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Poem of the week: The Sea and the Skylark by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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These ringing lines register the complex music of nature heard from the Welsh coast, set against the sordid human world

Gerard Manley Hopkins was inspired by the charm and instress of Wales and also by the Welsh poetic device known as cynghanedd. In 1877, the year of his ordination, he wrote a number of ground-breaking, almost ode-like sonnets, among them this weeks poem The Sea and the Skylark.

Spatial and sensory location are important at the start of the octet. The speaker is standing on or beside the beach at Rhyl, the seaside town in north Wales where the sonnets first draft was written. With a sense of double-occasion, he hears the sea on his right and the lark-song rising from the meadowland on his left. The registering of these complex sounds requires two ears and, from the diction, all the range of polyphonic effects it can dispense.

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