This somewhat complex and hard to interpret poem has a clear image at its heart—the personification of Hope. The force is described as “she” and as someone who is holding the “mind’s mirror” up to Christ with the hope of seeing his reflection. As the poem progresses, it becomes more about faith and belief than about reality.
Hope holds to Christ Gerard Manley Hopkins Hope holds to Christ the mind’s own mirror out To take His lovely likeness more and more. It will not well, so she would bring about An ever brighter burnish than before And turns to wash it from her welling eyes And breathes the blots off all with sighs on sighs. Her glass is blest but she as good as blind Holds till hand aches and wonders what is there; Her glass drinks light, she darkles down behind, All of her glorious gainings unaware. I told you that she turned her mirror dim Betweenwhiles, but she sees herself not Him.
Explore Hope holds to Christ
‘Hope holds to Christ’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins addresses hope, faith, and the human mind, connecting all of these to Christ and Christianity.
In the first lines of ‘Hope holds to Christ,’ the speaker begins by noting that Hope, as a personified force, holds a mirror up to Christ. As the lines progress, it becomes clear that there’s a relationship between Hope and Christ, and that reflects the other in the human mind. There, one can find a reflection of Christ even if Hope is not able to see it. It’s this inability that closely resembles the need for faith. One has to believe even if there is no reflection in the dim mirror.
Structure and Form
‘Hope holds to Christ’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a twelve-line poem divided into one set of ten lines and one final couplet. The couplet is distinct from the rest of the lines in that the speaker transitions to use a first-person narrative perspective and address “you.” The poem also follows a rhyme scheme of ABABCCDEDEFF. This unusual, but quite a constant pattern, is perfect for the content. The liens are also mostly written in iambic pentameter. This means that most of the lines contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second of which is stressed.
Throughout this piece, Hopkins engages with several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four as well as lines five and six.
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “mind’s” and “mirror” in line one and “breathes” and “blots” in line six.
- Personification: occurs when the poet imbues a non-human force with human characteristics. For example, the way that the writer treats Hope throughout this poem.
Hope holds to Christ the mind’s own mirror out
To take His lovely likeness more and more.
And breathes the blots off all with sighs on sighs.
In the first lines of ‘Hope holds to Christ,’ the speaker begins by personifying “Hope.” This means that he imbues the force with human characteristics. In this case, calling the force a “she” and describing how hope held the “mind’s mirror out” to reflect Christ. By seeking Christ in this way, the poet is describing how the mind, hope, and Christ are connected. Christ is reflected in mind but only when it’s burnished. This suggests that one has to be filled with hope, faith, and good deeds in order to reflect the image of Christ as one would want to.
Hope continues to be personified, described as washing the mirror with “welling eyes,” or eyes filled with tears. She sighs and sighs and wipes the glass so that it will take his likeness better. This suggests that it takes effort, and there’s always a sin to be contended with before one can reflect Christ. There are examples of enjambment and alliteration in this stanza, such as “bright burnish” and the transition between lines one and two.
Her glass is blest but she as good as blind
Holds till hand aches and wonders what is there;
I told you that she turned her mirror dim
Betweenwhiles, but she sees herself not Him.
In the next line, the speaker says that Hope’s glass is “blest” or “blessed.” But, she’s blind to her state. She doesn’t see how truly blessed she is. Despite this, she has faith. She continues to hold onto the mirror until her hand aches. This resembles what faithful people are meant to do as they commit themselves to Christ even through doubt and sorrow.
Hope, the speaker adds, is also unaware of herself and what she represents. Hope is intangible so, one is constantly unaware of how much is real and how much is not. She’s “unaware” of her “glorious gainings.
The final two lines are different. The speaker transitions to using first-person narration and addresses “you.” He says that he told “you” about Hope and that she saw “herself not Him” when the mirror dimmed. This suggests that Hope and Christ are one and the same and that having hope is like having faith.
The purpose is to explore the nature of God and faith in a unique and memorable way. The poet does so through personification and a depiction of hope that’s quite creative. Readers are likely to walk away with a new image in their minds.
The tone is descriptive and passionate. The speaker spends the lines discussing something that’s quite important to them, the connection between Hope and faith. They relay the information clearly, but it’s also obvious how much they care.
The speaker is unknown. It could be a man or a woman, although it is traditional to assume the speaker is the same gender as the writer. This person knows a great deal about God and faith, and it’s safe to assume they’re Christian.
Hopkins uses personification through his depiction of Hope as a force with the ability to do and feel human things. She weeps, holds a mirror, looks at her reflection, and more. It’s this literary device that makes the poem unique.
The mood is curious, passionate, and perhaps for some readers, reinvigorating when it comes to faith. The poet likely wanted readers to walk away from this poem feeling
closer to their own faith.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Hope holds to Christ’ should also consider reading other Gerard Manley Hopkins poems. For example:
- ‘Felix Randal’ – written as an elegy for a farrier by the name of Felix Randal.
- ‘Habit of Perfection’ – states his resolution to take to a religious and austere life and to discard all the pleasures of the senses.
- ‘Pied Beauty’ – is another poem about Christ and his creation.