Poem: Critical Analysis of 'Binsey Poplars'

June 07, 2022

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 so slender, That, like this sleek and seeing ball But a prick 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.

Source: Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems and Prose (Penguin Classics, 1985) 

 Background of The Poem 'Binsey Poplars'

Binsley Poplar is about a river scene. The poet has just visited a river which he had always admired some fourteen years earlier while he was studying at Oxford. The river was by then located in a small hamlet in a town called Godstow near Oxford. To his bewilderment, the row of aspen trees which Used to line the river had been felled; the wood have been used for the construction of railway line. Hopkins was saddened by this development. He viewed it as environmental vandalism and encroachment and a sacrilege against God. He therefore wrote the poem as a way of protest against the environmental vandalism and unwholesome sacrilege.

This poem was written during the 19th century, at a time when the English society was undergoing multiple transformations which revolved around religion, ideology, urbanization and migration, to mention but a few. In the midst of the chaos, the poetic persona seems to tune out the world to focus on one thing - Nature, ‘Binsey Poplars’ was written in 1879 shortly after Gerard Manley Hopkins went to visit a river m Godstow, Oxfordshire and discovered that the aspen trees that had previously lined its banks had been cut down. The wood gotten from these trees was used for the railways, which at that time was a lucrative industry. The felling of these trees affected Hopkins profoundly. He viewed it as a disfigurement of the beauty of Nature and wrote ‘Binsey Poplars’ to express his feelings about this destructive act. In this poem, the poet bemoans man’s reckless destruction of the environment as well as its effects.

That the poet focused on Nature was not surprising, especially since the poetry of the Romantic tradition was in full bloom at the time. The entire poetic focus is on the destruction of the natural  heritage of Britain. However, the focus on Nature serves as a launch pad for the poet to talk about a host of other things as well as establish the enduring links between England’s rich history and Nature.

 Setting of  'Binsey Poplars'

The poem ‘Binsey Poplars’ is set in nineteenth'century Britain, specifically during the Victorian era. The nineteenth-century was both an immensely prosperous and chaotic time for the people of Great Britain. The Victorian era was a period where industrialization had just started evolving. More specifically, the poem is set on the bank of a river that was once surrounded by trees.

 The poem is mournful, as the poetic persona laments the felling of these trees. He also bemoans man’s ill-treatment of Nature and reflects on its far-reaching effects. Increased exploration, travel and wealth created a society more stratified by class and wealth. The middle class was already in existence and increasing in numbers due to a high rate of migration of people from the rural parts of Britain to the more urbanized areas for work in factories. Industrialization, during this period, was at its crudest stage, leading to many negative ecological and atmospheric consequences on the country. The increasing industrialization and migration led to a neglect of the rural areas. Binsey, when Hopkins wrote the poem, was a place in England with the heritage of a lovely land mass, a location beside the sea and idyllic natural vegetation. The emergence of inventions and more innovation led to the loss of more lands and a shift in the European mindset from Nature and natural ways of doing things to technology and innovations aimed at getting things done in an easier and faster way. Constantly, Nature was being despoiled daily, something that Hopkins found unpleasant and unacceptable. 

The micro-setting, 

The micro-setting, the most immediate setting, is the village of Binsey in Oxfordshire, England. Hopkins lived and worked near there (see "In a Nutshell" for more), so he knew the setting and its natural features. He thought he knew them anyway, as one day the disappearance of a familiar stand of poplar trees disturbed him enough to write this poem.

The macro-setting of this poem, though, in a larger sense is Nature itself (or "her" self, as the poem puts it in line 17). It's not just that our speaker is over-the-top in love with some trees. He sees a bigger problem in them being cut down. Specifically, human interference in the natural world effectively stops Nature from being, well, natural. And once that happens, we can never go back

The poem's setting, then, is our own setting: the natural environment all around us. The speaker wants to let us know how fragile and important it is

 Subject Matter/ Summary of Binsey Poplars

To most twenty-first century readers with little knowledge of the names of plants and trees, especially, those of the softwood variety, the title ‘Binsey Poplars’ would hardly ring a bell. One might think it to be the name of a band, mistake it for an Irish saying or imagine it as a name used to qualify a set of people during the Victorian age. It is while reading the poem that one gets enlightened to the fact that the poem is talking about trees. The poem describes and eulogizes the trees with a tinge of melancholy throughout the first stanza and shifts to talk about the effect of man’s interactions with Nature in the second stanza. In this poem, the poet mourns the cutting down of some Aspen trees. He considers this an act of needless destruction and environmental vandalism. He also reflects on the fact that such acts of destruction gradually strip Nature of her beauty. This, in the end, the title becomes a means to an end, because the poem uses the effect of the felling of a few trees to, show the larger picture of the devastating effect of industrialization on the earth.

