The Leaden Echo and The Golden Echo: Summary & Analysis

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(Maidens’ song from St. Winefred’s Well)

The Leaden Echo

How to keep–is there ány any, is there none such, nowhere
known some, bow or brooch or braid or brace, láce, latch
or catch or key to keep
Back beauty, keep it, beauty, beauty, beauty, . . . from vanishing
Ó is there no frowning of these wrinkles, rankèd wrinkles deep,
Dówn? no waving off of these most mournful messengers, still
messengers, sad and stealing messengers of grey?
No there’s none, there’s none, O no there’s none,
Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair,
Do what you may do, what, do what you may,
And wisdom is early to despair:
Be beginning; since, no, nothing can be done
To keep at bay
Age and age’s evils, hoar hair,
Ruck and wrinkle, drooping, dying, death’s worst, winding
sheets, tombs and worms and tumbling to decay;
So be beginning, be beginning to despair.
O there’s none; no no no there’s none:
Be beginning to despair, to despair,
Despair, despair, despair, despair.

The Golden Echo

There is one, yes I have one (Hush there!);
Only not within seeing of the sun,
Not within the singeing of the strong sun,
Tall sun’s tingeing, or treacherous the tainting of the earth’s air.
Somewhere elsewhere there is ah well where! one,
Óne. Yes I can tell such a key, I do know such a place,
Where whatever’s prized and passes of us, everything that’s
fresh and fast flying of us, seems to us sweet of us and
swiftly away with, done away with, undone,
Undone, done with, soon done with, and yet dearly and
dangerously sweet
Of us, the wimpled-water-dimpled, not-by-morning-matchèd face,
The flower of beauty, fleece of beauty, too too apt to, ah! to fleet,
Never fleets more, fastened with the tenderest truth
To its own best being and its loveliness of youth: it is an ever-
lastingness of, O it is an all youth!
Come then, your ways and airs and looks, locks, maiden gear,
gallantry and gaiety and grace,
Winning ways, airs innocent, maiden manners, sweet looks,
loose locks, long locks, lovelocks, gaygear, going gallant,
Resign them, sign them, seal them, send them, motion them
with breath,
And with sighs soaring, soaring síghs deliver
Them; beauty-in-the-ghost, deliver it, early now, long before
Give beauty back, beauty, beauty, beauty, back to God, beauty’s
self and beauty’s giver.
See; not a hair is, not an eyelash, not the least lash lost; every hair
Is, hair of the head, numbered.
Nay, what we had lighthanded left in surly the mere mould
Will have waked and have waxed and have walked with the wind
what while we slept,
This side, that side hurling a heavyheaded hundredfold
What while we, while we slumbered.
O then, weary then whý should we tread? O why are we so
haggard at the heart, so care-coiled, care-killed, so fagged,
so fashed, so cogged, so cumbered,
When the thing we freely fórfeit is kept with fonder a care,
Fonder a care kept than we could have kept it, kept
Far with fonder a care (and we, we should have lost it) finer, fonder
A care kept. Where kept? Do but tell us where kept, where.–
Yonder.–What high as that! We follow, now we follow.–
Yonder, yes yonder, yonder,


      The Leaden Echo and the Golden Echo was begun at Hampstead in August 1880, but was not completed until 13 October 1882 at Stonyhurst. The poem was intended to be part of a play on which Hopkins worked over a span of ten years without completing it.

      The poem contains the poet’s conviction that human beauty like all beauty, is from God and is a revelation of God; beauty is to be offered back to God; God mysteriously returns it to the giver in greater splendor than ever.

      The present poem was meant to be sung by a chorus of St. Winefred’s Maidens whom the beheaded saint gathered about her after she had been restored to life.

      Winefred was the only devout daughter of Thewith, a noble Welsh landowner of Holywell, and niece of St. Beuno. She dedicated herself to God, but a local prince, Caradoe became enamored by her beauty. Her refusal enraged him and as a result, when he got her alone struck off her head with his sword. It is said that a miraculous spring gushed from the bank on which her head came to rest. Some legends relate that St. Beuno restored her to life and that his curse killed Caradoe instantly.

      The poem is one of the greatest religious lyric ever composed. The poem dramatically enacts the poet’s sense of the fragility of beauty. “Mor can you long be, what you now are, called fair”.



      The poet in these lines says that wisdom of woman lies in giving up of hopes of preserving her beauty because nothing can be done to ward off old age and all that the old age brings in its fold, such as grey hair, wrinkles on the face and the stoop of the body. Again, nothing can be done to keep of death or decay and all that death brings in its wake, namely the shroud, the grave, the worms that eat away the dead body and the decay and the decomposition of the dead body in the grave. A woman may try as hard as she can, but she cannot keep her beauty for long. In this poem, the poet makes the Leaden Echo to ask an important question if there is any way to protect beauty from decay, and if it is possible to guard or preserve beauty with the help of ornaments and artificial embellishments; to maintain it by means of a bow, or a brooch, or a braid, or a brace, or a lace, or a latch, or a catch, or a key. The Leaden Echo finds it all useless to make any attempt to preserve the beauty of a woman. Time is waiting there to snatch away all the earthly beauty. The poet then suggests that it is therefore desirable for a beautiful woman to begin harboring the feeling of despair early in life. The best course for her is to begin early in life to accept her eventual fate which is decay and death; or it can be said that it is appropriate for a beautiful woman to begin cherishing the feeling of despair early in life and thus keep herself ready to face what is inevitable.


