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"Felix Randal the farrier": Visiting the Sick.

Gerard Manley Hopkins wrote "Felix Randal" while stationed at the Jesuit church St. Francis Xavier in Liverpool, and he dated the sonnet "April 28 1880." Nine decades later, Alfred Thomas, S.J., announced in the Times Literary Supplement that Hopkins had entered in the church notice book the name of one "Felix Spencer," who died on 21 April 1880, and had read his name from the pulpit on Sunday, April 25. (1) Spencer was a blacksmith or farrier whose shop was in the slum area of the parish; as a priest, Hopkins had visited him to bring him the sacraments and consolation since his assignment to the parish on 30 December 1879. The poet changed the name to "Randal" to hide the man's true identity but perhaps had in mind "Lord Randal my son," the subject of a popular medieval ballad. Although the poem is a sonnet, it also serves as an elegy and dramatic monologue and ballad dealing with the subject of death. Hopkins pictures himself just at the moment of hearing the news of the farrier's death:

Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended, Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears. My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears, Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years, When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers, Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal! (PW, p. 165)

Much of the critical analysis has focused on Hopkins's priestly role, some critics finding it remote at one extreme and sentimental at the other, while others praise the poem for being warm, caring, and highly personal. In an early defense of the sonnet, W. H. Gardner suggests that "Felix Randal" should "strike home by reason of its purely human qualities"; he finds that the final "lines embody the grand apotheosis--the permanent spiritual value of physical beauty and useful work well done." (2) Furthermore, Gardner takes E. E. Phare to task for her negative reading, and he quotes George Orwell's assertion that it is "the best short poem in the language" (1: 232-234, 2:306). In contrast, W. A. M. Peters faults the poem for its "forced emotionality" and strained verbal effects. (3) Daniel Harris conjectures that the poem foreshadows disappointments in Hopkins's vocation: "the farrier has cheated the priest by dying in his absence." (4) For John Robinson, although he is critical of the sonnet, it is important among Hopkins's poems as "his sole attempt at writing of the personal experience of death." (5) Philip Endean, S.J., finds in it "the failure actually to achieve an idiom in which the priest could relate to Felix." (6) Paul Mariani, on the other hand, argues that the "success of the poem rests on our acceptance of the priest-speaker's sincerity and intelligence." (7) Michael Allsopp praises the text's singularity: '"Felix Randal' possesses a singular tone and mood that set it apart from any other sonnet in the poet's corpus. More than any other lyric this bears the stamp of the poet as priest." (8)

The purpose of this study is to read the poem in the light of the Christian tradition of visiting the sick. "Be not slow to visit the sick," the Old Testament advises, "for by these things thou shalt be confirmed in love" (Ecclesiastes 7: 39). (9) "This seeing the sick" embraces not just the poet's sacerdotal obligations but also the prescribed duty of all Christians to perform certain charitable works for others to secure their own salvation. In Matthew 25: 31-46, Jesus pictures the Last Judgment when the Son of Man, like a shepherd, comes to separate his sheep from the goats. Christ will say to the sheep on his right "Come" because they have performed corporal works of mercy on behalf of "the least of my brethren." Among these good works is, "I was sick and you visited me" (Matthew 25: 36). James also writes about the service to the sick: "Is any man sick among you? Let him bring in the priests of the church, and let them pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord. And the prayer of faith shall save the sick man: and the Lord shall raise him up: and if he be in sins, they shall be forgiven him" (5: 14-15).

Among early Christian writers, the poet Commodianus (ca. 250) in his Instructiones, a lengthy didactic poem in hexameters, has guidelines for those who are providing ministrations. "If thy brother should be weak--I speak of the poor man," he advises in section 71, "To Visit the Sick," "do not empty-handed visit such a one as he lies ill." (10) Rather, bring money and food to him in his need. In section 72, Commodianus addresses "the Poor in Health." What if a person visiting the sick is poor? Shall that person forego the visit? What is done is done for the Lord, Commodianus insists, who is to be served in the neighbor: "Therefore submit thyself, and give honor to Him that is powerful; for the soft speech--thou knowest the proverb--melts. One is conquered by service [officium], even although there be an ancient anger [ira vetusta]. If the tongue be silent, thou hast found nothing better. If there should not wholesomely be an art whereby life may be governed, either give aid or direction by the command of Him that is mighty" (pp. 217-218).

