Felix Randal – Gerard Manley Hopkins

Felix Randal

Felix Randal the farrier, O is he 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!

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 – 1889)

S1 … Felix Randal was a member of Hopkins’ congregation when a minister (priest) in Liverpool, England. So Hopkins gets the news that Randal is dead and therefore his duty as a priest is over. GMH obviously watched the decline of the big-boned handsome farrier as four disorders took control of his body.

S2 … Randal was impatient at the onset of the sickness wanting to get rid of it as it naturally hindered his normal life. But a heavenlier heart helped mend the situation implying a spiritual dimension developed by church involvement under the guidance of GMH – ‘I had our sweet reprieve and ransom / Tendered to him’ – communion.

S3 … Touch and talk helped in his ministration and GMH was very touched himself with the sorry state of the farrier. Sickness endears us to both the individual concerned and the sickness itself. Sickness creates a very personal intimacy between people.

S4 … And there is such a contrast GMH remembering back to the boisterous years when the farrier was well.

We are all touched by similar circumstances in life.

Gerard Manley Hopkins on Wikipedia 

God’s Grandeur – Gerard Manley Hopkins

God’s Grandeur

The world is charged with the grandeur of God.
It will flame out, like shining from shook foil;
It gathers to a greatness, like the ooze of oil
Crushed. Why do men then now not reck his rod?
Generations have trod, have trod, have trod;
And all is seared with trade; bleared, smeared with toil;
And wears man’s smudge and shares man’s smell: the soil
Is bare now, nor can foot feel, being shod.

And for all this, nature is never spent;
There lives the dearest freshness deep down things;
And though the last lights off the black West went
Oh, morning, at the brown brink eastward, springs —
Because the Holy Ghost over the bent
World broods with warm breast and with ah! bright wings.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844 -1889)

What a powerful first line ‘The world is charged with the grandeur of God’. The operative word is ‘charged’ as though the world is some amazing battery of energy and through some unfathomable process became alive – like an umbilical cord of love permeating existence with the grandness of God.  ‘Full’ would not do as an alternative word for ‘charged’ implies the ongoing dynamism of life.

The first 8 lines of this sonnet lament on searing, blearing and smearing – the way humanity has defaced the ‘grandeur of God’ and asks the question ‘why is this so’. The last of these lines give some reason ‘nor can foot feel, being shod’ – a loss of direct contact with nature. So what does this say about the world today with the increasing electronic dislocation with the physical.

But the concluding six lines give hope – ‘nature is never spent’ … and particularly the spirit of God (the Holy Ghost) is still a deep down saving force – ‘with warm breast and with ah! bright wings’. It is nice to end on an optimistic note!

It is Easter when many think of the link between humanity and God and traditionally a God external from the world. But that magnificent first line brings God firmly down to earth. Stephen Hawking in his book ‘The Brief History of Time’ suggests a possible scenario where the universe is a self-contained boundless system with no beginning and no end and he asks where does a ‘creator’ fit into the equation (if you excuse the pun). Well perhaps God has always been here and is very much an integral part in all life and the on-going evolution of the universe. So perhaps we should try more to work with God in the endless journey to improve the universe for all, not easy to do of course!

But Easter Sunday is a great day to just appreciate and celebrate the impressive beauty of our world. Enjoy today whether or not the sun is shining in your world.

More commentary on this poem 

… and my response to that first line

Gerard Manley Hopkins on Wikipedia