Study Guide

As Kingfishers Catch Fire Sound Check

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sound Check

In line 4 of "As Kingfishers Catch Fire," the speaker describes how a ringing bell "finds tongue to fling out broad its name." In other words, it sends its sounds far and wide out into the world. Folks, that's exactly what Gerard Manley Hopkins does in nearly every one of his poems. Whether he's inverting syntax, tweaking meters, or just plain making up new words, Hopkins was a soundsmith whose sonic pyrotechnics just have to be heard to be believed.

But don't just take our word for it. In the case of this poem, Hopkins busts out nearly every sound technique in the book—and he does it in just the first four lines:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;
As tumbled over rim in roundy wells
Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's
Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;
(1-4)

Let's break this down for you. In line 1, "As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame," we have first and foremost some alliteration going on. Did we say some? In fact, six of the seven words in that line have an alliterative pairing: "kingfishers" and "catch," "dragonflies" and "draw," and "fire" and "flame." Already we have a mouthful on our hands, but Hopkins is just getting started.

Line 2 reads, "As tumbled over rim in roundy wells." The idea of this line is cut short, carrying over (thanks to enjambment) to line 3 before we learn its subject and verb: "Stones ring." By tweaking this line's syntax, Hopkins creates more alliteration ("rim" and "roundy") and also introduces some consonance with the use of the L sounds in "tumbled" and "wells." We even get some assonance , bordering on internal rhyme, with the short I sounds of "rim" and "in."

Line 3 brings more sounds to the stage: "Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell's." We have the alliteration of "Stones" and "string," as well as "tucked" and "tells." We have the consonance of the L sounds in "like," "tells" and "bell's." And we also have the internal rhyme of "tells" and "bell's." As if that wasn't enough, Hopkins uses anaphora with the repeated phrase "each [adjective] [noun]," further packing this line with rich echoes.

Line 4 finishes this poem's initial simile and, yes, we have still more sound techniques to help it along: "Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name." Alliteration? How about "Bow" and "broad," and "finds and fling"? Consonance? We have the T sound of "tongue" and "its." Internal rhyme? Yep—"swung" and "tongue" are there.

We could go on...and on—and on, really. Hopkins himself described his poetry as odd, but we think he was just in love with language. He never seems to miss an opportunity to liven up the sounds of a line.

In the case of this poem, though, Hopkins is doing more than just having fun. Remember that his central message concerns matching your actions to your inner self. Really he's advocating for a kind of spiritual symmetry between who you are and what you do. It's no accident, then, that we have so much sonic symmetry going on in this poem, which sounds totally in tune with itself—just like the speaker would like you to be.

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