There are striking similarities between Commodianus's text and Hopkins's poem. "Officium," which can be translated as "service," is also "my duty"; "ira vetusta" is the ancient anger that separates humans from God and humans from each other, echoed by "Impatient, he cursed." The word "tongue" is repeated in the poem, and Proverb 15: 1, "A mild answer breaketh wrath," is equally applicable. The reason for the visit is the command of a powerful and mighty God. Commodianus in the following verses argues that Christians should not overdo grief in death, should keep funeral services simple, and should avoid drunkenness, all subjects Hopkins treated in his Liverpool sermons. In section 78, Commodianus addresses the "Pastors": "Still look after the poor man.... Consider when thou findest the sick, thou art also lending to the High One. In that thing the Lord has asked you to stand before Him approved" (p. 218). Felix in the poem is called "poor," a word that resonates multiply.

Hopkins was familiar with the sermons and scriptural commentaries of St. John Chrysostom and even translated his "Sermon on Eutropius" (SD, pp. 222-224). Chrysostom's Sermon 78, on the subject of Matthew 25: 30-46, comments on the text, "I was sick and you visited me," advising that God requires nothing out of the ordinary from believers but rewards them with himself. Chrysostom asks his auditors to consider "[t]he dignity of the one receiving, for it was God who was receiving by the poor; the surpassing nature of the honor, that He vouchsafed to condescend so far; His just claim for what they bestowed, for of His own was He receiving." (11) In the sonnet, the speaker suggests that Felix is acting "in God's eye what in God's eye he is--/ Christ" (PW, p. 141). In the anonymous "Incomplete Gospel of Matthew" from the Ancient Christian Commentary on Scriptures, homily 54 explicates Matthew's text: "He who visits the sick and those languishing with the disease of earthly vices, who heals them with the medicine of good doctrine, heals Christ in them. Even as Christ is healthy in souls that are healthy, he is ailing in souls that are ailing." (12) Again, for Christians, Christ is a living presence who is visited by an alter Christus, as in "Felix Randal"; sickness unto death, they believe, can lead to a spiritual cure of new life in Christ: "My tongue had taught thee comfort" with "the medicine of good doctrine."

Structural Analysis

The octave of "Felix Randal" begins with an abrupt question and proceeds as a single compound-complex sentence that concludes with a question mark. The first words, "O is he dead then?" immediately continue with "my duty all ended" as a statement of fact with an implication of a still-lingering question. Who is speaking? An unidentified first person, employing the possessive case "my," reveals his role as a visitor to the sick by describing the final illness of the farrier. The "Who" is a relative pronoun that refers back to the "my" of the first line. A deliberately underlying ambiguity, however, immediately arises. Is this rather an interrogative pronoun, as Elaine F. Marshall argues? She finds the speaker's question "unsettling, and [the speaker] challenges his reader to consider exactly 'who' witnessed Felix's suffering." (13) Her conjecture that Hopkins also has in mind a guardian angel appears far-fetched, however. Clearly the poet who has watched the decline of this strongly built, handsome young man, only thirty-one years old at the time of his death, acts as the observer, calling as little attention to himself as possible in order to focus on the physical and mental ordeal of a fellow human being. "Who," then, is a relative pronoun referring to the first person on whose presence and witness the whole scene depends.

The role of the speaker, however, is more than that of an observer. The term "duty" supposes the obligations of a caregiver, a helper, a person with official tasks to carry out. Indeed, as I have suggested, the poet-priest believes that all Christians bear a duty to visit the sick as they would visit Christ. As Hopkins makes clear in the first sermon he preached in January at St. Francis Xavier, by "duty" he means love: "Duty is love.... There is nothing higher than duty in creatures or in God: God the Son's love for God the Father is duty" (SD, p. 53, italics in original). The act of visiting and of administrating aid to the sick is, according to Hopkins, a participation in God's own love, for the one giving and the one receiving are taking part in a divine activity whereby love of God is love of neighbor. "Amen I say to you," Matthew advises, "as long as you did it to one of these my least brethren, you did it to me" (25: 40). Hopkins's speaker, far from expressing relief that his duty has ended, gives full attention to Felix's physical condition and suffering. There is a kind of reciprocity between their lives: for as the priest now ministers to the sick human spirit, so the farrier as a veterinarian once treated animal ills.

