In ‘Inversnaid’ Gerard Manley Hopkins was inspired by the time the poet spent in the Scottish Highlands. He adapted many Scottish dialectic words to this particular piece and titled the poem after a small village in which he stayed. The poem speaks on themes of natural wonder, wildness, peace, and the future.
The poem begins with the speaker giving the reader a few initial details about the brook. It flows powerfully and is of a dark colour. There is a great deal of foam on the surface that’s a light tan shade. The next sections speak on the surrounding hillsides and how they cast shadows and contain varieties of plant life. ‘Inversnaid’ concludes with the speaker asking what life would be like without wild places such as that which he has just been describing.
Structure and Poetic Techniques
‘Inversnaid’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a four stanza poem that’s divided into sets of four lines, known as quatrains. These quatrains follow a simple rhyme scheme of AABB CCDD. This pattern, as well as the rhythm inherent to the lines themselves, is known as “sprung rhyme”. It is the technique Hopkins is best-known for today.
The rhythm of the text, as well as the feeling of rhyme which many of the lines have, is emphasized through the use of several poetic techniques. These include alliteration, enjambment, assonance, and repetition.
The latter, repetition, is the use and reuse of a specific technique, word, tone, or phrase within a poem. For example, the appearance of the phrase “Let them be” in the last stanza or the continual application of nonce/nonsense words. Another technique, alliteration, occurs when words are used in succession, or at least appear close together, and begin with the same letter. For example, “rollrock” and “roaring” in the second line of the first stanza.
Assonance is the reuse of vowel sounds within closely placed words. For example, the “o” sound in “coop” and “comb” in the third line of the first stanza. Lastly, enjambment. It occurs when a line is cut off before its natural stopping point. Enjambment forces a reader down to the next line, and the next, quickly. One has to move forward in order to comfortably resolve a phrase or sentence. For example, the transition between lines two and three of the second stanza.
Analysis of Inversnaid
This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.
In the first stanza of ‘Inversnaid’, the speaker begins by referring to a “darksome burn”. “Burn” means brook in Scottish dialect. It is dark and perhaps gloomy, the colour of a “horseback brown”. These lines are very alliterative, with the repetition of the “b” consonant sound in “burn,” “horseback” and “brown”.
The brook is personified in the next lines of ‘Inversnaid’. The speaker refers to it as male, and describes “His rollrock highroad roaring down”. The word “rollrock” was invented by Hopkins in order to describe the path of the burn and how rocks might roll down it. The stream’s high and low parts, its “coop” and “comb” carry the power of the water and the “fleece of his foam”. The foam looks like flutes or lines in the water.
A windpuff-bonnet of fáwn-fróth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, féll-frówning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.
The speaker goes on, using a variety of other unusual or unknown words. He speaks of the “windpuff-bonnet”. This adjective describes the shape of the froth. It appears as a woman’s bonnet might if the wind were to puff it up. The foam itself is the colour of a fawn’s fur, a light brown. This hints at the nature of the river bed and the materials that are turned up as the water barrels down its path.
Another nonce or made-up word appears in the second line of this stanza of ‘Inversnaid’. ‘Twindles” seems to be a combination of a few other words, but likely refers again to the movements of the water. It goes “over the broth / Of a pool so pitchblack”. This line speaks to the colour, depth, and atmosphere around a specific pool of water. It’s dark and has the qualities of broth. The colour is in part created by the “fell-frowning” occurring around it. Here, the speaker is describing the fells, or hills, around the pool of water, and how they look down, casting shadows.
Degged with dew, dappled with dew
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.
The word “Degged” starts off the third stanza. It is from the Lancashire dialect and means sprinkled. It helps to describe the “braes that the brook treads through”. The “braes” are hillsides and dew is sprinkled on them.
The “braes” also have “Wiry heathpacks,” or collections of heather and fern fronds. These lines give the scene a new texture.
In the last line of this stanza of ‘Inversnaid,’ the speaker adds one last detail to the natural scene. There are ash trees around the water’s edge and they contain beautiful “bead[s]” or berries.
What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and of wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet
The fourth stanza of ‘Inversnaid’ is quite different than those which came before it. In these lines, Hopkin’s speaker discusses the larger importance of natural places such as that he has spent the last three stanzas describing. He asks, rhetorically, “What would the world be, once bereft / Of wet and of wilderness”. The first line enjambed powerfully. This adds drama and importance to the conclusion of the question.
He professes his desire for the “wildness and wet” to be left alone. It should exist without tampering. Hopkins, or at least this speaker he’s channeling, wants the “weeds and wilderness” to live on.