“As Kingfishers Catch Fire” conveys Gerard Manley Hopkins’s sacramental vision that each creature and even each object in the world constantly announces its individuality, and that in so doing, in its own active and perceptible way it proclaims God’s grace. As a young man preparing for a career in art, Hopkins had been a close and penetrating observer of his surroundings. After his conversion to Roman Catholicism, this interest in the nature of things took the more spiritual cast that is reflected in this poem.
The poem is a Petrarchan sonnet in which the octave is devoted to the physical world, and the sestet to humanity. The poem begins by noting the play of light on kingfishers (a type of bright-colored bird) and dragonflies and continues with a series of aural images: the sound of a stone striking off the walls of a well, the sound of a plucked string (Hopkins uses the dialectal verb “tucked” rather than “plucked”), the sound of a large bell hung from a bow (as church bells are). In the second half of the octave, Hopkins explains the significance of these images. Ordinary though they are, each of these creatures and each of these objects makes itself, its particular character, known by its tangible, perceptible action. If attended to, the most mundane things are fraught with meaning.
Hopkins begins the sestet by boldly asserting that human beings also express their essential nature in what they do, although this nature is...
(The entire section is 423 words.)