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As Kingfishers Catch Fire

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'O let them be left, wildness and wet'

As Kingfishers Catch Fire is a selection of Gerard Manley Hopkins' incomparably brilliant poetry, ranging from the ecstasy of 'The Windhover' and 'Pied Beauty' to the heart-wrenching despair of the 'sonnets of desolation'.

Introducing Little Black Classics: 80 books for Penguin's 80th birthday. Little Black Classics celebrate the huge range and diversity of Penguin Classics, with books from around the world and across many centuries. They take us from a balloon ride over Victorian London to a garden of blossom in Japan, from Tierra del Fuego to 16th-century California and the Russian steppe. Here are stories lyrical and savage; poems epic and intimate; essays satirical and inspirational; and ideas that have shaped the lives of millions.

Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).

Hopkins' Poems and Prose is available in Penguin Classics.

53 pages, Paperback

First published January 1, 1876

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About the author

Gerard Manley Hopkins

182 books214 followers
Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889) was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose 20th-century fame established him posthumously among the leading Victorian poets. His experimental explorations in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse.

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5 stars
91 (7%)
4 stars
183 (14%)
3 stars
354 (28%)
2 stars
413 (33%)
1 star
195 (15%)
Displaying 1 - 30 of 226 reviews
Profile Image for Sean Barrs .
1,113 reviews44.4k followers
February 22, 2016
This little volume contains many poems; I enjoyed most of them, but not all. For the purpose of keeping this review brief, like the volume itself, I shall only talk about the poem for which the book was names: As King Fishers Catch Fire.

"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
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 Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Í say móre: the just man justices;
Kéeps gráce: thát keeps all his goings graces;
Acts in God’s eye what in God’s eye he is—
Chríst—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."


The poem is a 14 line sonnet, so it is broken up into an octave followed by a sestet. The first part of the poem creates the image of a kingfisher that is “catching fire” because its colour is so radiant and warm like the flame like beauty of a dragonfly’s wings. The kingfisher, like the sounds of the pebble and the instruments, are existing as they were meant to: “What I do is me: for that I came.” The following sestet installs the idea of man being the embodiment of Christ “To the Father through the features of men’s faces." My personal interpretation of the poem is that man should be the embodiment of Christ, like the Kingfisher is an embodiment of Flame.

I quite like this idea. I think the poem hints that man is unaware of this idea, but it is the truth: it is what God sees. Overall this is volume is a good taster for the poet, and from reading this I will certainly be reading more of his work.

Penguin Little Black Classic- O2


The Little Black Classic Collection by penguin looks like it contains alot of hidden gems. I couldn’t help it; they looked so good that I went and bought them all. I shall post a short review after reading each one. No doubt it will take me several months to get through all of them! Hopefully I will find some classic authors, from across the ages, that I may not have come across had I not bought this collection.

Profile Image for Leonard Gaya.
Author 1 book862 followers
May 11, 2018
De la musique avant toute chose,

Et pour cela préfère l'Impair

Plus vague et plus soluble dans l'air

Sans rien en lui qui pèse ou qui pose.

Unwittingly or not, French poet Paul Verlaine —once Arthur Rimbaud’s lover— was paying tribute to Manley Hopkins when he wrote his Art Poétique.

This short anthology of poems contains some of the most musical verses I have read in English. Indeed, Manley Hopkins is most famous for his “sprung rhythm”, which is a supple, swinging, spasmodic, syncopated, irregular, rolling, rising verse, which heralds the free verse of 20th-century’s poetry. And even more striking, these poems resound with alliterations and assonances weaved together in long, archaic-sounding litanies:

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

(Pied Beauty)

Most of these poems should be read aloud, recited even (there are a couple of audiobooks available out there). Otherwise, their beauty might well slip through your fingers. They —along with his 1866-1873 diary entries, sampled at the end of this small volume— are splendid and romantic pictures of nature, meadows, dawn, trees, twigs, brooks, birds, fish, silvery clouds, colours, snow, stars… All the singing images of a silent God.
Profile Image for Darwin8u.
1,559 reviews8,687 followers
January 14, 2018
"Glory be to God for dappled things—"
-- Hopkins, Pied Beauty


