“As Kingfishers Catch Fire” by Gerald Manley Hopkins


“As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame;

      As tumbled over rim in roundy wells

      Stones ring; like each tucked string tells, each hung bell’s

Bow swung finds tongue to fling out broad its name;

Each mortal thing does one thing and the same:

      Deals out that being indoors each one dwells;

      Selves — goes itself; myself it speaks and spells,

Crying What I do is me: for that I came.


   I say more: the just man justices;

    Keeps grace: that keeps all his goings graces;

Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is —

    Christ. For Christ plays in ten thousand places,

Lovely in limbs, and lovely in eyes not his

    To the Father through the features of men’s faces.”

-Gerald Manley Hopkins

This poem starts out describing the kingfisher and the dragon flies as they are on fire. Stones thrown into a well ring out like bells or stringed instruments. Every person does exactly the same thing and generally only focuses on their own welfare. Hopkins, however, believes that people should try to do more than just this. They should try and create peace and justice between others and act as God would want him to. Man should try to be more like Christ in his actions.

Hopkins is definately asserting that men in general are of a lower standing than they have the potential to be. Instinctually, man is trained to look out for himself and make sure that he as an individual, survives to procreate and continue the species. However, Christianity tells us otherwise. It teaches that everyone should look out for each other in order to create a better, more cohesive society. God sends his son, Jesus, down to Earth to try and spread this message and provide an example for how humans should act. It is this which Hopkins references in his second stanza.

Another very interesting note about this poem is the built in rhythm. The word choice and the position of the words give the whole poem a very lilting and sing-song feeling.  This seems to be a very effective technique; it uses aural cues in order to help create better mental images. The reader can almost hear how it appears.


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