Study Guide

Carrion Comfort Themes

  • Sadness

    Get your hankies ready. "Carrion Comfort" is all about sadness, but it's not your typical "Bummer, somebody ate the last of the pecan sandies" kind of sadness. It's more about deep, dark, practically all-encompassing despair. The speaker of the poem has just come through what sounds like an intense bout of depression. And Hopkins would know a thing or two about that sort of thing. This poem is one of his "terrible sonnets," which he wrote after being totally bummed out by his experiences living in Dublin, Ireland—where he underwent a spiritual crisis, doubted his artistic abilities, caught typhoid fever, and died. Now that, folks, is some serious sadness.

    Questions About Sadness

    1. What's so "comforting" about Despair? How might the speaker answer that question?
    2. What do you think brought about the speaker's sadness in the first place? What parts of the poem give you your ideas?
    3. Since he's looking back on his depression (and not currently experiencing it), does the speaker's sadness seem less convincing to you? Why or why not?
    4. What, if anything, is the use of sadness? How might the speaker answer that question?

    Chew on This

    The sadness that the speaker experiences in this poem is necessary to his spiritual awakening.

    This poem is not sad at all. In fact, it's an inspiration to anyone who faces difficulty in his or her life.

  • Perseverance

    "Carrion Comfort" offers up a classic good news/bad news scenario for its speaker. The bad news? He's got to suffer through an intense, prolonged crisis of despair and depression. The good? He'll live. When survival is the good news, you know things are bad. At the same time, though, the speaker is stronger for having made it through his experience. His perseverance, really, gives him both the ability to make it through to the other side of his depression, as well as the opportunity to be transformed into a better version of his old self. It's a classic case of silver lining syndrome.

    Questions About Perseverance

    1. What is the key to the speaker's perseverance? What parts of the poem give you your idea?
    2. What parts of the poem, if any, make you doubt the speaker's ability to persevere through his depression?
    3. How inspiring is the speaker's perseverance to you personally? What parts of the poem lead you to your answer?

    Chew on This

    The real message of this poem is that there is no secret trick to persevering. You just have to go on living, day by day.

    This poem shows us that perseverance is a totally personal and ingrained quality. Either you're tough enough to endure life's hardships, or you're not.

  • Religion

    Religion is a safe bet when you're talking theme and Gerard Manley Hopkins. After all, the dude was an ordained priest. That didn't mean, though, that he was free of doubt or conflict in his faith. At times he felt that his poetry writing was at odds with his religious practice. And later in life, when he did go back to writing, he used his poetry to work through his own crisis of faith. As one of those "terrible sonnets," "Carrion Comfort" is brutally honest in its questioning of God. Why would He do mean stuff to us poor mortals? It's an age-old question that all forms of religion have had to take up. The poem's speaker seems satisfied with the answer he comes to, though: it's for his own good.

    Questions About Religion

    1. What is the speaker's attitude toward God in this poem? Is it consistent throughout, or does it change? What parts of the poem support your answer?
    2. Does the speaker blame Despair or God for his troubles? How can you tell?
    3. How would you answer the speaker's questions in lines 12-13? Is he responsible for overcoming his depression, or should God get the credit? Should it be both? What parts of the poem support your answer?
    4. Is this poem pro-religion or pro-individualism? How can you tell?

    Chew on This

    Religion is nice and all, but this poem is about an individual's ability to endure in a cold, uncaring universe.

    Actually, this poem shows us that God is responsible for all of life's trials, but those are only put in our way to develop—with His help—our inner resources.