The analysis of poem “In the small hours”.
Hopkins wrote this sonnet at a time when he had just emerged from a long period of depression and inner anguish. The poem is carefully designed to surprise the reader and dramatize the moment of recognition that the speaker experiences in coming to terms with his own spiritual struggle. The interpretation of the poem depends in large measure on how one reads the transitions between the poem’s three sections (the first quatrain, the second quatrain, and the sestet). In particular, ascertaining the poem’s chronology can be troubling, in part because Hopkins withholds an important piece of chronological information until line 10, when the poem first shifts into the past tense. In the second stanza, there is a disturbing immediacy in the poet’s urgent protests against God’s unrelenting persecution; only in line 10 does the poet reveal that the trial has already passed. In light of this recognition, the reader must reevaluate the preceding lines. What is the order of cause and effect? Why does Hopkins use the present tense for the past events of the poem?
The order of the events described in the first two quatrains seems to be reversed in the telling. Presumably, the struggle against despair in lines one through four provided a sequel to the violence depicted in lines five through eight. Yet the fact that this second quatrain is written in interrogative form brings it into the present of the poem. It both tells of past events and asks about their meaning from a retrospective vantage (as if from the present). In this interpretation, the poem contains two different narrative lines superimposed on one another. The first deals with a “now done” crisis of suffering and resistance, in which the poet struggled in futility against God. The second “plot” takes place later than the first but is also, one hopes, nearing consummation via the thinking processes that have contributed to the making of the poem itself. This plot is the...
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