bird that flies in strong winds. The word scanted means restricted or limited. The word fells means hills or mountains. The word babble means to chatter or make a low sound. The word cumbered means burdened or hindered. The phrase bones risen refers to the Christian belief that the dead will be resurrected with their bodies on the Day of Judgment.

The Form, Meter, and Rhyme Scheme: The Petrarchan Sonnet and the Sprung Rhythm

The poem follows the form, meter, and rhyme scheme of a Petrarchan sonnet, which is a type of poem that consists of 14 lines divided into two parts: an octave (the first eight lines) and a sestet (the last six lines). The octave usually presents a problem or a question, while the sestet usually provides a solution or an answer. The rhyme scheme of the octave is ABBAABBA, while the rhyme scheme of the sestet is CDCDCD. The poem also follows a meter that Hopkins invented and called sprung rhythm, which is based on the number of stressed syllables in each line, rather than the number of syllables or feet. Each line has four stressed syllables, but they can be separated by any number of unstressed syllables. This creates a flexible and varied rhythm that mimics natural speech and music.

The Speaker: The Poet as a Priest

The speaker of the poem is the poet himself, who uses the first person pronoun man's to include himself and his readers in his comparison. The poet was a Roman Catholic priest who converted from Anglicanism in 1866. His religious faith influenced his poetry and his worldview. He believed that God created everything in nature and that everything in nature reflected God's glory. He also believed that human beings had a special relationship with God and that they had a soul that could transcend their physical limitations. He also believed in the doctrine of resurrection, which states that after death, the body and soul will be reunited in a glorified state.

The Setting: The Victorian Era

The poem was written in 1877, during the Victorian era, which was a period of rapid social, economic, and cultural change in Britain. The Victorian era was marked by industrialization, urbanization, imperialism, scientific discoveries, social reforms, and religious conflicts. The poet was aware of these changes and their impact on human life and society. He was also aware of the challenges and contradictions that his faith faced in this changing world. He often expressed his doubts, fears, and hopes in his poetry. He also sought to find beauty and meaning in nature and art.

The Context: The Life and Works of Gerard Manley Hopkins

The poem was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, who was born in 1844 in Stratford, Essex, England. He was the eldest of nine children of a prosperous Anglican family. He was educated at Highgate School and Balliol College, Oxford, where he studied classics and literature. He was influenced by the Oxford Movement, a group of Anglican scholars and clergy who sought to revive the Catholic traditions and doctrines within the Church of England. He converted to Roman Catholicism in 1866 and joined the Society of Jesus (the Jesuits) in 1868. He was ordained as a priest in 1877 and served in various parishes and schools in England, Scotland, and Ireland. He died of typhoid fever in 1889 in Dublin.

Hopkins was a prolific poet who wrote many poems on various themes, such as nature, religion, art, and human emotions. He developed his own poetic style and technique, which he called inscape and instress. Inscape is the unique essence or pattern of each thing in nature, while instress is the force or energy that reveals the inscape to the observer. Hopkins believed that everything in nature was created by God and reflected God's glory. He also believed that poetry was a way of expressing his faith and praising God's creation. He experimented with poetic form, meter, rhyme, imagery, and language to create original and innovative poems that challenged the conventional norms of his time.

Hopkins did not publish any of his poems during his lifetime, except for a few that appeared anonymously in magazines. He burned most of his early poems after his conversion to Catholicism, as he felt that they were too worldly and vain. He also stopped writing poetry for several years, as he thought that it was incompatible with his religious vocation. He resumed writing poetry in 1875, after being encouraged by his superior and friend Robert Bridges, who later became the poet laureate of England. Hopkins sent his poems to Bridges, who preserved them and published them posthumously in 1918. Hopkins's poems were initially met with criticism and indifference, but they gradually gained recognition and admiration from critics and readers. He is now regarded as one of the greatest poets of the Victorian era and one of the pioneers of modern poetry.

Conclusion: The Caged Skylark as a Poem of Hope and Faith

The Caged Skylark is a poem that expresses the poet's hope and faith in the resurrection and the freedom of the human spirit. The poet uses the metaphor of a caged skylark to compare the human spirit to a bird that is trapped in a dull cage, or the body. The poet laments the plight of the skylark and the human spirit, who are both deprived of their natural abilities and joys. However, the poet also offers a consolation and a solution in the second half of the poem. He says that after death and resurrection, the skylark and the human spirit will be free from their prisons and will enjoy their true nature and destiny. The poet uses various poetic devices, such as rhyme, meter, imagery, symbols, and vocabulary, to create a powerful and moving poem that reflects his religious beliefs and his poetic vision. d282676c82

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