I mainly jacked, jeered, jumped over Hopkins poetry before. It felt forced and funky for me before. The nice thing about the Little Black Classics approach was I didn't have to read an entire 300 pg book of poetry for an introduction, but I certainly needed to read more, go deeper, than just a couple, highly anthologized poems. After about 40 of his greatest poetic hits (and about 20 pages of diary entries), I have a new respect for Hopkins. While I'm still not super enamored of "sprung rhythm", and heavy use of alliteration and assonance. I appreciate it all a ton more. I love his religous and natural subject matter and I also "get" now what he was going for. After reading this small book, I've also added a couple poems of Hopkins to my bag of favorite poems. I have a daughter who has vitiligo, so his 1877 poem "Pied Beauty", affects me a lot:

"Pied Beauty"

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.
Profile Image for Katie Lumsden.
Author 1 book2,805 followers
October 6, 2018
Gerard Manley Hopkins writes so well, with such interesting uses of rhythm and word play.
Profile Image for Carolyn Marie  Castagna.
274 reviews5,772 followers
December 29, 2020
I adore nature poetry, so this was a joy to read! The way Hopkins strung words together was like a beautiful tongue twister!
Although I didn't connect with all of the poems, my personal favorite was Spring and Fall!
Profile Image for leynes.
1,102 reviews2,955 followers
October 10, 2017
Ugh! My first two reads for Victober ended up being utter garbage poetry. Well, what can ya do. I will keep on pushing on by reading The Tenant of Wildfell Hall by Anne Bronte which will probably rock my world.

So after rating Edward Lear's Nonsense one star, I thought it was impossible for a collection of poetry to fuck me up more. Boy, was I wrong. Hopkins' poetry combines everything I hate: lack of quotable moments and an annoying preachy tone.
As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame,
Gerard Manley Hopkins was not only an English poet but also a Catholic and Jesuit priest, which might explain why his poetry wasn't for me. The overarching theme is Christianity and his devotion to God. I couldn't relate to his feelings of worship and his talk of 'flesh-bound spirits' at all, which is why most of his verses either annoyed or bored me.

But let me make one thing clear: I am very interested in different belief systems, and I am definitely willing to learn, and I do not judge religious narratives from the get go. I read many religious literary pieces who managed to engage and/or educate me, but Hopkins' verse didn't do anything for me. It was quite frustrating to read, and to be frank, a waste of time.

The only poem that I remotely enjoyed was Spring and Fall which deals with the topic of growing older and less vulnerable.

To top it all of, the last 13 pages of this book are actually a journal entry about one of Hopkins' travels and it made me so friggin' mad. Homeboy did nothing else than describing his surroundings (nature, ugh!) to a tee... like do I look like I give a fuck?

[But he visited Grindelwald Glacier in the Swiss Bernese Alps once, which made me giggle. So there's that.]
Profile Image for Marjolein (UrlPhantomhive).
2,360 reviews50 followers
November 6, 2016
Read all my reviews on http://urlphantomhive.booklikes.com

The second of Penguin's Little Black Classics shows a collection of poems of Victorian poet Gerard Manley Hopkins. Unfortunately, they were not my taste and failed for the most part to hold my attention.

One nice little detail I wanted to point out though. I'm sure it has happened to a lot of us for whom English is not the mother tongue. Sometimes when a word also exist in your own language (but with a different meaning) you'll be unable to see it properly in English. One of Hopkins' poems provided one of these cases. It is in fact 'no worst, there is none'. Which at first seems a normal sentence, but I believe I also pointed it out in a review of a book with the same name, 'worst' is the Dutch word for sausage, which led to some confusion on my side. The author, however, is not the least to be blamed for this in any case, but still I don't think I will purchase a larger collection of his poems.
Profile Image for Doug H.
286 reviews
November 7, 2015
I forgot I read "Pied Beauty" and "The Windhover" in grammar school. Thanks to Above the Waterfall, I've read them again. I didn't mind (or maybe didn't even notice) all of the Christian references when I was young. I just took everything in without any critical thinking. The religious bits are a bit jarring to me as an adult, but I also more fully appreciated Hopkins'' pure love of Nature this time around.
Profile Image for Ecem Yücel.
Author 3 books112 followers
January 9, 2021
This is the second book of my Penguin Little Black Classics 80-book-box-set challenge.

