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There's a great poem by G.M. Hopkins, in which I but vaguely get the meaning of the two last stanzas, stumbling at properly parsing the sentences in my mind.

In particular, I don't understand the bit with "be in at the end I cannot". At the end of what? And I hope I rightly understand "wind" to be a verb meaning "to finish something". Thus, of the part spanning from wind to cannot I get only the general feel but not the literal sense. Usually I get the meaning on an umpteenth reading, but this remains a huddle of words to me.

"The Lantern out of Doors"

SOMETIMES a lantern moves along the night, 
   That interests our eyes. And who goes there? 
   I think; where from and bound, I wonder, where, 
 With, all down darkness wide, his wading light? 

 Men go by me whom either beauty bright 
   In mould or mind or what not else makes rare: 
   They rain against our much-thick and marsh air 
 Rich beams, till death or distance buys them quite. 

 Death or distance soon consumes them: wind 
   What most I may eye after, be in at the end 
 I cannot, and out of sight is out of mind. 

 Christ minds: Christ’s interest, what to avow or amend 
   There, éyes them, heart wánts, care haúnts, foot fóllows kínd, 
 Their ránsom, théir rescue, ánd first, fást, last friénd.
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wind, I think, is employed in a double sense: as “sense” or “detect” and as “follow a twisted path”.

eye after means “follow with one’s eyes”—John Gilroy suggests (cogently, to my mind) that Hopkins is echoing Shakespeare's coinage “after-eye”.

To be in at the end means “to arrive in time for the conclusion”; it is often used in contexts where the end is a death.

The verse may be paraphrased (with great loss of resonance):

Although I strain as hard as I may to follow their winding path, they [the men he likens to lanterns traveling through a foggy marsh] are soon swallowed up by death or distance—I cannot discern which end they meet; and out of sight is out of mind [implying that he eventually forgets them] ...

... but Christ does not forget.

  • Thank, StoneyB! I tried Google Books, but somehow missed that book. So wind dovetails with I cannot, clenching in between them a whole line = "I cannot wind what (with most effort) I may eye-after, and cannot be in at the end (be present at a person's moment of death)". Wow. Now it begins to look cogent. (0: Indeed, Wiktionary lists a sense of "wind" which I did not know: // To perceive, follow by scent: "The hounds winded the game". // – CowperKettle Oct 31 '13 at 9:08
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I believe, he is in two minds.

To be in or out of sight, at the end.

To be in sight, he cannot. On the other hand staying out of sight means he is out of mind.

I am no expert by a long shot, but I believe he is contemplating whether to contact someone (one who cannot be contacted) before the end.

Hope this helps!

  • Thanks for the effort, Avishek, but StoneyB did clinch the issue. Poems by Hopkins are hard to decipher sometimes. (0: – CowperKettle Oct 31 '13 at 10:11
  • Yup...StoneyB is right! I missed out on the context of the men with lanterns. :| – Avishek Dutta Oct 31 '13 at 11:17

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