Gerard Manley Hopkins- The Victorian poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) got himself established in the realm of literature posthumously. His fame lies as an English poet, a Catholic and a Jesuit priest. The innovative writer was known for his experimentation with verse and invention of sprung rhythm. Through manipulation of prosody and use of imagery, Hopkins created a world of nature and religion in his poetry.
Setting of Felix Randal-
Felix Randal was published in the year 1918 though it was completed in the year 1880. The poet while a curate in a slum parish in Liverpool had visited a blacksmith named Felix Spencer, who later died of pulmonary tuberculosis. Father Gerard Manley Hopkins had visited the thirty-one-year-old often and even administered the last sacraments as well as officiated at the funeral. This poem is an outcome of the above-mentioned relationship.
Poetic Devices in Felix Randal-
Metaphor: “mould”- refers to earth, death and burial. The shape of the body and the vulnerabilities it is subjected to due to diseases.
“disorders, fleshed”- symbols of the sinful, mortal, fleshly, earthly aspect of human beings.
“Felix Randal the farrier, O is he 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!”
Felix Randal has a sentence structure that follows the Petrarchan rhyme scheme (also known as an Italian sonnet) of abba abba ccd ccd, with an accentual hexameter rhythm. Hopkins experimented with the English sonnet to bring it closer to the Italian one. He focused on the Italian model of sonnet with each line of eleven relatively long syllables and was opposed to the iambic pentameter style.
Summary of Felix Randal-
Hopkins through his sonnet Felix Randal sketches images of a long illness and death of a farrier called Felix Randal. The speaker observes that the ‘big-boned and hardy-handsome’ man had reduced and declined to ‘some fatal four disorder.’ As a man’s body is overtaken by aggravating illness, he loses his sense of perception and reasoning. Being a priest the poet then moves on to the topic of spiritual healing. The irony of physically strong man giving into an ailment is highly focused here. Felix goes through extreme suffering before he succumbs to death. During this time of suffering there is a mutual bond formed between the healer and the healed. A bond of trust and compassionate care is built. Through kindness and empathy, the priest is able to heal the sufferer’s soul, which in turn becomes the cause of the former’s salvation. The word “us” in the poem puts an emphasis on the mutuality of the bond.
‘My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;’
Though the priest is not able to heal Randal physically, the former is able to provide the latter with a mental peace in his final moments in the deathbed. The death of his long-suffering companion left a deep imprint on the priest’s life as well. While comforting him, the priest too is able to find his path of salvation and internal peace. Both seek the Lord’s forgiveness and at the end, the farrier willingly accepts his fate and places his life in the hands of the Lord.
Critical Analysis of Felix Randal-
Felix Randal is a Petrarchan or an Italian sonnet of romantic self-expression. Each line forms four self-contained statements. The speaker of the poem can be considered as a Roman Catholic priest who is dwelling upon the news of the death of Felix Randal.
The first quatrain deals with the news of the death of a blacksmith named Felix Randal. We can find an intense similarity between the lives of Randal and the poet himself. The first two stanzas are written in the form of an interior monologue, wherein the speaker’s thoughts are laid out loud in the form of a conscious recollection. The lines reflect on the realisation dawned upon the speaker about the eventual end of dutiful visit to the sick Randal and witnessing his degradation from a rigorous individual to someone sick from four ailments. The recollections are sad until the line 9 which then gradually shifts to a personal cry of loss, offering an image of the dead mate enjoying the short prime years of his life.
Then the poet moves on to focus upon the speaker’s state of mind on looking after a sick person. The affectionate gratitude he receives and the fact that he is doing something worthwhile are the two reasons that keep him going. The priest fondly recollects the earlier years spent in vigour by the farrier which is so different from his situation during his sickness. There is a focus on the healing relationship between the priest and the sick person- how they intimately connect to one another and how the priest is able to spiritually connect to the ache of the sick.
Tone of Felix Randal-
The poem is a fond as well as painful recollection of a dead person’s life by a priest who initially witnessed his prime years and then had to lend a helping hand during the suffering person’s last days. There is a gradual shift from a grim atmosphere to fond remembrance. There is a touch of internal peace attained and the solace the sufferer finds in such a situation as well as the mental liberation attained by the priest who attends him.
Central Idea of Felix Randal-
The poem is all about the relation between a spiritual healer and the sufferer- how both complement one another in the act of attaining salvation. The knowledge of grotesque end fated for even the strong men is conveyed through the images of the fateful death of the farrier. The role of a healer in the life of a sufferer is stressed throughout as a long lasting companionship.
Conclusion- The individualistic poem Felix Randal is a representation of Romanticism through its theme, tone and feelings. The Victorian poetry can be categorised into a religious theme too. Hopkins tries to reveal truths through nature, which points at the usage of Pre-Raphaelitism effects in the poem. Spiritual healing is a two-way process unlike the way it is understood normally. Through the characters of the priest and the farrier along with the images of their mutual understanding, one can clearly comprehend the meaning and effects of their bond in each other’s life. The acceptance of fate and wilfully giving into death allows a man’s soul to rest in the ultimate peace.