I enjoyed Hopkins' poems and the descriptions of the nature and the sky. As I was reading the poems and the prose this book consists of, I thought it's both weird and so amazing that I, a woman who's living in 2021, can have the opportunity to see things through a Victorian priest's eyes, who lived and wrote down his observations and emotions during the second half of 1800s. I guess that's how brilliantly magical a book is; carrying out the feelings; the patience, the joy, the despair, the sadness, and astonishedly witnessed sceneries ~which belonged to/were a part of someone once, a stranger~ through the centuries to the lap of a reader, another stranger: Ending up making them think, feel, and imagine.
Profile Image for Paula (lovebookscl).
803 reviews131 followers
December 14, 2020
Los poemas son siempre algo complicado de evaluar, porque cada persona responde diferente a este tipo de lectura. Hay personas que aman los poemas de romance, otros de la vida, otros de momentos difíciles, etc. En mi caso, los poemas sobre Dios no lo son para mí.

No es algo que me llegue pero me parece fascinante leer los pensamiento de alguien tan devoto como Gerard Manley Hopkins... porque aunque no soy creyente, leer este poemario me permitió entender un poco a alguien que si cree, y por eso le doy tres estrellas aunque no me gusto ningún poema en particular ajsjajs

Algo que sí amé mucho, fue el extracto del diario del autor. Uno, porque soy chismosa jajaa y dos, porque su diario es algo que no esperaba, él escribe de flores y atardeceres y es como... tan wholesome. Cuando pienso en un diario me imagino tipo "querido diario hoy me sentí mal...", pero Gerard escribe cosas como "el cielo está morado y hay flores lindas" y me dio risa y a la vez me conmovió. Eso

En resumen: los poemas eeehh... meh. El trozo de diario de vida: Oro
Profile Image for Lucinda Garza.
166 reviews663 followers
March 24, 2023
Supongo que ahora no es el momento de leer los poemas sobre naturaleza de un jesuita victoriano.
146 reviews5 followers
March 22, 2017
“Considered unpublishable in his lifetime, the Victorian priest’s groundbreaking, experimental verse on nature’s glory and despair.”

There was very little about this book that I enjoyed. There were a total of six poems (mentioned at the end of this review) that I thought were alright, as well as some of the descriptions in his diary entries.

I thought most of the poems were very confusing and difficult to understand. I’m also not a fan of enjambment, which was used almost in every single one of his works in this LBC. On top of that, there was a ridiculous amount of God/Christ/Saviour etc in his works. I know the man was a priest, but if a regular book had this much mention of deities in it, I wouldn’t have even finished it.
The diary entries were often quite beautiful, however they dragged on and on and on… It’s great to read some of the short descriptions, but as it goes on I often found myself not paying attention anymore to what I was reading.

The poems I found somewhat enjoyable:
+ The Sea and the Skylark
+ The Caged Skylark
+ Binsey Poplars
+ At the Wedding March
+ Spring and Fall
+ Inversnaid
Profile Image for Troy Tradup.
Author 4 books22 followers
July 2, 2020
This short selection of poems and journal entries made me want to drink so much gin. Why gin? No idea, but that was the very specific craving I had through all 53 pages.

Hopkins' famous 'sprung rhythm' (thanks, Wikipedia) feels like a parody of poetry -- poetry as imagined by people who hate poetry.

Hopkins must have been so tedious at parties. The type of guest who insists on reading -- no, declaiming -- his poetry while everyone else grows glassy-eyed and finally bolts for more gin.

This makes two out of two (so far) disappointing entries in the Penguin Little Black Classics series, which is a bit of a bummer. However, even the vast wasteland of this tiny book did yield a couple of lines I liked:

"Thrush's eggs look like little low heavens."

And: "That bird beyond remembering his free fells; this in drudgery, day-labouring-out life's age."

But, honestly, I'm kind of reaching here.
Profile Image for catie.
36 reviews
February 10, 2022
it’s undeniable that hopkins was an extremely talented writer, but unfortunately my enjoyment of said writing was marred by the fact that this was the most boring fucking book i have ever read
Profile Image for Iza Brekilien.
1,123 reviews106 followers
June 2, 2020
Reviewed for Books and livres

Maybe I'm not the best placed reader to review this small book, English not being my first language, poetry not being my usual reading ground. We have 31 poems here and at the end, several extracts of Hopkins's journals.

