That Nature Is a Heraclitean Fire and of the Comfort of the Resurrection Analysis

Gerard Manley Hopkins

The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire and of the comfort of the Resurrection” is a sonnet in accentual hexameter with three codas of two and a half lines plus one final half-line. The cumbersome title names the first and last of the three topics the sonnet treats; the grammatical structure of the title—a noun clause plus a prepositional phrase—suggests the lack of parallelism of the two topics named. The clause “That Nature is a Heraclitean Fire” refers to a vision of nature through the eyes of the fifth century b.c.e. Greek cosmological philosopher Heraclitus, for whom process was the fundamental fact of the cosmos and fire was the fundamental symbol or element; this topic occupies the first nine lines. The phrase “of the comfort of the Resurrection” refers to an article of Christian faith, the reunion after death of Christ’s physical body and human soul comprehended as a model for the eventual resurrection of each believer; this topic occupies the final lines, from lines 16 to 24. The unnamed topic is the individual human’s death.

The first section bulges beyond the Petrarchan or Italian octave (the abba, abba rhyme scheme of the first eight lines) into the ninth line. It presents a picture of the summer cycle of rainstorms and drying out of the landscape (the poem was written in Ireland on a late July day in 1888). The first four lines might present the thunderstorm itself—the different...

(The entire section is 544 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The poem exemplifies Hopkins’s experimentation with sonnet form; John Milton’s “On the New Forcers of Conscience” provided a model for the codas. Heraclitus said that the basic world element, fire, moved out from the sun and condensed successively into air and water; then half the water thickened into earth and half rarefied into smoke, fiery stormclouds, waterspouts, and souls. The half that had become earth thinned into sea and air, and everything ultimately returned to the sun. The world was thus a steady-state cosmos in which “the way up and the way down are one and the same.”

The key images in lines 1-9 are therefore those that combine two of the four elements—“bright wind” (fire and air), clouds (air and water), and “oozedough, crust, dust” (water, in lessening quantities, mixed with earth). Man finally appears only to realize that the Heraclitean bonfire is his “bone” fire, his funeral pyre. The sonnet’s octave-plus-one-line, which describes a world of species, employs a large number of plural and collective nouns.

The word “But” (line 10) is the volta (Italian for “turn”) that moves the poem from the world of species to the world of individual humans, where “he”—man in the sense of a man, not the species man—becomes central. Heraclitus tags along for a few more lines, for he was among the first people to become even slightly aware of the individual as such, separated from the...

(The entire section is 470 words.)