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English Literature

Structure

Hopkins poems are highly rhythmic. But he was more interested in the emphatic stress patterns of spoken English than traditional types of metric structure. (He developed the theory of what he called 'Sprung Rhythm', in which only the stressed syllables [syllable: The unit of sound that form a word - eg 'tiger' has two syllables ti-ger, and 'alligator' has four syllables al-li-gat-or. ] are counted.) Roll over the highlighted words, or click the buttons, to see the poem's distinctive rhythm or pattern of stresses, as well as its rhyme [rhyme: In poetry, the use of words that have the same or a similar sound - eg 'flow' and 'bow' - to form a pattern of sound. ] scheme.

Form and rhyme

  • Form The poem is written in four four-line stanzas. Each of the first three stanzas is a complete sentence; the last stanza [stanza: A group of lines of poetry that make up a unit - like a paragraph in a piece of prose; a verse. ] is two sentences. Yet, despite this rigid form, the poem feels very free and apparently unconfined, like the burn itself.
  • Rhyme The poem is written in rhyming couplets [rhyming couplet: a pair of lines of poetry that rhyme and have the same length and metric pattern. ], so that the rhyme [rhyme: In poetry, the use of words that have the same or a similar sound - eg 'flow' and 'bow' - to form a pattern of sound. ] scheme of each stanza is:AA BB The couplets help convey the movement of the rushing water they describe. Because there is only a tiny pause at the end of each line, the eye jumps from line to line, like the water rushing down from pool to pool.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth Turns and twindles over the broth Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning, It rounds and rounds despair to drowning.

  • Rhythm

    Each line of the poem has a steady beat of four stresses, but a line may contain anything from seven to 11 syllables [syllable: The unit of sound that form a word - eg 'tiger' has two syllables ti-ger, and 'alligator' has four syllables al-li-gat-or. ]. A metric foot [metric foot: The unit of rhythm in poetry. In English, each foot usually contains one stressed and one or more unstressed syllables. A line of verse with five metric feet is called a 'pentameter'; one with four feet is called 'tetrameter'. ] can therefore contain anything from none to four unstressed syllables:

    O Let them be ¦ left, ¦ wildness and ¦ wet

    Long live the ¦ weeds and the ¦ wilderness ¦ yet.

    This combination makes the poem feel very free-flowing, but highly rhythmic at the same time.

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