It doesn't mean I've never read - or loved - poetry before (I even found one poem in here that I could link to another by Prévert !), and I could understand the author's religious feelings even if I couldn't relate, not being a religious person.

On the other side, I was able to appreciate the love of nature, beauty, despair even, colours, the rhythm of the words, the rhythm of the stanzas and see what others, more poetry friendly readers, have loved here. And I firmly believe that the more poetry in English that I read, the more it will be easier for me to really enjoy it.

Anyway, I'm continuing to read all the little Black classics from Penguin - the next is already ordered : "The saga of Gunnlaug Serpent-tongue". Tout un programme, as we say in French !
Profile Image for Summer SSS.
218 reviews24 followers
June 22, 2021
An interesting collection of poetry from one of the more famous Victorian era poets. Fully didn’t understand at least a third of it because a) poetry b) Victorian era, but some decently pretty fragments.

I’d say the themes seemed a bit basic (for lack of a better word), thoughts like ‘look at all those lights those are all people leading different lives whoa’ and descriptions of how ‘Humanity is diverging from the purity of nature’ etc but to be fair not entirely sure I fully grasped the actual messages of these poems so I could be really wrong with my interpretations.

Honestly the better section was his journal entries at the end because of its straightforwardness.

I’m going with 3 stars mostly because it’s harder to rate things you’re not sure you fully understood, but I have to admit I was glad to be finished with it.
Profile Image for Rikke.
615 reviews647 followers
August 29, 2020
"As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies draw flame"

Such beautiful poetry filled with musings nature, sorrow and despair. I love Hopkins' imagery, conjuring glimpses of wildflowers and orange sunsets.
Profile Image for [ J o ].
1,938 reviews428 followers
February 4, 2017
"Graceful growth of Etzkoltzias or however those unhappy flowers are spelt."

19th Century poetry and journal entries from Gerard Manley Hopkins, a Victorian priest with the most beautiful grasp on language I have ever encountered. The poetry should be read aloud as it is delivered quickly, with onomatopoeia and alliteration giving it an almost ethereal quality. God features heavily, but above all else Hopkins' devotion to nature shines through.

The journal entries are poetry in prose form, feeling surrounded with exactly what Hopkins is seeing through his words alone. His sheer delight in nature and his dismay at its destruction is both breathtakingly beautiful and heart-numbingly saddening.

"April 8. The ash tree growing in the corner of the garden was felled. It was lopped first: I heard the sound and looking out and seeing it maimed there came at that moment a great pang and I wished to die and not to see the inscapes of the world destroyed any more"

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Profile Image for Emma.
354 reviews11 followers
March 7, 2015
Just to be clear this is a rating based on my enjoyment and understanding of Penguin's collection of Hopkins' work, not based on its importance and quality. I struggled to follow the poems, never really understanding what on earth I was reading. The journal entries included in the rear of this tiny book are beautiful, written with grace and a keen eye for the wondrous, all encompassing beauty of nature. The poetry was not for me, however, Hopkins' notes on the day to day were calming and the saving grace of this little black classic.
Profile Image for T. Sark.
80 reviews7 followers
January 23, 2021
Find the review on my blog: Wordsmithery, with a distinct lack of torpedo sharks

It might be the case that I don’t understand god poetry . . . Holy poetry? Divine poetry?

(just a dash of atheist humour there; yes, our senses of humour are as dry as our faith in Him.)

Reading and reviewing books of poetry can be a tricky thing. Unlike prose-fiction, each poem is a consumable unit in itself, a story in itself. Reading thirty in row, for me, is nearly impossible. My love language towards the poets I adore, includes keeping their books next to my pillow, scribbling !! next to the lines that are so beautiful that they stop my heart, and just generally flipping through their pages throughout the year, stopping on new favourites as I read more and more.

All of this is a preface to saying that I don’t think I developed that strong a love language towards Gerald Manley Hopkins’ poems, nor towards his style. As kingfishers catch fire, is a collection of poems by the Victorian priest Hopkins, which as my copy indicates ‘were considered unpublishable in his lifetime’. Hopkins is credited with the invention of the ‘sprung rhythm’ in verse, which is a rhythmic device that imitates the lilt of natural speech. Yeah, that’s about all that I can probably tell you in my own words.

