Carrion Comfort

NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;
Not untwist—slack they may be—these last strands of man
In me ór, most weary, cry I can no more. I can;
Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.
But ah, but O thou terrible, why wouldst thou rude on me
Thy wring-world right foot rock? lay a lionlimb against me? scan
With darksome devouring eyes my bruisèd bones? and fan,
O in turns of tempest, me heaped there; me frantic to avoid thee and flee?

Why? That my chaff might fly; my grain lie, sheer and clear.
Nay in all that toil, that coil, since (seems) I kissed the rod,
Hand rather, my heart lo! lapped strength, stole joy, would laugh, chéer.
Cheer whom though? the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
Me? or me that fought him? O which one? is it each one? That night, that year
Of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.


I’d never seen a sonnet in hexameters. But here you are, and there are such. So what is achieved by lengthening the line? With something one is used to having in pentameters, like a sonnet, the effect is of having too much. It can seem nicely vulgar. But not here. Here the cumulative effect is something of weariness, of long resistance. He’s staving off despair and at some length; refusing.

And he refuses in a rather straightforward way for him, until the fifth/sixth line.

why wouldst thou rude on me/Thy wring-world right foot rock?

Which is one way of saying, Overcome me. There is something strange in this way of saying, something old and . . . Beowulfish. Studies have no doubt shown that Hopkins was influenced.

What we are interested in, however, is asking what the effect is. Does it not suggest the action of Beowulf, the meeting with bane-bairns and foul-folk with rather overdeveloped maws and sanguinary tastes? I think so.

And with that, doesn’t it seem like the long lines become a little more rough hewn, like sea bleached beams, and have also something of the dark things preserved in peat bogs?

NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee;

There is your grey beginning under the clouds, your black birds hunched in trees watching. Except its still dark:

wish day come

Which moves toward his veiled allusion. Then we notice the wrestling:

right foot rock [ha! it’s a verb, it had to be, but was one sure before the wrestling?]
lay a lionlimb
the hero whose heaven-handling flung me, fóot tród
or me that fought him?
I wretch lay wrestling with

Perhaps that’s not the order you realized these things in, but I think it is a worthwhile order. You have the Beowulfish opponent, and the puzzling things that only really fall into place for me after I read the last line and go back through (I have days when poetry is clearer, when it is more difficult, and when it all remains stubbornly opaque).

The syntax is as elaborate and intricate as any Celtic decoration, and wound up with it if you follow all along, around, in, through and over is the meaning. Makes the dualism of Robert Frost look rather paltry in comparison.

Of what are those last words an echo?


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