The "mould of man," the form in which Felix had been cast and shaped, had been "Pining, pining" in the sense that his bodily deterioration had affected an emotional loss as well. Then his mind started to go, "till time when reason rambled in it," "it" referring to the "mould" or constitution of his body. One of the final stages of many deadly diseases is dementia, when the mind becomes delusional and confused. Hopkins accurately describes each phase of a typical consumptive patient, generalizing effectively, while at the same moment he applies each detail to this particular, once hardy and healthy blacksmith whom he met in the last months of the man's two-year bout with the illness, befriended and truly became "confirmed in love," as Ecclesiastes 7: 39 says of those who visit the sick.

In a letter to Richard Watson Dixon dated 14-15 June 1878, Hopkins praises Robert Bridges's poetry for its Miltonic "sequence of phrase" in the strict form and rhythm of his sonnets. The same sequence of phrase marks the progress of "Felix Randal" as it follows the priest's recollection of the farrier's decline. Hopkins also describes in his letter "the sequence of feeling" that orders, supports, and provides an organic unity to the poetry: "By sequence [begin strikethrough] I [end strikethrough] of feeling I mean a dramatic quality by which what goes before seems to necessitate and beget what comes after, at least after you have heard it it does--your ^own^ poems illustrate it" (Corres., 1: 306). Certainly Hopkins's own sonnet illustrates the sequence of feeling as well as it develops the dramatic account not only of a man's suffering and premature death but also of his spiritual growth and the strengthening bond of love between the farrier and his visitor.

"Fatal Four Disorders"

The next phrase in the poem--"and some / Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?"--has inspired a variety of interpretations. The death certificate for Felix Spencer listed "phthisis pulmononis" as the cause of death. Consumption, or tuberculosis, a common disease in Victorian England, involved a slow, painful wasting away of the sufferer, who grew thin and feeble. Norman MacKenzie believes that Hopkins intended to refer to the "medical complications or cross-infections, each deadly in itself, which made its home there" in Felix's body (PW, p. 137). Alfred Thomas identifies the "four disorders" as the four bodily humors (blood, phlegm, black bile, and yellow bile), which are related to the presence of the four elements (air, water, earth, and fire) in each person and result in the four temperaments: sanguine, phlegmatic, melancholic, and choleric (p. 332). According to classical and medieval lore, illness is caused by an imbalance of the four, resulting in disorder of the whole. Joseph Eble offers an additional insight into the passage: "The peculiarly Greek flavor of 'fatal four disorders,' which I take to mean the fatal disorders of earth, water, fire, and air may have been prompted by the image, 'reason rambled,' with associative link to Plato's mythic rider, Reason, holding the reins of Concord and Discord." (14) Peter Whiteford, on the other hand, identifies the disorders with sin, quoting Hopkins's observation, "We are to hate disorder because it is the soil of sin" (SD, p. 135). Whiteford goes on to discuss the tradition of "the four wounds of sin" that, for Christians, are the result of Adam and Eve's original transgression. In the Summa Theologica (la. Ilae. 85, 3), Thomas Aquinas states that the wounds are "weakness, ignorance, malice and concupiscence." (15) By original sin, according to Aquinas, reason is made ignorant, the will grows malicious, the irascible appetite is weakened, and the concupiscible appetite yields to concupiscence. For Hopkins, these disorders are "fleshed" or embedded in the body and "all contended." As a further gloss, Whiteford suggests that "the contention which takes place is not a contention among the four disorders, but a contention between each of the soul's powers and its respective right order" (p. 444).

