English Literature
Binsey Poplars

Binsey Poplars

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The Saving Power of "Binsey Poplars": A Poetic Reflection on Nature by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Did you know that a poem can have the power to rescue a forest? Such was the case with Gerard Manley Hopkins's "Binsey Poplars," a heartfelt lyric written in despair over the destruction of poplar trees in the small English village of Binsey. Although it was published posthumously in 1918, the poem eventually led to the replanting of the same trees that Hopkins mourned. With its use of rhyme and alliteration, "Binsey Poplars" continues to raise awareness and funds for the preservation of nature's delicate beauty, even after the unfortunate fate of the trees in 2004.

The Inspiration Behind "Binsey Poplars"

In 1879, Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English poet and Jesuit priest, visited the quaint town of Binsey near the River Thames. Having studied in nearby Oxford, he returned years later to serve as a parish priest. However, he was devastated to find that the once magnificent rows of poplar trees that he had admired on his walks by the river had been chopped down. This event stirred Hopkins to write "Binsey Poplars," expressing his grief and disappointment towards the disregard for nature.

Known for his deep connection to nature, Hopkins saw it as a reflection of God's power and perfection. His poetry, including "Binsey Poplars," is characterized by its unique rhythm, rhyme, language, and themes of God and nature.

Inscape and "Selves" in Hopkins's Poetry

In his poems, Hopkins created his own words and used language in unique ways, influenced by his concept of inscape and his idea of "selves." According to Hopkins, inscape is the individual design that gives everything in the world its own identity. He often used the term "selves" as a verb, signifying the embodiment or expression of this individual identity. Ultimately, Hopkins believed that the unique design of all things reflected God, the creator.

The Overview of "Binsey Poplars"

"Binsey Poplars" can be compared to an elegy, a lament for the deceased. Hopkins dedicated the poem with the words "felled 1879," explicitly referencing the felling of the trees. He addresses them as "my aspens dear," personifying them as if they were a beloved lost. In the poem, Hopkins contrasts the image of the lifeless trees lying on the ground with the pleasant sight of their shadows gracefully dancing along the river bank in the summer breeze. He mourns that not a single tree was spared, each one forming delicate shadows on the water's surface. The length of the last line in the stanza emphasizes the vast number of trees that were cut down along the river.

The following stanza shifts from personal mourning to a reflection on humanity's disregard for nature. Hopkins draws a parallel between the people who destroyed the trees and the soldiers who crucified Jesus. In his statement, "O if we but knew what we do / When we delve or hew," Hopkins alludes to Jesus's words on the cross, "Father, forgive them for they do not know what they do." This comparison highlights the unawareness of people and the gravity of their actions towards something precious and powerful like nature.

Finally, Hopkins personifies the trees, describing them as "tender" and "slender" like a delicate woman. This comparison further emphasizes the fragility of nature and its vulnerability to human actions.

Nature Personified: Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Binsey Poplars" as a Reflection on Nature's Destruction

In the poem "Binsey Poplars," Gerard Manley Hopkins gives nature a feminine form, intensifying the horror of its destruction at the hands of humans. He describes the act of "hacking" and "hewing" nature as akin to the unsettling prick of an eyeball. By stating "Even where we mean / To mend her we end her," Hopkins emphasizes the fragility of nature and how easily it can be destroyed (16-17).

The poem delves deeper into the shockingly effortless destruction of nature with the lines "After-comers cannot guess the beauty been. / Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve / Strokes of havoc unselve / The sweet especial scene" (19-22). Hopkins suggests that future generations will never experience the beauty of the Binsey poplars, as they were felled with just a few strikes. The phrase "sweet especial scene" highlights nature's innocence and preciousness, while also conveying Hopkins' own nostalgia for the trees as he drifts out of the poem with the repeated lines "Rural scene, a rural scene, / Sweet especial rural scene" (23-24).

The Form and Themes of "Binsey Poplars" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

"Binsey Poplars" is a heartfelt and lyrical poem divided into two stanzas of eight and sixteen lines respectively. Hopkins purposefully chose this form to convey the depth of his emotions surrounding the destruction of the poplars. Lyrical poems are short, personal expressions of feelings with rhythmic and melodic qualities.

In the first stanza, Hopkins uses a consistent ABACBACC rhyme scheme, mimicking the flowing "river & wind-wandering" bank. Despite varying line lengths, the end rhymes create a sense of harmony and stability. The rhyming words in this stanza are: 1. quelled-A, 2. sun-B, 3. felled-A, 4. rank-C, 5. one-B, 6. sandalled-A, 7. sank-C, 8. bank-C.

