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.
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.
"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.
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 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.
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.