Elaine Marshall offers yet another possible reading. Citing Hopkins's Bedford Leigh sermon on 30 November 1879, she emphasizes the social problems prevailing in the Lancashire parish. Hopkins had warned his auditors, "Now more than ever is there riotous company, drunkenness, lewdness, strife, brawling, even bloodshed" (SD, p. 42). His indictment of the "want and slovenly order" mirrors the environment in which Felix Randal worked and lived, "fleshed there, all contended." Marshall wonders whether "in his sonnet, Hopkins may have been questioning if Felix ever had means to deal with the culmination of disorders that threatened his well-being" (p. 328). She finds hope in a Liverpool sermon of 25 October 1880, in which Hopkins admits that "we contend with cold, want, weakness, hunger, disease, death, and often we fight a losing battle, not a triumphant one" (SD, p. 90). "But there is good in it," Hopkins concludes; "for if we were not forced from time to time to feel our need for God and our dependence on him, we should most of us cease to pray and to thank him" (SD, p. 90). The priest identifies himself with the plight of his parishioners, just as he has done with Felix in his sonnet.

Of these possible readings, that of the four humors best fits in with the context of the poem. The first stanza focuses on the farrier's death and then his dying; the details are physical, not moral. In a long sentence with two main and two subordinate clauses, the speaker draws out details of the disordered imbalance of the contrary elements that result in illness and death: the four humors "fleshed there, all contended." Earth is in the "mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome"; air in "Pining, pining" and "cursed at first"; water in "tears"; and finally, fire in the "bright and battering sandal." Even Felix Randal's temperament may be identified as sanguine, short-tempered, "impatient," and yet "boisterous." Hopkins makes much of the storming four elements in "The Wreck of the Deutschland"; in "Felix Randal," he moves from the macrocosm to the microcosm of a man and the forge where earth, air, water, and fire play their part and have their place.

Last Sacraments

The second quatrain of the octave opens with an abrupt, simple sentence that sums up in three words what the first stanza has taken pains to describe. "Sickness broke him" restates the brutal fact with blunt force. Now the reader is told the moral side of the story: "Impatient, he cursed at first" indicates that the initial meeting of priest and patient four months earlier was not friendly and that God was being blamed for the premature deadly disease. Another leap in time then occurs: "but mended / Being anointed and all." The sacrament then known as "Extreme Unction" was only administered when a person was close to death, so the soul's amendment and reconciliation must have been recent. Anointing the five senses was also associated with bodily recovery at times. As Hopkins informed Robert Bridges on 26 January 1881, "I have just witnessed a case of remarkable and remarkably rapid recovery from typhus in a little lad whom I [begin strikethrough]have attended[end strikethrough] ^anointed^. It was no doubt due to the sacrament. His doctor^, who gave him up,^ brought another one today to see the [begin strikethrough]case[end strikethrough] phenomenon" (Corres., 1: 428). A miraculous cure was not granted to the blacksmith, but the healing of his soul is what counted most.

As in the first stanza, the poet develops his thought through a pair of subordinate clauses. He first introduces a further flashback in time: "though a heavenlier heart began some / Months earlier." The pace is conversational and confiding, with emphasis falling on one of Hopkins's favorite words, "heart." The choice of the comparative adjective "heavenlier" is pivotal in the poem because it prepares for the action that follows, that of sacramental relief, and for the Christian destiny that awaited Felix (and that hopefully he has already reached). The temporal clause introduced by "since" is also causal in meaning: "since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom / Tendered to him." The metaphors are telling: "reprieve" involves release from punishment and "ransom" the payment for the freedom of a prisoner; both can be considered corporal works of mercy. Confession is included in this visit to the sick. The priest has brought him the Roman Catholic Eucharistic sacrament (of the body of Christ), which has redeemed him in "payment" for his sins. The communion for those in danger of death is called viaticum. In Hopkins's notes on the Spiritual Exercises, he comments on the Last Sacraments and states, "viaticum means money, provision, for a journey, that is / for a journey to the other world" (SD, p. 248). Although he does not use the word viaticum, Commodianus, as I have demonstrated, urged those who are visiting the sick to give money and provisions for the poor. "Tendered" also echoes the financial metaphor as well as the gesture of kindness.

