Gerard Manley Hopkins - Felix Randal
Poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins:
Hopkins was born in 1844 to a middle class family. He was converted to Roman Catholicism under the influence of Great Cardinal Newman. Later on he became a Professor of Classics at the University College, Dublin. He was one of the greatest of the English poets. The poetry of Hopkins might be called 'passionate science'. Like other poets and painters of his era this poet and priest delighted in the observation of nature. His principal ancestors are the religious metaphysical poets of the 17 th century, particularly George Herbert whom Hopkins much admitted. Hopkins can scarcely be considered a Victorian as he was ignored in his time. His talent was so highly original that one cannot characterize it as Victorian; in fact his use of language is modernistic. In most of his poems it is clearly evident a sensory vividness and keenness in intelligence. Furthermore most of Hopkins’ poems are highly individualistic poetry and particular to himself and he is a unique in much of his subject matter. he has often been praise for his closeness to the speaking voice, for his ability to convey the rhymes and intonations of English. He has lengthen the line to a basic six feet instead of five, to give himself more room for sweeping alliterative tone which he himself called as 'sprung rhythm.'
“Felix Randal” is a particular individualistic poem written by Hopkins and it highly represents the Victorian poetry in its Romanticism in theme, feelings and tone. At the same time the poem can be categorized as a religious poem too. Moreover there can be seen some effects of Pre-Raphaelitism which means an attempt to reveal truths through nature.
Hopkins’ sonnet Felix Randal reflects on long illness and death of a farrier called Felix Randal. The poet notices the ‘big-boned and hardy-handsome’ man reduced and declined ‘some fatal four disorder.’ In the process of the aggravating illness, the man loss the sense and power to his reason. Next the poet emphasizes the idea of his healing process. Being a priest poet the poet uses his spiritual power to heal the man. It is quiet paradoxical that physically strong men find it difficult to accept death. We see the extreme suffering of Felix. Furthermore the poet brings out the mutual bond between the healer (poet) and the healed (Felix). There is a bond of compassion and trust. Both exchanged their sympathy, empathy and kindness. Hopkins and Randal share similar feelings towards life. Hopkins enjoys by getting something out of life by giving his affection to other people through his priesthood. This mutuality is emphasized by the word “us”, which, obviously, evokes a certain bonding between the two people.
‘My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;’
Likewise Randal's tears also touched the priest's heart, so he is left with a sense of loss and mourning when the man dies. Their common humanity supported each with compassion. This common humanity was the basis of their divinity/ religion. Even though he was an extremely physically strong man he had to face the law of nature. In other words sickness can go beyond the physical power or the strength of men. Like all flesh Felix’s body broke under the law of nature (God). The vocabulary, which Hopkins uses in this quatrain, brings out the harshness and the boisterousness/ disorderliness of Felix Randal. Obviously a person needs to be strong and big-boned in order to be able to put horseshoes on horses. And Hopkins tried to make the reader aware that no matter how strong a person is; eventually that person will die. Again, the “mould of man” concept is apparent. Randall accepts his death through reprieve. Nature had given him a life extension for several months and now it was time for him to die. Felix became reconciled to his fate and achieved spiritual peace as a result of ministration of the poet- priest. “though a heavenlier heart began some Months earlier” this experience was mutually ennobling both farrier and the priest. Finally Felix became the poet priest’s spiritual child. But the process to understand and get agree with the law of nature was painful for both.
Basically the poem deals with the theme of physical strength as a deterrent a spiritual strength and life and death. Furthermore we see the priest as a spiritual healer and also the lasting bond of the healer and the healed.