Felix Randal by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!

Summary

In this poem the happy (“Felix” is a Latin word which means “happy”) Randal is the chief character. By profession he is a blacksmith who makes horse shoes. He was healthy and gay but after receiving Holy Communion he fell sick and died soon after. The poet attended him during his last illness. He also attended his last hours as a priest. So this poem represents the poet’s priestly meditations on death.

In these lines the poet says that the visits of the priests to the sick persons make them mutually dear to one another. The priests become fond of the patients and the latter also beginto love their priests. When Hopkins, as the poet-priest visited Felix Randal, and spoke dear words in his ear, the words gave solace to him. Hopkins also tried to give relief to Randal by his caresses. The loving touch of the poet’s hands stopped the flow of the tears of Felix Randal.Once Felix was strong man but now he had grown helpless like a child.

This makes the poet to think about the days of Randal when he was young. At that time he was full of vigour and vitality. In his youth Randal was big-boned, hardy and hand-some. At that time Felix Randal never imaged that he could fall a prey to such a sickness that will eat into his vitality and youth. He continued to work at his shop where his skill was acknowledged by one and all. Then with marvelous artistry of equivocation – double meaning –Hopkins uses the world ‘sandal’ at the end of the poem; Bright and battering sandal? Not shoes ? That one word ‘sandal’ brings in pictures of hooves of horses, not iron-shod, but sandaled, battering, beating not the ground below, but flying with lighting in the skies, towards Heaven, in the company of, escorted by , angels who are riding the horses, lightning-shod.Look at the different picture now ! Randal, for who salvation is assured, is pictured as preparing for this last journey, on horses not shod, but sandaled. Now, his name Felix which means‘happy’ becomes appropriate. He is happy on his way to Heaven.

The sheer force and beauty of these closing lines should be noted. There is the clumping assonance as also thumping alliteration in these lines. The diction should also be noted.‘Peers’ and ‘sandals’ are evocative mythopoetic words. Horse-shoes are heavy; sandals are light. We batter the ground with shoes; we fly in the air like birds with their light wings. Hence the suggestion of heavenward flight. Modern readers, mainly skeptical of metaphysics and religion, should give more importance to the theme of dissolution of material things than to the theme of humility, repentance and the Sacraments, in the poem ‘Felix Randal’.

Analysis

The poem ‘Felix Randal’ was composed by Hopkins in April 1880 when he was staying in Leigh, Lancashire. Hopkins stayed in Leigh from September to December 1879serving the parishioners there. This poem was written by Hopkins when he was in a happier frame of mind. What is so surprising about this poem is that its subject is death, but it does not have the melancholy and sadness which usually accompany his poems concerning death.

Felix Randal, a farrier, is the subject of this wonderful poem. Felix Randal, the black-smith, was a robust and healthy man who had not known sickness. But after receiving the Holy Communion he was overtaken by sickness and died soon after. During his last days, this maker of horse shoes, was attended by Hopkins. The description of Randal’s occupation is made in the following words:

When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amid peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey dray horse his bright and
Battering sandal!
This “big-boned and hardy-handsome” young man falls sick and his mind wanders:
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

The poem tells us about the physical as well as the spiritual state of Felix Randal.Though his physical condition deteriorates, his spiritual condition becomes stronger.

The poem is also rich in the use of the linguistic devices. This is the first of Hopkins’ Liverpool poems, and introduces Lancashire dialect, expression – “and all” (line 6), “all road over” (line 8) and “fettle” in line fourteen. Commenting upon the imagery and vocabulary of“Felix Randal” Norman H. Mackenzie has observed : “Felix Randal is noteworthy for the richness of its imagery and vocabulary. There is a word ‘mould’ for example, which was, both in dialect and in poetry, used for the grave; here this word has only a submerged meaning, ‘His mould of man’ is a metaphor from casting of metal particularly appropriate to a blacksmith’s forge. Hopkins with his own frail physique, always admired strong-bodied persons. The last three lines of the sonnet are magnificently evocative of the blacksmith in his prime, physical strength. The word ‘random’ evokes the unplanned casualness of the smithy, typical of smith’s life itself. The word ‘grim’ combines reminiscences of the powerful and forbidding Satanic rebels in the smoke of Pandemonium, with its homely, widespread dialect use, ‘dirty, grim covered with soot or filth’. The word ‘fettle’, which every customer would use to the farrier,means ‘to make’ or ‘to mend’. Furthermore, the last few lines are so arranged as to impart to Felix Rnadal the stature and splendour of the magnificent horse he is shoeing. How the rhythm beats out at time the sledge-hammer blows; ‘random grim forge, great grey drayhorse’ (where the repeated vowels underscore the heavy strokes); we may catch too, the ringing of the horseshoe on the paving. The final phase of the poem is inspired; it transforms the drayhorse from drabness to radiance as the sonnet reaches an impressive and exultant close : ‘his bright and battering sandal!”

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