In his poem Spring and Fall, Gerard Manley Hopkins uses diacritics where one would normally not see them. Does anyone know why? Here is the poem:

Márgarét, áre you gríeving
Over Goldengrove unleaving?
Leáves like the things of man, you
With your fresh thoughts care for you, can you?
Ah! ás the heart grows older
It will come to such sights colder
By and by, nor spare a sigh
Though worlds of wanwood leafmeal lie;
And yet you wíll weep and know why.
Now no matter, child, the name:
Sórrow’s spríngs áre the same.
Nor mouth had, no nor mind, expressed
What heart heard of, ghost guessed:
It ís the blight man was born for,
It is Margaret you mourn for.

Notice, for example, how he wrote "is" in the last line, compared to the one on the line before. Is it some kind of poetic license? Is it to indicate what syllables should be stressed?

  • Finding a few different versions of that poem online it seems a bit random which specific characters are accented. Are you confident the version you have is the original one? e.g. this one doesn't accent Margaret victorianweb.org/authors/hopkins/keegan.html Nov 5, 2016 at 17:47
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    This use of accents is idiosyncratic to Hopkins and his theory of Sprung Rhythm. Nov 5, 2016 at 17:54
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    @Martin Smith: The accents tell you which syllables you should stress. Hopkins had an idiosyncratic theory of poetic rhythm, and he put accents on all the syllables he wanted you to stress that weren't "obvious" to the reader. He may have changed which syllables he accented when he saw that people needed more guidance. You can either (a) completely ignore the stress marks or (b) look at Hopkins' notes about the poem and figure out how he wanted the rhythm to work of (c) try to take the stress marks into account, but not worry about it too much. I'd suggest (c). Nov 5, 2016 at 18:52
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    I'm voting to close this question as off-topic because it is a non-standard usage. Nov 5, 2016 at 22:53
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    In case more experienced people decide to close this question, I wish to thank Peter and Stoney for their answers. As a language enthusiast, I've found them constructive and very useful.
    – Juan M
    Nov 7, 2016 at 13:30

1 Answer 1


Hopkins was an advocate of sprung rhythm, and many of his poems are written in it. (Others are written in conventional poetic meters.) In Hopkins' sprung rhythm, every line has the same number of stressed syllables, but the feet are irregular. Hopkins put accent marks on syllables when he didn't think the stresses were obvious. For example, in Pied Beauty, Hopkins put accents on only two words, áll trádes, where he wants a one-syllable foot:

Glory be to God for dappled things—
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

Hopkins said the rhythm was paeonic, by which he means the feet on average have four syllables. It's clear from this that every line, except the last, should have three stressed syllables. For most lines, it's fairly clear how to do this. Here's how I would scan it:

Glóry be to Gód for dáppled things—
For skíes of couple-cólour as a bríndled cow;
For róse-moles all in stípple upon tróut that swim;
Fresh-fírecoal chéstnut-falls; fínches' wings;
Lándscape plótted and pieced—fold, fállow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and táckle and trim.

Áll things counter, oríginal, spáre, strange;
Whatéver is fíckle, freckled (whó knows how?)
With swíft, slow; swéet, sour; adázzle, dim;
He fáthers-forth whose béauty is pást change:
Práise him.

I'm fairly sure I've scanned most of the lines correctly, but there are a few lines where I don't know whether I've done what Hopkins would have wanted.

For example, I'm fairly sure that the first syllables of Landscape and plotted should be stressed, but I'm not at all sure whether to put the next stress on fold or fallow. And I don't know whether Hopkins would have cared which of these was stressed, or not. After all, he didn't mark this line for the reader.

And there are lots of people who read this poem without following Hopkins' rules of sprung rhythm and make it sound great. Just don't read it as if it were written in iambic pentameter/hexameter. It doesn't sound as good, and we're sure that wasn't Hopkins' intention.

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