The stanza concludes with a forceful summary in the form of a prayer--traditional and expressed in the dialect of the Lancastrian common folk: "Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!" The North Country phrase "all road" means "all ways" or "every way" and issues a general absolution for all the sins the blacksmith may have committed. The verb "offended" recalls the "Act of Contrition" that a Catholic makes at confession: "Oh my God, I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee." In Hopkins's Bedford Leigh sermon for 14 December 1879, he employs the dialectic "road" in the context of the need for confession: "There is a crowd of you, brethren, and amidst of that crowd some must be in this road--I mean out of your duty, out of God's grace, and in mortal sin" (SD, p. 47). As Felix's confessor, Hopkins could believe that a "heavenlier heart" had developed through the priest's presence and God's grace in the sacraments.

Hopkins rounds out the octave with one of his favorite phonetic soundings of Alpha and Omega ("Ah" and "O") to express his prayer to Christ as beginning and end, instress and inscape of his being. (16) The exclamation "O" that opens the poem capitulates the speaker's surprise, shock, sorrow, and wonder on hearing the news of his parishioner's death. It is the moment of inscaping death, its finality and meaning, the Omega-point of living. Then, in the lines that follow, after recalling the months of Felix battling consumption and receiving the sacraments, the poet sounds a note of resignation and petition for eternal rest, a heartfelt, instressed "Ah" with a meaningful "well," that all shall be well in heavenly health and happiness after the long ordeal of sickness. "Ah" and "O" have their say, as they always do in Hopkins's poetry, in an unassuming yet assertive way. Even "all road" seals and holds the kernel of its sounding.

"This Seeing the Sick"

The sestet's opening line, "This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears," originally read, "This often seeing the sick endears them, me too it endears" (PW, p. 420n9). The poet has been very sparing in his use of the first-person singular in the octave. After introducing the key word "my" in the first line, he only once again employs the nominative "I" in line 7. Felix is the center of the poet's and reader's attention; his sickness, conversion, and reception of the sacraments tell his moving story. By switching to the first-person plural "us, us" and making the activity "seeing the sick" rather than simply that of the priest administering the last rites, Hopkins recalls the Last Judgment pictured in Matthew 25: 31-46, "when all nations shall be gathered together before him." Hopkins believed that it is God himself whom the judged are meeting, whether they recognized him or not in their lifetime. By eliminating the awkward "me too," the poet generalizes his experience and places it no longer in the past tense but in the present. The repeated verb "endears" not only pinpoints the essence of divine and human love in the meeting but also hints at it as the "dear" price that has been paid by what Hopkins termed Christ's "Great Sacrifice" on the cross.

Suddenly in the next line, the reader finds that the scene has turned back to the past, and an emphatic first-person singular has returned: "My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears." No longer does the farrier appear as a third-person singular but as a second-person singular, "thee" and "thy." The archaic "thou" was still in use among the Lancastrian working class as a term of affection. (17) Felix is being addressed directly in an intimate emotional encounter. As for Commodianus, the tongue of the visitor has a role to play by offering encouragement and consolation. Words of tenderness mix with the priestly instructions on preparing for death, a major theme for Hopkins in his sermons and spiritual commentaries. As is clear from his Liverpool sermon on the Paraclete, (18) the word "comfort" is multilayered: consolation, certainly, but more importantly, encouragement, support, and exhortation (SD, p. 97). Not just words, however, are needed--touch too is involved in anointing the body and in brushing away the tears. And the act is reciprocal: "Thy tears that touched my heart." The noun "touch" is repeated in the verb "touched" as the exterior act becomes an interior response; the giver is now the receiver as the bond of love between the two men is sealed, "confirmed in love." (19) Hopkins's "my heart" answers to the "heavenlier heart" of the penitent in a heart-to-heart exchange: cor ad cor loquitur in John Henry Newman's motto.

