Poem introduction

Given the terrible destruction we have wrought on our planet, Hopkins’ lament for the felling of the trees he knew so well while studying at Oxford, seems more relevant than ever, though he could hardly have guessed at the scale of destruction a hundred or more years later. This poem is a heartbreaking cry, outcry, for the consequences of industrialisation on a large scale. But also, on a local scale, bemoans our small, mindless acts against nature, which, given Hopkins’ belief in the unifying design of creation, also blind us to the presence of God. Ghosting behind the poem is Christ’s prayer: Father forgive them, for they know not what they do. All of Hopkins’ onomatopoeic effects come into play here and the repetitions at the end are heart-wrenching in their expression of numb grief and his inability to let go, to leave the scene, to leave the poem.

Binsey Poplars

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled,
Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
All felled, felled, are all felled;
Of a fresh and following folded rank
Not spared, not one
That dandled a sandalled
Shadow that swam or sank
On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank.

O if we but knew what we do
When we delve or hew —
Hack and rack the growing green!
Since country is so tender
To touch, her being só slender,
That, like this sleek and seeing ball
But a prink will make no eye at all,
Where we, even where we mean
To mend her we end her,
When we hew or delve:
After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unselve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.

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Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins Downloads read by Mimi Khalvati

1Binsey Poplars


2Spring and Fall


3Felix Randal


4Pied Beauty


5Thou are indeed just, Lord, if I contend