Felix Randal Summary

‘Felix Randal’ is a sonnet with sprung and outriding rhythm, of six-foot lines, written at Liverpool in 1880. You should note the appropriateness of the name, ‘Felix’, which is a Latin word meaning ‘happy’.

Felix Randal, the blacksmith is the subject of the poem; he used to make horse-shoes. Although he was robust and healthy, still he was overcome by diseases and died after receiving the Holy Communion. He was attended and looked after by the poet during his illness, and at the time of death, as a priest. The poem is a priestly meditation on his death.

Annotations of Felix Randal

Line 1. The farrier – one who shoes horses or cures horses’ disease. My duty all ended – the spiritual duties of Hopkins, the priest, ended now that Randal is dead.

Lines 2-5. Randal – who was once big-boned, hardy and handsome, was later afficiated by diseases, and he began to wish for death, illness broke his body and spirit.

Line 6. Anointed – consecrated with holy oil; like baptism at childhood, a religious ceremony before death.

Line 7. Reprieve – Holy Communion: religious ceremony. Randal, in preparation for death and salvation.

This makes the poet think about the days of Randal when he was young. At that time he was full of vigor and vitality. In his youth, Randal was big-boned, hardy and handsome. At that time Felix Randal never imaged that he could fall prey to such a sickness that will eat into his vitality and youth. He continued to work at his shop where his skill was acknowledged by one and all. Then with marvelous artistry of equivocation – double meaning – Hopkins uses the world ‘sandal’ at the end of the poem; Bright and battering sandal? Not shoes? That one word ‘sandal’ brings in pictures of hooves of horses, not iron-shod, but sandaled, battering, beating not the ground below, but flying with lighting in the skies, towards Heaven, in the company of, escorted by, angels who are riding the horses, lightning-shod. Look at the different picture now! Randal, for who salvation is assured, is pictured as preparing for this last journey, on horses not shod, but sandaled. Now, his name Felix which means ‘happy’ becomes appropriate. He is happy on his way to Heaven.

The sheer force and beauty of these closing lines should be noted. There is the clumping assonance as also thumping alliteration in these lines. The diction should also be noted. ‘Peers’ and ‘sandals’ are evocative mythopoetic words. Horse-shoes are heavy; sandals are light. We batter the ground with shoes; we fly in the air like birds with their light wings. Hence the suggestion of heavenward flight. Modern readers, mainly skeptical of metaphysics and religion, should give more importance to the theme of dissolution of material things than to the theme of humility, repentance and the Sacraments, in the poem ‘Felix Randal’

Critical Appreciation

The poem ‘Felix Randal’ was composed by Hopkins in April 1880 when he was staying in Leigh, Lancashire. Hopkins stayed in Leigh from September to December 1879 serving the parishioners there. This poem was written by Hopkins when he was in a happier frame of mind. What is so surprising about this poem is that its subject is death, but it does not have the melancholy and sadness which usually accompany his poems concerning death.

Felix Randal, a farrier, is the subject of this wonderful poem. Felix Randal, the blacksmith, was a robust and healthy man who had not known sickness. But after receiving the Holy Communion he was overtaken by sickness and died soon after. During his last days, this maker of horseshoes was attended by Hopkins. The description of Randal’s occupation is made in the following words :

When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amid peers,

Didst fettle for the great grey dray horse his bright and

Battering sandal!

This “big-boned and hardy-handsome” young man falls sick and his mind wanders :

Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it and some

Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

The poem tells us about the physical as well as the spiritual state of Felix Randal.

Though his physical condition deteriorates, his spiritual condition becomes stronger.

The poem is also rich in the use of linguistic devices. This is the first of Hopkins’ Liverpool poems, and introduces Lancashire dialect, expression – “and all” (line 6), “all road over” (line 8) and “fettle” in line fourteen. Commenting upon the imagery and vocabulary of “Felix Randal” Norman H. Mackenzie has observed: “Felix Randal is noteworthy for the richness of its imagery and vocabulary. There is a word ‘mould’ for example, which was, both in dialect and in poetry, used for the grave; here this word has only a submerged meaning, ‘His mould of man’ is a metaphor from casting of metal particularly appropriate to a blacksmith’s forge. Hopkins with his own frail physique always admired strong-bodied persons. The last three lines of the sonnet are magnificently evocative of the blacksmith in his prime, physical strength. The word ‘random’ evokes the unplanned casualness of the smithy, typical of smith’s life itself. The word ‘grim’ combines reminiscences of the powerful and forbidding Satanic rebels in the smoke of Pandemonium, with its homely, widespread dialect use, ‘dirty, grimly covered with soot or filth’. The word ‘fettle’, which every customer would use to the farrier, means ‘to make’ or ‘to mend’. Furthermore, the last few lines are so arranged as to impart to Felix Randal the stature and splendor of the magnificent horse he is shoeing. How the rhythm beats out at the time the sledge-hammer blows; ‘random grim forge, great grey drayhorse’ (where the repeated vowels underscore the heavy strokes); we may catch too, the ringing of the horseshoe on the paving. The final phase of the poem is inspired; it transforms the drayhorse from drabness to radiance as the sonnet reaches an impressive and exultant close: ‘his bright and battering sandal!”

QUESTIONS AND ANSWERS

1. What does the word ‘Felix’ mean?
Answer: ‘Felix’ is a Latin word which means ‘happy’.

2. Who was Felix Randal?
Answer: Felix Randal, the blacksmith, or ironsmith is the subject of the poem ‘Felix Randal’. He used to make horseshoes.

3. Who are the patient and the priest in the poem ‘Felix Randal’?
Answer: The patient is Felix Randal, the Ferrier, and the priest is Hopkins, the poet.

4. When was the poem ‘Felix Randal’ written?
Answer: ‘Felix Randal’ was written in April 1880 when Hopkins was staying in Leigh, Lancashire.

5. Name the poem of Wordsworth which can be compared to Hopkins’ ‘Felix Randal’ and ‘Spring and Fall’
Answer: Wordsworth’s poems ‘Leech-gatherer’, ‘Old Cumberland Beggar’ and

‘Michael’ can be compared to Hopkins’ ‘Felix Randal’ and ‘Spring and Fall’.


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