At this moment in the text, there is no more to say, only to repeat the name that opens the sonnet, now filled with the speaker's and the reader's new knowledge and affection: "child, Felix, poor Felix Randal." The farrier is now a child of his God the Father, but the priest has also become a spiritual father. Felix is the Latin word for "happy," and the man is indeed blessed and joyous, for what has happened to him is eternal happiness. (20) The adjective "poor" was substituted for an earlier "my," again recalling the parable of the Last Judgment and Jesus's own identification with the poor. Hopkins said of Christ, "Poor was his station, laborious his life, bitter his ending: through poverty, through labour, through crucifixion his majesty of nature more shines" (SD, p. 37). Felix Spencer belonged to the working-class poor; he was buried in a pauper's grave, a public plot paid for by the parish (Marshall, p. 335).

Two weeks after writing the sonnet, Hopkins confessed to his friend Richard Dixon, "The parish work of Liverpool is very wearying to mind and body and leaves me nothing but odds and ends of time. There is merit in it but little Muse, and indeed 26 lines is the whole I have writ[ten] in more than half a year, since I left Oxford" (Corres., 1: 394). Despite his despondency, a week later Hopkins admitted to his former classmate Alexander Mowbray Baillie that he preferred the people of Lancaster to those of Oxford: "Now these Lancashire people of low degree or not of high ^degree^ are those who most have seemed to me to welcome me and make much of me" (Corres., 1:395). Certainly, he must have felt welcome in the company of Felix Spencer even as he was "brought face to face with the deepest poverty and misery" in the district (Corres., 1: 396). Fourteen of the twenty-six lines he had written were a gift from his muse, happily inspired by Felix.

A Final Flashback

A final surprise awaits the reader in the last tercet, which continues to address Felix in an "I/thou" relationship. One is propelled back in time with a rude awakening: "How far from then all forethought of, all thy more boisterous years." The "then" flashes back to a healthy, happy, hardy, and muscular young man in the blacksmith's shop working "at the random grim forge," a fiery furnace with its scattered grimy tools, pincers, hammers, and nails. Like a giant of a man, he is "powerful amidst peers," for smiths often labored in pairs and there were a number of shops in the parish. The final line offers an image that is remarkable for its beauty and mystery as the reader imagines the farrier in the act of shooing a horse, "a great drayhorse," familiar in the streets of Liverpool for its majestic size and nobility, used to carry heavy brewery loads and also employed in funerals. Spencer's body would have been led by such a horse to his grave site. "Thou... I Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal." The verb "fettle" accurately describes the action of affixing or fastening the horseshoe, a shiny, steel, semicircular loop, to the hoof. (21)

The image of the horseshoe has elicited much comment. As I have suggested before, the image of the horse's sandal is the Christian symbol of Christ Omega, the end of Revelations, and the coming Lord (Cotter, Inscape, p. 211). Felix was doing God's work in his daily life, as Hopkins observed in a sermon: "Smiting on an anvil, sawing a beam, whitewashing a wall, driving horses, sweeping, scouring, everything gives God some glory if being in his grace you do it as your duty" (SD, p. 240). The horseshoe is also seen as a sign of good luck, a tradition that appears to have developed from the legend of St. Dunstan (909-988 CE), a popular English saint who was an archbishop of Canterbury. Dunstan was patron of blacksmiths because he had been a metalworker. The devil is said to have come to him to have a horse shoed, but Dunstan tricked him into having his own hoof nailed. To hang a horseshoe open downward is said to drive the devil away and bring good luck; others believe that the shoe should be turned upward toward heaven. (22) Either way, in popular Lancashire folklore, the horseshoe represented an infallible charm to ward off evil.

