Felix Randal is a poem that explores the themes of death, grief, memory and faith through the perspective of a priest who mourns the loss of a young parishioner. The poem was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, a British poet and Jesuit priest who lived in the late 19th century. Hopkins is known for his innovative use of language, rhythm and imagery to express his religious and artistic vision.
The poem is structured as a Petrarchan sonnet, which consists of an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines) with a rhyme scheme of ABBAABBA CDDCEE. The octave introduces the main subject and problem of the poem: Felix Randal, a farrier (a person who shoes horses) who died from an illness that gradually weakened his body and spirit. The speaker, who is presumably Hopkins himself or another priest, recalls how he administered sacraments to Felix before his death and how he witnessed his tears and sorrow.
The sestet shifts to a more reflective tone and offers some resolution to the problem. The speaker remembers Felix’s former strength and vitality when he worked at the forge with his peers, making shoes for horses. He also acknowledges that Felix’s death was part of God’s plan and that he has now entered into eternal life. The speaker ends with an expression of hope that he will meet Felix again in heaven.
The poem uses several poetic devices to convey its meaning and emotion. For example, Hopkins employs alliteration (the repetition of consonant sounds) throughout the poem to create musical effects and emphasize certain words or phrases. Some examples are “Felix Randal”, “big-boned”, “fatal four disorders”, “random grim forge” and “bright and battering sandal”. He also uses assonance (the repetition of vowel sounds) to create harmony or contrast between words or lines. Some examples are “farrier felled”, “fettle for” and “heart hard”.
Another device that Hopkins uses is sprung rhythm, which is a type of meter that varies the number of stressed syllables in each line according to natural speech patterns rather than fixed rules. This gives the poem a dynamic and expressive quality that reflects the speaker’s emotions and thoughts. For instance, in line 9, there are five stressed syllables (“When thou at”) followed by three unstressed ones (“the ran-dom”), creating a sense of urgency and contrast.
Hopkins also uses imagery (the use of sensory details to create vivid pictures in the reader’s mind) to describe Felix’s physical appearance, personality and work. For example, he compares him to a potter’s clay that has been shaped by God’s hands; he contrasts his former robustness with his later frailty; he depicts him as powerful among his peers at the forge; he likens his horseshoes to bright weapons.
In summary, Felix Randal is a poignant poem that expresses both sadness and hope over the death of a young man who had a strong connection with the speaker. It showcases Hopkins’s original style and skill as a poet who combined religious faith with artistic creativity.
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