Most of his poems are an ode to divinity, and he deploys a lot of vivid, natural imagery in his praises to his God and links the nature of the men to divine will. The central poem after which this collection is named, As kingfishers catch fire, looks at the immutable nature of humankind to focus on the self, as he says:

As kingfishers catch fire, dragonflies dráw fláme;
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 Whát I do is me: for that I came.

Another thing that I learnt as I stood on the line to the post office today, sweating and lugging a parcel too large, too unbecoming for a young lady of my disposition, were the concepts of inscape and instress, as Hopkins termed them. He believed that there was a bundle of characteristics in each thing that made them distinct and unique [inscape], and human beings possessed the capacity of recognizing this distinctiveness in each thing they behold [instress].

He deploys both these concepts in the poem ‘Pied Beauty’, which also stood out to me a nice ode to the beauty of things in imperfections, in stipples, moles and freckles.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

That was kinda neat. The problem is, these poems were a lot of work — I had to go read Wikipedia and Sparknotes and watch YouTube videos, to have anything meaningful to say about them, and it felt like the equivalent of doing an English class in school again. I might go back to these poems later, but right now, I think it’s time to move on.

Profile Image for Nick.
106 reviews
July 26, 2017
I generally like poetry about nature and religion, but this just didn't work for me. His Goodreads author blurb says that "his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse" which is laudable, but makes for a somewhat difficult read. It took me 4 or 5 poems before I got a handle on his writing. As far as religious themes in his writing, I felt it lacked depth. Hopkins used just a few lines at the end of each poem to say how great God is for creating such a beautiful world and then that's it. However, it's possible that poems not featured in this collection deviate from this formula.
Profile Image for Madelyn.
83 reviews22 followers
November 5, 2019
Not an easy read but incredible use of language both in the poetry and the journal extracts. Full of unique nature descriptions and I would say that if you are religious and love complex poetry you will probably get a lot out of these.
Profile Image for Marianne.
1,252 reviews28 followers
December 7, 2021
He is so dear to me. And most of his works I love best are in this little book.

CN: thoughts of suicide, war
Profile Image for Francielli Camargo.
61 reviews5 followers
May 28, 2015
Honestly, it was quite boring. Through the poems I could barely understand a word that he was saying and on his journal entries it was less painful but still didn't catch my eye.

Plus, I noticed that his last two entries on the journal didn't have a period to finish the text and that made me a little crazy. Are you sending a text message or something?!

P.s I wrote this on my phone and it was about to die so I need to apologise on how fast this one went but I just didn't wanna keep going like this guy did (oops, sorry not sorry).
Profile Image for Micah.
Author 3 books49 followers
May 7, 2022
9 times out of 10, Poetry is not my cup of tea. I like Keats and Wendell Berry and Coleridge Taylor, but my heart resonates most resoundingly with language that brings clarity. I so wanted to enjoy this collection, but there is so little that a mind like mine can grasp hold of in poetry like that of Gerard Manley Hopkins.

I really appreciate the whimsical and complex compounding of phrases in Hopkins poems. His works is often very serious, floating between morbidity and spiritual ecstasy at natural beauty. He gives his most beautiful poems a light playfulness as syllables slip together in a jumble of joyful associations.

“Off her once skeined stained veined variety upon all
on two spools; part, pen, pack
Now her all in two flocks, two folds - black, white;’
right, wrong; reckon but, reck but, mind
But these two; ware of a world where but these two
tell, each off the other; of a rack
Where, selfwrung, selfstrung, sheathe-and shelterless,’
thoughts against thoughts in groans grind.”

I really loved the two part poem The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo. It was easy to follow and profound without losing anything stylistically essential to his other poetry. I so wish I could follow the thoughts in his other works this clearly.

The book ends with 10-12 pages of excerpts from Manley Hopkins personal diary. As someone who can dive with relish into the minutia of almost any archaic life, I was again disappointed. The selections pulled here are almost exclusively observations on the beauty of sunsets and walks in nature. While these again show a wholly unique capacity for descriptive power in the author, they offer an even smaller window into the life and perspective of this melancholy and penitent poet.

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