Monday, June 17, 2013

Felix Randal by Gerard Manley Hopkins -1844–89

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!

Felix Randal is a sonnet about a farrier, a blacksmith from Hopkins' parish. It reflects on the farrier Felix Randal's dying, his last illness, and the priest's compassion for him and on his former strength.
In the first quatrain, Hopkins sketches the course of the farrier's illness as the large man faded away until his thoughts became confused and four different disorders combined to kill him.
In the second quatrain, the poet examines Felix's spiritual state. Initially, the farrier cursed the loss of his former strength, but he became more patient as his religious faith increased. He received "the sweet reprieve and ransom" in the sacrament of the Holy Commission, which carries with it the promise of forgiveness and new life. Hopkins later anointed him with holy oil. The poet implores God to forgive any sin the farrier must have committed.
In the sestet the poet states that looking after the sick can endear a priest in two ways - he may receive affectionate gratitude from those he tends; and, secondly, knowing that he is doing something worthwhile might make him less discontented with himself. The comfort that the priest gave is perhaps the knowledge of God's love, and his touch is perhaps the giving of a blessing. Poor Felix, who is addressed as a child, is childlike in his helplessness, and also a child of God in the eyes of the priest.
In the final tercet the priest contrasts the last feeble days of the farrier with his earlier years, before death or sickness were ever forethought of. He was then strong "big-boned and hardy-handsome," and had an abundance of energy. His personality harmonized with his smithy (blacksmith's workshop) - the forge built of random or rough stone, the powerful men, the big horses.
The sonnet depicts two kinds of work - the farrier using his physical strength at the forge, and the priest doing his work among the sick and the dying with another kind of strength.
The poem is remarkable in its use of Sprung Rhythm, which is a metre based on the counting of stresses (Stress rhythm) instead of the counting of the syllables (running rhythm). Each line of this poem contains six beats, with plentiful alliteration and compound words.
In this sonnet Hopkins reflects on the long illness and death of Felix Randal, the farrier. The poet watched this "big-boned and hardy-handsome" man decline, until he was broken by "some / fatal four disorders" and his "reason rambled . . . . " At first Randal had railed against his fate, but later, anointed by the poet-priest, he developed a "heavenlier heart" and "sweet reprieve."
The poet reflects on his role as a spiritual healer: "This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears." While the priestly tongue and touch refreshed Felix Randal in his illness, Randal's tears also touched the priest's heart, and so he is left with a sense of loss and mourning when the man dies.
The most important line (9) of this sonnet is: "This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears." While the poet is actually a priest referring to spiritual healing, his sentiment expresses a central truth of any healing relationship. Caring for the ill (in the sense of doing things for them) leads to care for the ill (in the sense of connection and compassion); perhaps this is a re-statement of Aristotle's theory of virtue in which one becomes a virtuous person by performing good acts.
"Felix Randal" also demonstrates Gerard Manley Hopkins's magnificent technical virtuosity as a poet. It is an almost perfect Italian-style sonnet (two a-b-b-a rhymed quatrains [the octave] followed by two rhymed c-c-d stanzas

Sources: - United States-05.06.2012
D.N. Aloysius

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