      In the second half, the Golden Echo gives the answer, it says that beautiful women should stop shedding tears of grief over the impending loss of beauty. There is certainly a key to preserve all that is beautiful all that we value and prize most highly, all that is sweet and fresh all that dies too soon; there is certainly a key to preserve all that is sweet and fresh, all that die so soon, there is a method by which beauty that is transitory can be kept intact. By restoring beauty to its original facet, we can give it a perennial life. The Golden Echo then enumerates the attractions and charms which beautiful women possess and those they are called upon to surrender to God. These are: their coquetry and their pride in their beauty, their locks of hair, their maidenly behavior, their boldness, gaiety and grace, their winning ways, their look of innocence, their virginal modesty, their sweet looks; their loose hair their long hair, and their love locks; their gay apparel, their smart gait, their girlish graces. The poem then finally moves to its conclusion. Despair has been conquered by hope. What began in the first half as an apprehensive lament over the passing of beauty has ended as a joyous affirmation. The poem has moved from ‘how to keep’ to ‘despair’ and on to ‘spare’ and finally to the one who is to be sought ‘yonder’ and who is the beauty and quickening life and resurrection.



Line 1: How to keep: In this lines a question is asked by the poet. The poet asks if there is any way to protect and preserve the beauty permanently against decline or destruction.

Braid: Silk thread for intertwining the hair.

Brace: Strap for tightening

Line 3: Ranked wrinkles: Wrinkles appearing in the face of a woman.

Line 4: Sad and stealing messengers of grey: The grey hairs are the messenger of old age. This messenger comes imperceptibly.

Line 6: Nor can you long be, what you now are, called fair: Nor can any woman remain beautiful for a long time who is fair and beautiful now.

Line 8: And wisdom is early to despair: beauty is transitory and it cannot last for ever. A wise person can realize early that beauty must wither and fade.

Line 10: To keep at bay: to avert

Line 12: Ruck: Wrinkle

Drooping: Stooping of human body with age.

Winding Sheets: The sheet of cloth in which a dead body is wrapped up.

Line 15: Be beginning to despair: Despair is the only course for a beautiful woman. She should begin to realize early that beauty will not last.

The repetition of the word ‘despair’ is for the sake of emphasis and also to add the musical effect.


Line 1: Spare: The Leaden Echo is asked by the golden echo to stop weeping, to wait a minute, as there is a way to preserve beauty.

Line 3: Only not within seeing of the sun: In the present material world this method cannot be seen.

Line 4: Singeing of the strong sun: Scorching heat of the sun.

Line 5: Tall suns tingeing: “Tall” refers to the great height of the sky where the sun is seen to shine.

Tingeing: sunburnt face; the heat of the sun turns the fair face brown.

Lines 4-6: Not within the singeing.....of the earth's air: there is no earthly way of preserving beauty. The way to preserve it exists not in this world but elsewhere, in the other world, that is, up in heaven.

Line 8: Whatever's prized and passes of us: Whatever passes quickly away from us; whatever is beautiful and transient.

Fast flying of us: Things which are short-lived.

Line 10: Wimpled-water-dimpled: The phrase refers to soft curving mobility of a youthful face. A dimple in the face makes it more charming.

Not-by-inorning-matched; The freshness, of face, is not equaled even by a morning.

Line 11: the flower of beauty, fleece of beauty: The beauty of a youthful face is compared to the softness of the flower.
Toof too apt to ah! to fleet: The soft and beautiful face is short-lived.

Line 12: Never fleets more: If the device mentioned by the poet is used, the beauty will never pass away.

Line 12-13: Fastened, with.....loveliness of youth: By surrendering beauty to God, we can fasten beauty permanently to its essence. It is Hopkins’s suggestion that if we give beauty back to God, from where it was derived, we can make beauty eternal.

Line 14: Come then: The Golden Echo now calls upon all young and beautiful women to follow the method suggested by the poet

Line 15: Winning ways.....girlgrace: Here all the charms, graces attractions and allurements of young and beautiful women are enumerated.

Locks: Lock of hair

Maiden gear: The expression refers to the cosmetics and other things which enhance woman beauty.

Lovelocks: A curl of hair is deliberately made to hang upon the forehead instead of being kept in position with the rest of the hair.

Gaygear: Gay apparel

Line 16-17: Resign them.....deliver: The surrender of all charms and graces should be made by the women with sighs of regret which then accompany the gift to God.

