“The Caged Skylark,” by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a symbolic poem about the life of a caged bird.The poem expresses a bird’s longing to be free as he struggles to endure every day trapped inside a cage. The poem is meant to be symbolic of a man being separated from his spirit. Hopkins, who is a Jesuit Priest, wrote this poem with the intent to enlighten its readers with his belief that one can not be truly happy until their body and spirit are united. Hopkins uses diction, imagery, language, and symbolism to create a metaphorical story conveying the differences between life on earth and after death in order to convince his audience of the importance being yourself and not “separating the spirit from it’s physical body.”
Gerard Hopkins use of diction throughout “The Caged Skylark” keys into his audiences emotions. By choosing specific and meaningful words, Hopkins creates a sense of desperation and tragedy in his poem. He uses negative words such as “labouring” and “deadly,” which give the poem a depressing atmosphere, further helping the audience to understand the meaning of the poem and gain a more personal perspective of the message Hopkins is trying to accomplish. He also includes words with positive meanings. Because a majority of the poem is negative and dark feeling these specific words stick out to the reader. Placing words with positive connotations such as “sweetest” and “rainbow” in a poem that is mostly negative creates a hopeful feeling for the audience, the readers begin to see the darkness at the end of the tunnel. These words help Hopkins create the metaphorical aspect of the poem. By using words of hope Hopkins establishes the chance of freedom for the caged bird, alluding to the possibility of life after death.
Hopkins use of imagery is another literary tool that greatly affects the achievement of the poems spiritual metaphor. Several moments throughout Hopkins poem he uses words or phrases that appeal to the human senses. One of the most important moments in the entire poem uses imagery. This moment is when Hopkins tells of the man and bird singing a sweet song, he then changes the imagery by saying they “droop deadly sometimes in their cells.” Though these phrases serve completely different purposes they both use imagery to help the audience feel what the bird might be feeling. Hopkins also uses several descriptive words to show imprisonment. These words include; dull cage, cells, bone-house, mean-house, and prison. By using multiple words to describe a single aspect Hopkins constructs a specific image for the readers. Imagery is important in helping establish the metaphor because it encourages the reader to relate to what is happening in the story, though the poem appears to be about a bird it is actually about human beings, which without imagery may not otherwise be known.
Another way the Hopkins enhances his poem is the way he uses language. The language Hopkins uses is difficult to read and even more difficult to interpret. This type of language gives the poem a “wise” tone, the poem is meant to be spiritual and the use of challenging language makes the poem almost sound Biblical. Examples of this would be when Hopkins says, “As a dare-gale skylark scanted in a dull cage.” This statement, though hard to interpret, actually has a significant meaning, much like something one could read in the Bible. Hopkins uses this difficult language as a technique to make his poem feel more creditable to his audience -- whereas if he were to use casual language the spiritual intent of his poem might be lost. Hopkins also includes a reference directly alluding to the Bible when he says, “...for his bones risen.” This phrase indicates Hopkins belief of life after death and helps to summarize the theme of his poem.
The final and possibly most important literary element Hopkins uses in his poem is the element of symbolism. Nearly every line of “The Caged Skylark” consists of at least one symbol. The most important symbols being the skylark himself and his cage. After analyzing the poem it becomes apparent that the bird, the skylark, is representative of one’s soul, and the cage is representative of a person’s physical body. When the two are not united they feel trapped and unhappy. Another major symbol expressed in Hopkins poem is the rainbow. This is a symbol of hope, it gives an image of happiness on the other side, meaning after death when the body and soul are once again united. By including symbolism the audience is able to make connections between the story of a caged bird and the spiritual meaning Hopkins was trying to convey.
Through Hopkins use of diction, imagery, language and symbolism he is successfully able to communicate his spiritual message that a man cannot achieve happiness until he and his body are together. Hopkins choice of words in this poem not only connect to the audiences emotions but also help develop the metaphor between the caged bird and human beings. The imagery shown throughout the poem also contribute to the construction of his metaphor and brings the audience to a more personal level. The language in the poem is another tool that gives the poem its credibility and further helps achieve the conveyance of his spiritual message. Finally, Hopkins use of symbolism advances the metaphor and completes the connections between the story and the spiritual meanings found in the poem.