Study Guide

Carrion Comfort Sound Check

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sound Check

Here's a game you can play at home, Shmoopers. Take three tennis balls, your favorite sneakers, an air raid siren, and a handful of rocks and toss them into a dryer. Turn it on full speed and have a listen. What you'll hear is close—but not quite—to the number of sounds happening in a typical Gerard Manley Hopkins poem. "Carrion Comfort" is no exception, so make sure that your ears are properly prepared for the sonic smorgasbord that follows.

To start with, we have lots of lovely alliteration going on here, starting with the poem's title and in the very first line: "carrion comfort." That hard C alliteration pops up again in line 3, along with some repeated M words tossed in for good measure: "In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can."

Hopkins is just getting warmed up, though. As well as alliteration, we have consonance, as in all the S sounds happening in line 2: "Not untwist — slack they may be—these last strands of man." We get more of the S-centric sonic sideshow in line 10: "since (seems) I kissed the rod."

And have we mentioned the assonance? Check out the repeating short A sound at the end of line 2: "last strands of man." There are also plenty of long E sounds to go around in line 8: "O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?"

In the mood for internal rhyme? This poem has you covered. "Fly" and "lie," as well as "sheer and clear," provide that in line 9: "Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear." And both "toil" and "coil" are embedded within line 10: "Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod." Hopkins even sneaks "though" and "hero" together, as in line 12: "Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot trod."

Of course, these are just a mere sampling of the poem's sonic echoes. You can spend hours finding more examples, and you totally should. For now, though, we'll add one more important technique to the list: anaphora. Repeating phrases like "I can" in line 3, or "my God" in line 14, gives us a feeling of a speaker who is repeating himself out loud in an attempt to solve a problem. He keeps going back to stock words (just count all the "not"s in the first two lines) and phrases in order to figure out just why he's gone through the trials and tribulations of despair.

In fact, you can say that all of the sound games that Hopkins plays in "Carrion Comfort" go back to his stated goal of making his poems sound as much like natural human speech as possible (check out "Form and Meter" for more). We're not just readers of this poem, then; we're listeners. And what we hear is someone who is talking to himself and talking through his recent bout of depression. We know, by the poem's end, that he's come through the experience a stronger and happier version of himself, so all these sonic flourishes seem appropriate to a guy whose mood, at long last, is a happy one.