The second stanza, twice the length of the first, has an irregular rhyme scheme. However, it contains several rhyming couplets that bring together different phrases to form a unified thought or image. A rhyming couplet consists of two lines with similar length and end rhymes. For instance, lines 12-13, "Since country is só tender, / To touch, her being só slender," paint a delicate and slim image. In contrast, lines 14-15, "That, like this sleek and seeing ball / But a prick will make no eye at all," compare the tree to an eyeball, appealing to the reader's senses and emphasizing its vulnerability.

Moreover, Hopkins uses his characteristic "sprung rhythm" to give the poem a natural flow and mimic the patterns of speech. This meter allows for varying line lengths and emphasizes consecutive syllables, crucial to the meaning of "Binsey Poplars." Sprung rhythm is an irregular meter that counts the stressed syllables but allows for varying numbers of unstressed syllables following them. It creates a diverse mix of line lengths and the potential for consecutive stressed syllables, unlike the traditional iambic rhythm pattern.

Themes in "Binsey Poplars"

At its core, "Binsey Poplars" explores the relationship between humanity and nature. The poem highlights the speaker's personal connection with nature and humanity's indifferent attitude towards the environment.

The speaker deeply admires and reveres the beauty of nature, as seen through the use of personification to portray the poplars as a woman. The poet addresses the trees in an elegy-like manner, referring to them with the pronoun "her" and describing them as "slender" and "tender" to the touch. In doing so, he emphasizes the fragility and value of nature and hopes to evoke empathy and a sense of responsibility to protect it.

The poet also expresses his sorrow towards humanity for its cruelty and disregard towards the trees that were felled. He uses potent words like "subdue," "hack," "hew," and "ruin" to depict the act of cutting down trees as a violent and torturous act. Hopkins suggests that humans pose a threat to nature, capable of easily destroying it without a second thought. This poem calls for empathy, appreciation, and preservation of nature, something the speaker believes is lacking among people.

Literary Devices in "Binsey Poplars"

Gerard Manley Hopkins is known for his frequent use of alliteration, the repetition of sounds or letters at the beginning of words. In line 4, "Of a fresh and following folded rank," the alliteration guides readers through the line and helps establish Hopkins's sprung rhythm, with the stressed syllables coinciding with the "f" sounds.

Overall, "Binsey Poplars" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that captures the essence of nature and the impact of humanity on its delicate existence. Through its form, themes, and literary devices, Hopkins effectively conveys the message of preserving and cherishing nature for future generations.

Repetition and Fluidity: Uncovering the Impact of Human Actions in Hopkins' "Binsey Poplars"

In Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Binsey Poplars," he effectively utilizes repetition to emphasize the destructive nature of human actions on the environment. The poem serves as an elegy for the poplar trees that were relentlessly cut down along the River Thames in the English village of Binsey.

In the lines "All cut, cut, are all cut," Hopkins repeats the word "cut" to mimic the sound of an ax striking wood, highlighting the sheer number of trees that were lost. This repetition creates a dramatic effect and emphasizes the devastation caused by human hands.

Similarly, in the lines "Shadow that swam or sank/ On meadow & river & wind-wandering weed-winding bank," the poet employs enjambment to create a winding and fluid effect, mirroring the meandering river and endless bank. By utilizing this technique, Hopkins emphasizes the vast quantity of trees that were chopped down.

Hopkins' use of long and extended lines further highlights the length of the river bank, standing out from the shorter lines in the poem. This clever technique draws attention to the immense number of trees that were lost, ultimately showcasing the impact of human actions on nature.

Understanding "Binsey Poplars": A Reflection on Nature and Humanity's Relationship

Written in 1879, "Binsey Poplars" is a lyrical poem that explores the theme of humanity's relationship with nature. Hopkins, known for his characteristic sprung rhythm, effectively captures the deep sorrow and outrage towards the destruction of nature in this piece.

The poem employs various literary devices, including personification, alliteration, repetition, rhyme, and enjambment, to convey the message of the impact of human actions on the environment.

  • Elegy for the Lost Trees

"Binsey Poplars" serves as an elegy for the trees that were lost in the English village of Binsey. The poem's poignant depiction of the felled poplar trees gained popularity and eventually led to their replanting.

  • A Lyric Poem

"Binsey Poplars" is a lyric poem, characterized by its brevity, melody, and personal reflection. Hopkins effectively expresses his emotions and personal connection to the environment in this piece, making it a powerful and moving work of art.

  • Location of "Binsey Poplars"

The poem's subject matter revolves around the poplar trees situated in the English village of Binsey, northwest of Oxford, along the River Thames. By specifying the location, Hopkins further emphasizes the impact of human actions on a specific environment.

  • The Relationship Between Humanity and Nature

The underlying theme of "Binsey Poplars" is the relationship between humanity and nature and the consequences of human actions on the environment. Through the literary devices and imagery, Hopkins effectively conveys the damaging effects of human interference on the natural world.

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