Analysis of “Carrion Comfort”

There are a few instances in this poem where I was unsure if the author was speaking to and referring to either a personified despair, a carrion crow, his God, life itself, or all at once. Maybe God is despair, represented in the form of a carrion crow? Is there even a crow present in the poem? Is God the crow? The author seems to be speaking to someone or something. Could the vibe of the poem suggest that the author believes in a more vengeful and wrathful God? The author has felt so much misery and pain that has brought him to mental exhaustion, and his only question is; why?

I read that Hopkins wrote this during a depression episode, and I think that is clear with the language he chose to use in his poem. “Carrion Comfort’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the poet’s “terrible sonnets,” a set of poems he wrote during a period of depression.” (Carrion Comfort by Gerard Manley Hopkins | Poem Analysis). I also read that this poem was originally untitled, Hopkins never named it, only once it was popular did somebody decide on a title. I think him not titling his work was also a sign of depression, maybe he thought it wasn’t good. Little did he know, students would still be analyzing, and relating to his work, even today.

“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?”

The first line above brings the image to my head of a hungry bird flying overhead it’s near dead prey, waiting for it to die. The bird’s hovering presence could be compared to the omnipresence of a God in the heavens looking down on someone. The use of the word fan, reminds me of when a bird is landing and they flap their wings more gently for stability. I think this could be interpreted as being overwhelmed by something, like the fanning but more realistic. The last bit makes me imagine the author as the injured prey trying to get away from the bird and survive just a little longer. In reality meaning he feels he cannot escape his depression, and is near committing suicide. Perhaps it could be interpreted that the carrion crow is God, and the prey is the author. Hopkins was rumored to be suicidal at some points, knowing this, could his reference to fleeing mean he was feeling that way when he wrote this poem. 

If Hopkins saw God as vengeful, then surely he would be blaming God for his suffering, and begging to know why he must endure such hardships. It is clear by the end of the poem that Hopkins is speaking to God. “That night, that year of now done darkness I wretch lay wrestling with (my God!) my God.” Hopkins may not know how to carry on living without a stable source of happiness; “Cheer whom though?” and he even writes; “I can no more.” in the first stanza. All I can say is, that there is hope simply in the existence of this poem. Hopkins having the strength to write his feelings, and use writing to try to process them better, is to me a sign that at least maybe a small part of him doesn’t want to give up on life just yet.

4 thoughts on “Analysis of “Carrion Comfort”

  1. This was a great analysis of this poem. I had trouble understanding what this poem was all about the first time I read it but this post made it much clearer. I particularly like how you included information about the author. Knowing about his depression and suicidal thoughts made this poem much clearer and more meaningful.

  2. Great bit here: “All I can say is, that there is hope simply in the existence of this poem. Hopkins having the strength to write his feelings, and use writing to try to process them better, is to me a sign that at least maybe a small part of him doesn’t want to give up on life just yet.” That’s one moral of the allusion to Jacob wrestling with the Angel at the end: the morning always comes.

  3. Poetry analysis is hard. You spell it out nicely. Sometimes I wonder why we examine poetry so closely, what does it solve? If people relate to a poem isn’t that what matters? It seems that humans are always drawn to pick apart things, maybe to explain their own thoughts to themselves?

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