Gerard Manley Hopkins

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What is the summary and analysis of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "No worst, there is none?"

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One of the so-called "terrible" sonnets, "No Worst, There is None" represents the outpouring of a tortured mind steeped in the very blackest of depressions. Indeed, such are the depths of Hopkins' despair that he cannot even say that he has reached rock bottom. He's unable to say to himself that it can't get much worse than this. That's what he means by "No worst, there is none."

To make matters worse, Hopkins sees no imminent prospect of deliverance from his present condition. Despite his being a devout Catholic—a Jesuit priest, no less—he wonders out loud why Mary, the mother of Jesus, hasn't come to him in this hour of need and given him comfort.

In the second quatrain, Hopkins paints a suitably bleak picture of a mind being constantly hammered on the anvil of universal sorrow, causing him to wince in pain:

Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing—

The emotional pain of depression will eventually pass, but it will take a very long time—and in any case, it is sure to return at some point in the future.

In the sestet, the final six lines of the poem, Hopkins moves away from talking about himself to consider the general state of a mind wracked by depression. A depressed mind has vast mountains from which it is possible to plunge into deep, dark pits of sorrow that no man has ever truly fathomed. (We can see here a recapitulation of the opening theme: that there is potentially no bottom to the depths of depression.)

Those fortunate enough never to have experienced depression hold such a condition "cheap," but for Hopkins and countless others like him, it is impossible to deal with this "steep or deep." All they can do is comfort themselves with the thought that each day will end in sleep and that life will one day end in death.

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Gerard Manley Hopkins was a man who gave his life to God, becoming a Catholic and then a Jesuit priest. However, he struggled between his dedication to his faith and his desire to be a poet. He could not reconcile the two. Battling depression that might well be considered a serious mental illness today (e.g., bipolar disorder), Hopkins did his best to serve the church. He ended up in Ireland, feeling lonely and desolate. The poems he wrote at this time are referred to as the "terrible sonnets" because of the terrible sense of melancholy that overtook his life and was reflected in his writing.

"No worst, there is none" is a poem by Hopkins that reflects the speaker's abject misery. Hopkins wrote that there was nothing worse than what he was feeling. His grief seemed to go beyond grief, and he called for comfort and relief—we can assume the first from God, and the second from the Virgin Mary:

Comforter, where, where is your comforting?

Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?

We can also infer that his prayers are not answered. His pain "heaves" within him, for long periods of time; he suffers the sorrows of the world. For a short time, he seems to feel some relief...

...Then lull, then leave off.

However, it is short-lived. Fury is personified: it "shrieks" that no one may linger. My sense is that life demands continuing pain (so Hopkins seems to believe) until death. ("Let me be fell...")

Whatever Hopkins has felt physically or spiritually, he is then tormented psychologically:

O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall

Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed.

The torments of the mind seem the most difficult to bear—he is surrounded by fear, the kind that would accompany one on a tall cliff, with a sheer rock face, never before navigated by man. One who has never experienced this can have no sense of how horrific the experience is, thinking it "cheap." But Hopkins knows differently:

Hold them cheap

May who ne'er hung there.

Hopkins then recognizes the short span of endurance one has to deal with such fear. One may find some comfort under a shelf in the rock ("under a comfort serves"), but everything comes to an end. Days die when one goes to sleep. And death ends all life.

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