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29 March 2010

Felix Randal

That last entry tempted me to look up the text of Hopkins' poem, and in doing so, I found one of the sites where essays are for sale, presumably to school students. Here's the sample of the essay offered:
Poem Analysis: Felix Randall By Gerald Maneley Hopkins [...] This poem written by Hopkins, in 1880, is a religious sonnet addressed to the dead Felix Randall, the farrier. It is a sonnet, meaning that it contains 14 lines, divided up into two quatrains and a sestet, which in turn is divided up in two tercets. This way of writing in fact keeps Randall from expressing himself completely because he is following a fixed rhyme scheme, but nonetheless he has written a powerful poem with an extensive use of vocabulary. The story that is told in the sonnet is divided up into two different perspectives: the physical state, and the mental or spiritual state. The fist quatrain is told in a physical point of view and is an introduction to Felix Randall who is horse farrier. This being mentioned immediately brings to mind that he must be a strong man, which in turn creates the [and there the extract ends].
It's more than a bit shit, isn't it? I love the suggestion it's the verse form that keeps Randal[l] from expressing himself completely, rather than the fact that he's dead. And of course "an extensive use of vocabulary" is so important. In fact, I'd suggest that the use of vocabulary should be compulsory in language, never mind poetry.

Anyway, here's the poem (from Bartleby):


FELIX RANDAL the farrier, O he is 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!
 

Cunningham talked about Greg Woods' reference to Randal's beautiful sweat, and as he said, there's no mention of sweat here at all. Was Woods vaguely remembering the word "sweet"?

Of course, I don't know anything about Woods' analysis except what Cunningham cunningly quotes. But it seems clear to me that Hopkins is open about the physicality of Randal, and accepts the ambiguity of the religious and the personal relationship between the priest and the farrier. There's so much more in this poem to be interested in: in the lexicon the apparent bathos of the final word "sandal", the "random grim forge", the "mould of man"; the use of colloquialisms like "and all", "all road ever"; that chiming repetition of "all", which in certain accents would rhyme with "Randal" and "sandal"; the on/off alliteration. And above all, that phrase "How far from then forethought of": I'm still not sure what that means, but I feel the sense of it.

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