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;
- Our speaker starts off with a message. He (and we're just assuming it's a he at this point—check out "Speaker" for more) is talking to…Despair.
- That sounds to us like a pretty one-way conversation. After all, it's not like Despair is going to be talking back, right? Addressing an abstract concept like this is called an apostrophe.
- So what's he saying? Well, he's basically letting Despair know that he won't "feast" on it. That sounds like good news for ol' Despair.
- Really, though, this is a metaphor for being bummed out. To "feast," or consume, a bunch of bad feelings like despair is to wallow in misery, to lose hope. The speaker won't be doing that, he says.
- He also calls despair "carrion comfort." Since this is the poem's title, it seems like we should say a bit more about this endearing nickname. "Carrion" just means something that has died, typically an animal. To connect that to the speaker's idea of feasting, we'll point out that carrion is something a vulture or some other scavenger might eat. It's pretty gross, we know, but that's a vulture for you.
- Now then, how can carrion be a "comfort" to anyone (other than, you know, a vulture)? This juxtaposition is designed to grab our attention, but also to highlight how allowing yourself to be depressed is metaphorically like chowing down on something that's rotten and stinky.
- We say more about this figurative language over in "What's Up With the Title?" For now, just know that our speaker's not giving in to his sadness.
- He makes the same point in line 2 when, with another metaphor, he declares that he's not going to "untwist […] these last strands of man," even though those strands in him have gone "slack," or loose.
- Man, it seems like our speaker is really about to come apart (according to this metaphor anyway), but he's not beaten yet.
- He goes on to say that, even though he's totally beat ("most weary"), you won't be hearing him holler "I give up. I can't do it any more."
- Instead, he affirms that he can keep going, even though things are pretty rough for him right now.
- Good for you, buddy—keep fighting the good fight.
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
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?
- But what, exactly, can the speaker keep doing? He says that can do…"something," but then he gets a bit more specific (luckily for us).
- He can "hope" and "wish," which is definitely something. When day comes (presumably after a dark and difficult night), the imagery is totally fitting with the speaker's decision to "not choose not to be."
- Now, we know that your English teachers have always taught you to avoid a double negative, but since this is Gerard Manley Hopkins here, we'll let it slide. "Not choose not to be" really means choosing to be, to live, to exist, to keep on carrying on. In other words, he's not going to commit suicide. The speaker reiterates his desire to keep fighting through despair.
- It's tough going, though. The speaker gets back to some apostrophe again in line 5, when he addresses "O thou terrible." Here, he's likely talking to Despair again, though he could also be talking to whomever is causing his suffering (i.e., God or Satan). It's not totally clear yet.
- Whomever he's talking to, the speaker wants some answers. Why would this force so rudely ("rude on me") bring its powerful, world-shaking ("wring-world") right foot down on him, which feels like some kind of giant rock pressing down?
- In this admittedly tricky turn of phrase, the speaker's using personification to describe Despair as a kind of giant, all-powerful force, able to crush him like a wee bug.
- Then the speaker gets more specific. It's not just a faceless monster. Thanks to another metaphor, we learn that Despair is actually a huge lion (its foot is a powerful "lionlimb"). This beast looks over the speaker's broken body like it's good enough to eat.
- This description sounds a bit like the Bible's description of the devil as a hungry lion in the Book of Peter. This Despair sure sounds like a nasty adversary.
- And if that wasn't enough, it also sends violent storms ("fan/ O in turns of tempest") to torture our poor speaker, who would really like to just get out of there and run away, thank you very much.
- Before we can flee with him to the second stanza, though, we'll just note that we have some pretty consistent end rhyme going on in these first eight lines. For the scoop on how this poem is put together, be sure to check out "Form and Meter."