Line 18: Beauty-in-the-ghost: spiritual beauty; innocence and chastity which are a form of beauty. Along with the physical beauty, this beauty is also to be handed over to God.

Line 19: Give beauty back, “beauty’s giver: God Himself is an embodiment of beauty. All the beauty of women should be returned to the source from where it originally came.

Lines 22-25: What we had lighthanded.....slumbered: For surrendering their beauty to Him, human beings will be rewarded a hundredfold. The poet says that by dedicating our beauty to God freely and voluntarily great spiritual benefits shall be reaped. “Lighthanded” refers to the careless throwing of seeds into the furrows of a field that has been got ready for the sowing. “This side that side....heavy headed hundred fold” means the things which we voluntarily sacrifice to God in this life (this side) will blossom a hundredfold in the life to come. Just as a single grain dies and then grows into a full ear of wheat, so a single sacrifice offered to God will richly be rewarded in the next life after the resurrection.

“While use slumbered”: God rewards human being in a mysterious way. Human beings are not even aware of that reward.

Line 26: O then, weary then why should we cumbered: We should not feel wretched and miserable during our earthly existence as there is hope of immortality for our beauty. We should not feel so care-worn, distressed and afflicted by sorrow.

Haggard at the heart: sick at heart.

Care-coiled: entangled in anxieties.

fagged: exhausted

fashed: full of anxiety

Cogged: self-deluded

Cumbered: weighed down.

Line 27: freely forfeit: spontaneously surrender

Line 27-30: when the things.....where we should not feel troubled by our sacrifice of beauty because God will look after our beauty with more affection and a greater sense of responsibility than we ourselves could have felt. However, we would like to know where our beauty will be preserved.

Line 31: Yonder: there in heaven

What high as that: The question arises if our beauty will be preserved by God in heaven.

We follow, now we follow: The maidens feel satisfied when they are assured that God will preserve their beauty in heaven if they willingly surrender it to Him.


      The Golden Echo then enumerates the attractions and charms which beautiful women possess and which they are called upon to surrender to God.

      The poet also suggests that all the charms and graces should be accompanied with appropriate words and with sighs of regret. The poet also suggests that all the woman should hand over their beauty and charm back to God who is fountainhead of all beauty and who bestowed beauty on those women.

      The poet assures the beautiful woman that what they casually give to God will be recompensed a hundredfold in the next life after the resurrection. A question arises that if God has so much affection and kindness why do the woman feel so miserable? And there is another question where God will keep their beauty if it cannot be kept here on earth.

      In the last part of the poem, the answer is given that God will keep human beauty safely in heaven. Thus the key to the whole problem is a surrender of one’s gifts to God from whom they were derived.

      Thus the full dramatic sweep of the poem moves from poignant tears for the brevity of beauty to the joyful proclamation of beauty itself....Words and phrases are carefully and lovingly chosen. The whole poem is an extreme example of the way Hopkins builds through balances of syntax and idea, linking all the time with echoes of sound in consonants and vowels as in that series of words implying both decoration and restraint, “bow or brooch or braid or brace, lace, latch or. catch or key” which finally modulates to the verb “keep”. Christopher Devlin, a priest rightly remarks that there is a “perfect fusion of Hopkins’s spiritual consciousness and his religious ideals; they were the high tradition of the 17th-century refusal to let beauty and morality go different ways.”

      “Hopkins came nearer in this poem than in any of his works to using language as pure incantation. The music here is gentle and flowing and there are none of the abrupt transitions or violent contrasts so common in his poetry. In the first half of the poem, The Leaden Echo all the beauties of the senses are seen fading into old age, corruption, and death and this part ends with a fourfold repetition of the word “despair”, the last syllable of which is echoed by the second semi-chorus (The Golden Echo) as “spare” and from this point all the beauty which had faded in The Leaden Echo comes back with a great rush of sound, and is shown as preserved by the one “catch or key” which cannot ward off death and decay, the way which is “not within seeing of the sun”.

      Regarding the meter of this poem Hopkins himself comments, “That piece of mine is very highly wrought. The long lines are not rhythm run to seed: everything is weighed and timed in them. Wait till they have taken hold of your ear and you will find it so. No, but what it is like is the rhythm of Greek tragic choruses or a Pindar: which is pure sprung rhythm. And that has the same changes of cadence from point to point as this piece”.

      With all its qualities the present poem was one of Hopkins’s favorites. “I never did anything more musical” he wrote to Dixon. Indeed it achieves a rich, hypnotic word-music which immerses the reader in contemplation. The spell is affected by a complex of techniques—rhyme, incantation, vowel-chime, vowel-run alliteration, and consonant chime. To Bridges, Hopkins wrote: “You shall see The Leaden Echo when finished. The reason, I suppose, why you feel it carry the reader along with it is that it is dramatic and meant to be popular. It is a song for St. Winefred’s maidens to sing”.

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