Felix Randal: by G. M. Hopkins - Summary & Analysis

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Felix Randal the farrier, O is he dead then? my duty all ended,
Who have watched his mould of man, big-boned and hardy-handsome
Pining, pining, till time when reason rambled in it, and some
Fatal four disorders, fleshed there, all contended?

Sickness broke him. Impatient, he cursed at first, but mended
Being anointed and all; though a heavenlier heart began some
Months earlier, since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom
Tendered to him. Ah well, God rest him all road ever he offended!

This seeing the sick endears them to us, us too it endears.
My tongue had taught thee comfort, touch had quenched thy tears,
Thy tears that touched my heart, child, Felix, poor Felix Randal;

How far from then forethought of, all thy more boisterous years,
When thou at the random grim forge, powerful amidst peers,
Didst fettle for the great grey drayhorse his bright and battering sandal!


      The poem, Felix Randal, was written by Hopkins at Liverpool on 28th April 1880. The poem is a priestly meditation on the death of a young Ferrier who died on April 21, 1880. The name of the farrier was Felix Randal who lived in the slum-area of Liverpool. For two years he had been treated for tuberculosis but was not cured. In January 1880, Hopkins had been appointed to the large Jesuit Church of St. Xavier at Liverpool.


      Stanza 1. The poet Hopkins in the first stanza feels a sense of relief over the Farrier’s death. The death of the man means that Hopkins’s duty as a priest also ends so far as that particular individual was concerned. The poet recalls the feet that Felix Randal used to be a strong, big-boned, handsome and sturdy man once. But then he was afflicted by illness and began to languish. Some four different diseases had assembled in his body and they fought with each other to gain mastery over their victim.

      Stanza 2. The poet in this stanza says that while visiting a sick person, the priest becomes dear to him. In the present poem Hopkins is the priest and Felix Randal is the patient. So there is a mutual love between them. The poet’s heart is moved by sympathy for poor Randal who was once a very strong and energetic man now lying in his bed helpless. At first Randal reacted to his disease impatiently uttering curses and swearing impiously. But when he was anointed with the sacrament of the dying his mood improved—he stopped cursing, he started loving the poet his priest, who helped to heal his sufferings.

      Stanza 3. The poet in the third stanza recalls the years when Felix Randal used to be full of vigor and vitality. The poet further says that Felix Randal in his youthful days had never imagined that in his old age he would become a victim of this fatal disease. He used to work in his smithy constantly, with full of vigor and vitality. As he was the most powerful among other blacksmith. He used to forge shoes for some strong powerful horse pulling heavy loads. (Actually Hopkins himself was the priest who ministered to the spiritual needs of the dying man at a hospital).


Line 1: Felix Randal: Felix Randal is the name of the blacksmith. The poem is based on his life and death.

Felix: happy, blessed.

Randal: shoe maker

Randal literally means leather, i.e. leather shield for heels.

Farrier: a blacksmith who specializes in forging horse shoes. (In those days shoeing horse was a flourishing business in an industrial town like Leigh where teams of horses were used to pull wagons loaded with heavy goods).

My duty all ended: The function of a priest is to offer comfort and solace to the dying with the death of the patient. Hopkins’s priestly duty ended so far as this particular individual was concerned.

Line 2: Who: used for the poet.

His mold of man: his large body.
Hardy-handsome: “Hardy” means bold, strong, robust.

Line 3: Pining, pining: languishing; declining; losing strength.

till time when: till the time came when. 

Reason rambled in it: his wits gave way and he became almost mad.

Line 4: Fatal four disorders.....all contended?

Fatal four means the four elements—water, fire, air and earth, four disorders refer to the four ‘humours’ of the body—blood, cholera, phlegm and melancholy.

Fleshed there: the disease or sickness embodied in a sick person.

Line 5: Impatient, he cursed at first: Due to sickness a man swears and curses which are an act of impiety.

Lines 5-6: but mended/Being anointed and all: The religious ceremony calmed him and he spiritually improved.

Line 6: a heavenlier heart: a more pious heart; a change in his heart and behavior had come a few months before his death.

Line 7: Since I had our sweet reprieve and ransom: “Sweet reprieve and ransom” refers to the ceremony of Holy Communion preceded by confession and absolution. Felix Randal’s heart became readier for heaven since the poet-priest had performed the last spiritual rites which could win his soul from the Devil and take him to Christ.

The ceremony of Holy Communion improved the condition of the sick, dying man.

Line 8: God rest him: he proceeds to offer a prayer to God on behalf of the departed soul of Felix Randal.

All road ever he offended: The poet prays for Felix Randal by saying May God grant him rest no matter what his life and actions might have been!

Line 9: This seeing the sick it endears: The priests become fond of the sick when they visit the sick to offer them comfort. So there is a mutual endearment between the sick and the priest. In the present case the endearment is between Hopkins and Felix Randal.

Line 10: My Tongue: The words of comfort spoken by the priest to the sick man.

Thee: Felix Randal

Quenched thy tears!: The tears of Felix Randal had also touched the heart of the poet to sympathy. The poet now addresses Felix as his child. So, there now exists a father-son relationship between the poet-priest, Felix Randal. The Priest observes a child-like innocence in Randal who has been anointed.

Child Felix: The word “Child” is used for Felix Randal in a triple sense: (1) Randal, dying, is helpless like a child; (2) Randal is the priest’s child in the spiritual sense; (3) The priest now sees a child-like innocence in Randal as he lies dying after receiving the sacrament of the Eucharist. 

Line 12: Forethought of: Felix Randal in his youthful days could not have thought of such a fetal sickness and death. During his years of vigor and vitality, he was far away from any forethought of fatal sickness.

Line 13: Random: In the architectural sense it means “built with stones of irregular size and shape”. The word refers to the forge on which Felix Randal worked. The word also implies the thoughtless, careless labor of the blacksmith.

Grim forge: The smithy has a grim look because it demands hard labor. Powerful amidst peers: Felix Randal was the most powerful man among other blacksmiths.

Line 14: Fettle: manufacture.

Drayhorse: a kind of strong horse employed to pull heavy loads.

Bright and battering sandal: heavy clattering. Sound produced by the bright and shining horse hoof when strikes the road.


      The title of poem Felix Randal means the blessed shoemaker, who shoes horses. In this poem the poet as a priest has been watching Felix Randal on his sick-bed. He describes Felix Randal as a man of vigor, vitality and good physique. In his young age he used to work in his smithy uninterrupted and made shoes for the big horses who were supposed to carry heavy loads. The word “pining” means that Felix Randal has been yearning for life, that he did not want to die. But ultimately he lost his consciousness and started muttering like a mad man.

      In the sestet, Hopkins says that when we nurse a sick man, he becomes dear to us, and also starts loving us. This mutual endearment stands for mutual help. The words “touch”, “tears” and “child” indicate father-son relationship. The poet’s heart was filled with sympathy at the suffering of Felix Randal.

      The last line of the sonnet refers to the idea of Pegasus the winged horse of poetry which goes to Mount Helicon. It shows Felix’s flight to heaven through his duty to the horses. 

      Of all his poems expressing his sympathy in such case Felix Randal is undoubtedly the richest and most successful.

      In this poem, we have a deep personal involvement, and we have a casual seeing idiomatic compression which easily takes up into itself common dialect phrases in tribute to the dead farrier: “Being anointed and all”, “Ah well, God rest him all road he ever offended”!

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