The Sea And The Skylark By G M Hopkins

The Sea And The Skylark By G M Hopkins : Critical Appreciation

Introduction :

The poem entitled “The Sea And The Skylark” is written by G M Hopkins – Gerard Manley Hopkins. It is a sonnet of 14 lines. It was originally titled “Walking by the Sea“. In this sonnet the Sea and the Skylark are described in the Octave (the first eight lines). There are contrasted with man in the Sestet (the last six lines).

This sonnet was written in 1877 in a seaside town a few miles from St. Beuno’s College. The Sea and the Skylark is one of those poems in which G M Hopkins contrasts the beauty of Nature with the ugliness of mankind’s works.

Subject-Matter :

In The Sea And The Skylark Sonnet, G M Hopkins describes the beauty of Nature through the sound of the Sea And the Skylark in Octave and this beauty is contrasted with man in the second part of Poem – the sestet (last six lines).

First Part of Poem (Octave) :

In the Octave the Sea and the Skylark are described :

The Sea :

Poet hears two loud and forceful sounds. These sounds come from opposite directions. Both sounds are as old as the Nature of world and will never end.

“On ear and ear two noises too old to end.”

From the right side, The sound of tide comes and this sound is striking against the shore with ebbing of water and flowing of water. There is a brief pause after the striking of the wave and a roaring sound follows this pause.

the tide that ramps against the shore;
With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,

These waves continue with their roaring sound till the moon continues to wane and wax because tide is controlled by the moon.

Frequenting there while moon shall wear and wend.

The Skylark :

From the left side of the Poet, The sound of Skylark comes and this sound is compared to a wool skein (skein of wool) that is continuously unwound and rewound. The sound of Skylark is fresh and refreshed musical score.

His rash-fresh re-winded new-skeinèd score

This Score does not run smooth but it is in crisp curls of melody. Skylark seems to whirl off the winch (voice/sound or song) of his throat in wild ecstasy or happiness.

In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour
And pelt music, till none’s to spill nor spend.

Skylark pours (produces) the music without a pause till there is nothing left to produce or spend. i.e. He sings continuously till his song finishes.

Second part of Poem (Sestet) :

The Town :

The Sea and The Skylark are contrasted with man. The two natural sounds of the Sea and the Skylark are putting shame this town of Rhyl where life is shallow and frail.

How these two shame this shallow and frail town!

The sound of Nature is better than the sordid and confused human sounds of town. The sound of Nature is pure and sweet.

How ring right out our sordid turbid time,
Being pure! We, life’s pride and cared-for crown,

We, Human Beings are supposed to be the pride of creation (God) and the crown of all beings in this world. Even God cares for the Human Beings.

Have lost that cheer and charm of earth’s past prime:

We have lost the joy and charm of the Earth when all things were in their prime. But, Now, All these things and our Nature are in the process of decay because of selfishness of human beings.

Our make and making break, are breaking, down

Poet says that this process of devastation will lead us to the state of dust (death) and to man’s original state of slime.

To man’s last dust, drain fast towards man’s first slime.

This last line recalls that We are moving fast to our doom or death.

Theme :

The Sea And The Skylark By G M Hopkins has Octave and Sestet. Very first line of Octave shows the mood of joy and zest but the remaining lines of Sestet shows the mood of pessimism and gloomy.

In this sonnet, The beauty of Nature included the Sea and the Skylark is contrasted to human beings who are losing his joy and charm on the Earth where everything was in Prime in olden times, But, Now, Nature and Natural beauty is going to decay because of Human Beings’ foolishness and sinfulness. He is moving fast to his doom.

Poet laments the fact that man who is a pride of creation, is falling down to his devastation or the original state of first slime. The sound of the Sea and the skylark impressed him very much but the sordid and confused sound of town made him feel sad and gloom. (The theme is a contrast between the life giving purity of Nature and the sordidness of the civilization.)

Alliteration :

The use of alliteration is also noticeable. The repetition of same letter in the following line is striking :

With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar

Here, letter “F” and “L” are repeating in this line.

In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour

Artistic Excellence :

The Sea And The Skylark By G M Hopkins has a strong economy of Rhyme. The sounds of words show to make (clearness of meanings) distinct meaning in this poem. This effect comes because of use of vowels and consonants skillfully. This poem is notable for the Onomatopoeic effects of the first two quatrains.

Onomatopoeia : The use of words which suggests their meaning by their very sound is called Onomatopoeia. Very sound (Pronunciation) of a word suggests sense or meaning.

For Example :

  • The hiss of Snake.
  • The mew of the cat.
  • The roar of thunder.
  • Zig-Zag paths
  • Brushing with hasty steps the dew away.
  • I babble on the pebbles.

In the poem, we see such the Onomatopoeic effect in these lines :

With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,

rash-fresh re-winded new-skeinèd score
In crisps of curl off wild winch whirl, and pour

Use of Sprung Rhythm :

C. Mackenzie – Catherine Mackenzie points out that this sonnet is written partly in standard rhythm and partly in sprung rhythm. Sprung Rhythm is a flexible, stress rhythm. In sprung rhythm, A foot may have one or many syllables. It does not effect the Meter. We count stress not syllables.

G M Hopkins used sprung rhythm because it is a Natural rhythm of speech. W. B. Yeats observes : “The publication of Hopkins works in 1918 made ‘sprung verse‘ the fashion.”

Effect of Chiastic :

Catherine Mackenzie says that the third line is chiastic. It means a cross wise arrangement in which four words or ideas are arranged in such a manner that first and last word seem to be mentioned belong together as seem the middle two words.

With a flood or a fall, low lull-off or all roar,

Natural Beauty :

G M Hopkins was very sensitive to natural beauty and its destruction. His sensitivity to beauty is so delicate that he never accepts the industrialization and never enters into the life of industrial society.

He merely stands at a distance and condemns its ugliness. He enjoys the natural beauty. The sound of the sea and the skylark made him feel joy and zest. He is mindful to nature, not industrial society.

Conclusion :

Thus, The Sea And The Skylark By G M Hopkins presents the contrast between the life giving purity of Nature and the sordidness of human society. Hopkins was a poet of originality with intellectual complexity which has great impact on young poets. There is some obscurity in meaning in this poem.

However, We can easily understand the development of idea of this poem. Poet uses the beauty of the sea and the skylark to show the sordid turbidness and shallowness of town. He presents the simple history of the human race saying about the cheer and charm of Earth’s past prime.

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