In scripture, the blacksmith is a subject of praise in a famous passage on arts and crafts in Ecclesiastes 38: 29-31: "So doth the smith sitting by the anvil and considering the iron work. The vapour of the fire wasteth his flesh, and he fighteth with the heat of the furnace. The noise of the hammer is always in his ears, and his eye is upon the pattern of the vessel he maketh. He setteth his mind to finish his work, and his watching to polish them to perfection." What Hopkins "would have recognized in such a passage," Thomas suggests, is "the inscape of a smith at work, pride in skill which praises God, a workman's part in the commonweal" (p. 331). The reader's eyes are also on "the pattern" that the blacksmith is firing, hammering, and polishing, the shining sandal. (23)

Hephaestus is the blacksmith god in ancient Greek culture (Vulcan, in Roman), most famous for fashioning the shield of Achilles in book 18 of The Iliad. Chapman translates Homer's Hephaestus with his bellows fanning the flames, "and in the stocke he plac't / A mightie anvile; his right hand a weightie hammer held, / His left his tongs" (11. 428-430). The dynamic figure carried over into the Christian era so that Satan is pictured as fashioning chains in Hell. In "The Tyger," William Blake exclaims, "What the hammer? what the chain, / In what furnace was thy brain? / What the anvil?" (24) The imagery is that of an inferno or devil's workshop. How could the God who made the Lamb have forged the Tiger? For Hopkins, Christ as God is the smith who "hews mountain and continent / Earth, all, out" in his sonnet on St. Alphonsus Rodriguez (PW, p. 201) and who "Swings the stroke dealt" in stanza 6 of "The Wreck of the Deutschland" (PW, p. 120). In stanza 10 of "Deutschland," the speaker prays that Christ will shape human beings in his image: "With an anvil-ding / And with fire in him forge thy will" (PW, p. 121). As St. Paul states in Colossians 2: 14-15, "He [Ipse] is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn of every creature. For in him were created all things in the heavens and on the earth." (25) For Hopkins, Christ is the pattern in whom "all" are fashioned, particularly human beings: "God created man in his image. In the image of God he created him. Male and female he created them" (Genesis 1: 27). As Hopkins reflects in his spiritual notes, "Man himself was created for Christ as Christ's created nature for God.... And in this way Christ is the firstborn among creatures" (SD, p. 196). Christ is the first and last and only begotten because all are created in and by him: to be Christ or, as Hopkins writes, an "after-Christ," wherever they are and whatever they do.

Whatever the meaning of this brilliant image of the horseshoe, whether held up glowing in the fire or sparking the stones as the horse gallops off, its inscape is that of its forger-farrier, with Christ in his risen glory: "Come, ye blessed of my Father, possess you the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world" (Matthew 25: 34). Priest and parishioner share in the reward, for in each other they encountered their God. The reader's last view of the farrier is a heavenly one, transfigured at the forge, in glory. With "the matchless beauty of Christ's body in the heavenly light," which Hopkins describes in his Bedford Leigh sermon "On Our Lord Jesus Christ" (SD, p. 36), Felix is now one. The fleeting moment of young, boisterous life depicted in "The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo" is made lasting and immortal, "fastened with the tenderest truth / To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an everlastingness of, O it is an all youth!" (PW, p. 170). The apotheosis is complete here and now and "yonder."


(1) Alfred Thomas, S.J., "Hopkins's 'Felix Randal': The Man and the Poem," Times Literary Supplement, 19 March 1971, 331-332.

(2) W. H. Gardner, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889): A Study of Poetic Idiosyncrasy in Relation to Poetical Tradition, 2 vols., 2nd ed. (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1966), 1: 234, 233n3.

(3) W. A. M. Peters, S.J., Gerard Manley Hopkins: A Critical Essay towards the Understanding of His Poetry (Oxford: Oxford Univ. Press, 1948), p. 44.

(4) Daniel Harris, Inspirations Unbidden: The "Terrible" Sonnets of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Berkeley: Univ. of California Press, 1982), p. 141.

(5) John Robinson, In Extremity: A Study of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Cambridge: Cambridge Univ. Press, 1978), p. 122.

(6) Philip Endean, S.J., "The Spirituality of Gerard Manley Hopkins," Hopkins Quarterly 8, no. 3 (1981): 125.

(7) Paul Mariani, A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Ithaca, N.Y.: Cornell Univ. Press, 1970), p. 168.

(8) Michael Allsopp, '"Felix Randal' and the Creative Spirit: A Centenary Study," Hopkins Quarterly 7, no. 3 (1980): 110.

