“Felix Randal” is a sonnet with an Italian or Petrarchan rhyme scheme (abba, abba, ccd, ccd); although not published until 1918, it was written in 1880. The title character is known from extrinsic evidence to have been a thirty-one-year-old blacksmith named Felix Spencer, who died of pulmonary tuberculosis; Father Gerard Manley Hopkins, while a curate in a slum parish in Liverpool, visited him often, administered the last sacraments, and officiated at his funeral. Hence the poem is largely romantic self-expression. There is little or no ironic separation between the “I” (the speaker within the poem) and the author (the historical Hopkins outside the poem), so the “I” may be taken as a Roman Catholic priest reflecting on the news of Randal’s death. His reflections begin with an objective recollection of the facts of the sad case, but after the apparently laconic generalization of line 9, the poem breaks into a gripping personal cry of loss. Then the poem offers a lovely image of the dead friend enjoying the prime of his short life. The first four lines react to the news that the blacksmith has died. Lines 2 to 9 are interior monologue, spoken by the speaker to himself. The speaker realizes that Felix Randal’s death means the end of dutiful visiting, the end of watching the man’s decline from outstanding vigor into bodily debility and periods of insanity as four ailments (tuberculosis and three attendant “complications,” among them a fever that makes his mind wander) fight it out to see which disorder can kill this prize victim. The next quatrain casts further back in the history of the illness as the speaker recalls the patient’s initial impatience and denial. The anointing in line 5 was the church sacrament now called the Sacrament of the Sick, then known as Extreme Unction. Months before that, after Randal’s initial stage of cursing and denial, the priest had first administered the other two of the three “last sacraments,” Penance...
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