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English Literature

Language

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How does the language of the poem work to convey the poet's meaning? Hopkins wanted to make the language work overtime, and used every aspect of it - grammar, dialect, word coinage or combination, rhythm [rhythm: The pattern of stressed and unstressed syllables in a line of poetry. ], sound and imagery [imagery: Vivid 'word pictures' used by a writer to conjure up a mental image of something. ] - to make the reader 'feel' the poet's experience.

The language of the poem

A waterfall

  • Gerard Manley Hopkins is famous for playing with language. He invented new words and gave known words new meanings. Some of the compound words in this poem cannot be found in a dictionary, but make sense as you read, like "rollrock" (line 2) or "pitchblack" (line 7). Portmanteau words like twindles are combinations of other words, created by Hopkins to give exactly the right meaning to his poem. Words like "bonnet" and "rounds" contain hidden historical meanings which - when you know them - add to the work the words can do.
  • He also uses dialect words, like "burn", "fell" and "degged". These give the language the rugged, earthy feel of colloquial [colloquial: Informal or slang language - more likely to be used in spoken language than in writing. ] speech. Think how different the poem would sound if he had used "stream", "hill" and "sprinkled" instead.
  • Hopkins does not bother too much with conventional grammar [grammar: A system for organising language into units of meaning; rules governing how words fit together into sentences. ]. In stanza [stanza: A group of lines of poetry that make up a unit - like a paragraph in a piece of prose; a verse. ] 1, for example, the subject of the sentence starts as "This darksome burn", then switches half way through to "the fleece of his foam", while stanza 3 is more of a list of things than a sentence!
  • The tone [tone: The mood or manner of a text or part of a text. The author's 'tone of voice' or way in which they expect to be understood. The emotional load carried by a text. ] of the poem changes in 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. ]. Having focused on the burn in great detail, Hopkins now asks us to consider areas of wet and wilderness in general. His question is rhetorical - he is not expecting us to answer - but by asking us to consider what the world would be like without such places, he wants to open our eyes to the wild beauty of the world. He pleads for the beauty to be allowed to remain, with the unspoken idea that the world would be far less marvellous without it.

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