(9) Biblical quotations are from the Holy Bible, Douay Rheims version (Baltimore: John Murphy, 1899).

(10) Commodianus, Instructiones, in The Ante-Nicene Fathers, vol. 4, trans. Robert Ernest Wallis (Peabody Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), p. 217. For tbe Latin text, see J. P. Migne, Patrologiae Cursus Completus: Series Latina, vol. 4 (Paris: J. P. Migne, 1858), pp. 253-254. I have found no references to Commodianus in Hopkins's writings. The passage reflects a tradition rather than a source for Hopkins's sonnet.

(11) Chrysostom's homilies on Matthew's gospel are in The Post-Nicene Fathers, vol. 10, trans. George Prevost, rev. M. B. Riddle (Peabody, Mass.: Hendrickson, 1994), p. 475.

(12) "Incomplete Gospel of Matthew," Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, ed. Manlio Simonetti (Westmont, 111.: InterVarsity, 2012), New Testament lb: 233.

(13) Elaine F. Marshall, "Hopkins's Sermons and 'Felix Randal': Responses to Hardship in His Urban Parishes," Religion and the Arts 19 (2015): 324.

(14) Joseph Eble, "Levels of Awareness: A Reading of Hopkins's 'Felix Randal,'" VP 13, no. 2 (1975): 134.

(15) Peter Whiteford, "What Were Felix Randal's 'Fatal Four Disorders'?," Review of English Studies, n.s. 56, no. 225 (2005): 443.

(16) See James Finn Cotter, Inscape: The Christology and Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (Pittsburgh: Univ. of Pittsburgh Press, 1972), pp. 282-290; and Cotter, "Sounding Alpha and Omega in Dante, Milton, and Hopkins," in Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889): New Essays on His Life, Writing, and Place in English Literature, ed. Michael E. Allsopp and Michael W. Sundermeier (Lewiston, N.Y.: Edwin Mellen, 1989), pp. 164-172.

(17) Marshall cites Alan Crosby's The Lancashire Dictionary of Dialect, Tradition, and Folklore on the usage of "Thou" ("Hopkins's Sermons," p. 333).

(18) Literally, Greek for "helper" or "comforter"; for Christians, the third "person" in the Trinity, the Holy Spirit.

(19) Joseph Eble notes the two-way syntax of "touch / tears" and "tears / touched" that suggests the two-way relationship of the two men. He also finds "an almost perfect palindrome" in line 9: "This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears." Eble, "Levels of Awareness," p. 132.

(20) Whiteford also links the name to the felix culpa of original sin that brought the redeemer, expressed in the Exultet, the hymn sung at the Easter Vigil. Whiteford, "What Were Felix Randal's 'Fatal Four Disorders'?," p. 441

(21) Mary Hewitt argues that the "sandal" is a patten and not a heavy horseshoe. Hewitt, "Felix Randal's 'Battering Sandal': What Did It Look Like?," Hopkins Quarterly 36, no. 3 (2009): 115-118. Yet it is still a circle of steel that opens up and is used to shoe the back hooves of the dray horse. In MacKenzie's note on "sandal" in PW, he cites sources to show that "sandal" is "not limited to light footwear" (p. 420nl4).

(22) See "The True Legend of St. Dunstan and the Devil," a long poem by Edward G. Flight and illustrated by George Cruikshank, published in 1871, which is available from Project Gutenberg.

(23) Marylou Motto finds the figure of Pegasus, the winged horse of the Greeks, in the sonnet: "The glimmer of flight is there, the mythological flying steed in the 'bright and battering sandal,' and that image gleaned from the far past now directs and determines the future." Motto, "Mined with a Motion": The Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (New Brunswick, N.J.: Rutgers Univ. Press, 1984), p. 126.

(24) William Blake, Songs of Innocence and of Experience, ed. Geoffrey Keene (New York: Orion, 1967), pl. 42.

(25) The verses (15-20) form a single relative clause that are a hymn in two parts describing the Son of God as firstborn of creation and firstborn from the dead.
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Title Annotation:poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Author:Cotter, James Finn
Publication:Victorian Poetry
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Jun 22, 2018
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