Study Guide

Carrion Comfort Quotes

  • Sadness

    Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee; (1)

    What's for dinner? Why, it's a nice big plate of Despair. That may sound unappetizing (and the speaker does reject this meal as gross, yucky "carrion"), but people dig into this dish on a regular basis. We've all been there, not wanting to be cheered up or told by some smiley someone that "it'll get better." In that way, despair and depression can be dangerously attractive mindsets that seem like "comfort" when we just want to wallow in our own sadness.

    Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
    In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. (2-3)

    Sure, the speaker is rejecting these sad feelings, but that's only after he's experienced them in the first place. At one point, he felt as though his very being ("strands of man") was coming undone. That's enough to make anyone weary and want to give up.

    But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
    Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
    With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
    O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee? (5-8)

    Imagine being pinned under the paw of a giant, ferocious lion that's looking down at you like you are a tasty snack. That's a pretty helpless, terrifying feeling—one that our speaker has just experienced. His despair went way past your typical brush with sadness. He was both desperate and lucky to get out of the experience.

    […] That night, that year
    Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God. (13-14)

    By and large, a "wretch" is not a happy person. It turns out that the speaker was in this sad state for a full year, which seems impossibly sad. Even if he had suffered for a night, he acknowledges, he underwent a severe test. Wrestling with God, after all, is not for the faint of heart.

  • Perseverance

    Not, I'll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
    Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
    In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can; (1-3)

    Check out all those "not"s—four of 'em in the first three lines of the poem alone. That's the sound of someone steadfastly refusing to give in. While this opening details the speaker's challenges with Despair, it also asserts his grit and determination to persevere.

    Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be. (4)

    Here the speaker relates that hope is his secret weapon. Believing that the sun will come out tomorrow (sorry, Annie fans) is what keeps him going, what allows him to make the choice to persevere, rather than end his life.

    Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear. (9)

    Bonus—the speaker's perseverance pays off here, in a big way. It allows him to undergo a personal transformation, one that leaves him stronger and more confident, stripped of the "chaff" of his weaker personal qualities.

    Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
    Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer. (10-11)

    "Kiss[ing] the rod" of his punishment here, or the hand that wielded the rod, indicates a kind of perverse gratitude on the speaker's part. Now that he knows that he can endure the depths of depression, he's grateful to whatever force (Despair, or Despair-sent-by-God) put him through his trials in the first place. He's learned how to persevere, and for that he seems truly thankful.

  • Religion

    But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
    Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
    With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
    O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee? (5-8)

    More than one critic has compared this poem to the biblical Book of Job, in which Job is basically tortured by God via a series of misfortunes. At the end, though, Job comes to realize the importance of God in his life, just as the speaker does in this poem. They both start, though, with a simple (and probably familiar) question: "Why me?" In these lines, the speaker uses personification to show how awful things are for him. It's like he's being crushed by a monstrous lion, then subjected to violent storms. What sort of God would do this to him?

    Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
    Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer. (10-11)

    After detailing the depths of his depression, the speaker turns in the second stanza, realizing that he's actually grateful for having been treated by God in this way. The bad times that he's endured have allowed his heart to grow stronger and more pure. Thanks, God.

    Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
    Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? (12-13)

    These lines pose an interesting question: should the speaker be cheering for himself for having overcome depression, or should he be giving props to God for sending the depression to him in the first place? Maybe it's a little bit of both? This kind of question is really at the heart of a lot of religion: where does God's influence end and individual responsibility begin?

    […] That night, that year
    Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God. (13-14)

    The speaker's big reveal—which is news to him as well—comes in these final lines of the poem. All this time that he's been struggling with depression, he's actually been undergoing a kind of divine test, sent to him by God to strengthen his character.