Line to line analysis of the poem  Binsey Poplars

Lines 1-8

The poem begins with a statement which sounds like an epitaph, ‘felled 1879’, which sets the mood of the poem from the beginning because the psyche of the reader immediately registers that something ‘died’ or ‘was killed’ due to the poetic persona’s use of the word ‘felled*, which means ‘brought down’. Such an introduction to the poem makes it melancholic. The poem even begins in a sombre tone, mainly  when the poetic persona refers to the trees as ‘aspens dear’ (line 1), and this adds to the overall mournful tone of the poem. The name, Aspen, could be mistaken for a person’s name. On closer inspection, one would find out that ‘aspen’ is a species of the poplar tree.
The opening lines of the poem foreground the poet’s melancholic state of mind. The use of the possessive adjective ‘my’ in the first line personalizes the aspens and foregrounds the poet’s close connection with them. Furthermore, as we doted earlier, the poetic persona also describes the aspens as ‘dear’. He appears to be closely attached to the trees, such that he considers them ‘dear’ to him. The ‘airy cages’ that he refers to in line 1 is a reference to the branches of the trees, which he compares to the bars of a cage. The word ‘airy* is also a reference to the fresh breeze that flows through the branches of trees. The poetic persona further states that these trees “quelled* or ‘quenched* in leaves the leaping sun' (line 2). The sun is personified in these lines and presented as a prisoner of the trees. This is a figurative presentation of the way the trees give shade by keeping the rays of the sun away through their leaves and branches. However, despite the role these trees play in providing shade from the sun, they are ‘All felled, felled, are all felled... ’ (line 3). The repetition of ‘felled’ in these lines portrays the poet persona’s grief at this destructive act.
This grief is further evident in line 5, where the poetic persona laments that the trees are ‘not spared, not one.’ None of die trees is left standing; the destruction is complete and thorough. None of the trees that ever cast a shadow on the river bank or meadow is spared (line 8). Humans’ ruthless annihilation of an essential element of Nature is bemoaned and portrayed in these lines.
Once the reader is aware that the poetic persona is referring to trees, the images being created by the poetic persona begin to make more sense. These trees were cut down sometime in 1879, and this poem is written in remembrance of them. The poetic persona remembers how the leaves of the tree used to shield him from the sun. Unfortunately, these trees, whose leaves provided shade for the poetic persona have Been destroyed, as graphically expressed in lines 4-5.
The way the poetic persona describes the cutting down of the trees is as though it was a person that was killed and not a tree that was cut down. This is exemplified in the use of the word ‘spared’ in line 5. Most times, when the word spared is used, it refers to human lives or even animals but hardly plants. This entire stanza dedicates itself to these plants and describes with painful feeling the loss of trees that were very dear to the poetic persona.

Lines 9-24

These lines shift from the nostalgic reference to absent trees by the speaker to an audience that he speaks to, including himself. His inclusion is noticed by his use of the pronoun ‘we'. The poet persona reflects on the felling of trees using synonyms like ‘delve’ (line 10), ‘hew’ (line 10), ‘hack’ (line 11) and ‘rack’ (line 11). While referring to these actions, he laments the human lack of foresight into the effects of their actions. He describes the country as being’ tender’ and ‘slender’. Here, the word country is intentionally ambiguous. Does the poetic persona refer to the idea of the entirety of Britain making up a country? Does he refer to the meaning of country in term of the parts of Britain with woods, fields and farms (better known as the countryside)? Alternatively, does he imply that these areas of land filled with plants, farms and woods are what make Britain a country because they are the places that feed, shelter and cloth the entire nation?
In lines 14-15, the poetic persona compares the ‘country’ to an ‘eye. The analogy made is that just like a little piercing eye could lead to one having no eye at all, that is also the case with the earth and with Nature. By cutting or felling trees, the poetic persona believes that man is harming the  environment and not making it better. Lines 16-17 says, where we mean to mend her we end her, In man's desire to make the world a better place, the poetic persona believes that man does more harm than good through his destructive-creative ability. This argument is made more binding by the poem’s reference to the younger generation in line 19. The poetic persona tells the readers. ‘ after comers cannot guess the beauty been’. Although men keep hoping to make the earth a better place by creating new things and destroying the old things, they rob those yet unborn of the opportunity to see the beauty that had already been in place. Nature is deemed an entity in itself Man’s interference destroys its well ordered form, and this is what the poetic persona tries to express in this poem. Therefore, in these lines, the poetic persona reflects on the importance of man coming to realize the grave effects of the damage being done to the environment. He compares the delicacy of Nature to that of an eyeball; in the same way, a prick is all that is needed to destroy the latter, man’s continuous onslaught on the environment could also have dire consequences (lines 13-15). The poetic persona also reflects that while some of these actions may be done with good intentions, they still contribute to the destruction of the environment (lines 16-17), Furthermore, after the environment has been defaced, people who come in later generations would be deprived of the joy of appreciating the beauty of pristine, undefiled Nature (line 19). The poetic persona ends the stanza by reiterating that it does not take much to wreak havoc on the environment.


Summary and Analysis of Each Stanza in the Poem  Binsey Poplars

Stanza One

The poet seems to address the poetic object, the aspen trees. He recollects the environmental value of the trees - the trees whose leaves usually provided shade against the harsh effect of the sun: aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled. Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun,
He then proceeds to state that the trees have all been felled from their row:

All felled, felled, are all felled of a fresh and following folded rank

Going further, he recollects the environmental shade the trees provided around the river bank. However, the trees have not been spared for such benefit to the river bank. He comments thus:

Not spared, notone

That dandled a sandalled Shadow that swam or sank On meadow and river and wind wandering weed winding bank 

Stanza Two

The poet seems to say that humans have  acted in ignorance of the mistake they have made by cutting down trees generally:
O if we but knew what we do when we delve or how hack and rack the growing green
Doing such thing as cutting down the trees in the environment is compared by the poet to destroying the country herself: 
Since country is so tender To touch, her being so slender.
To graphically illustrate the painful effect of cutting down the trees, the poet compares cutting down the trees to pricking the eye ball out (sleek and seeing ball) from the eye socket.
To touch...
That, like this sleek and seeing ball But a prick will make no eye at all,

In both instances, (either cutting down the tree with a supposed beneficial intention or pricking the eye ball with an intent to fix it but mistakenly damaging the eye in the process), humans end up destroying what they intend to improve:

Where we, even where we mean To mend her we end her. When we hew or delve:

The effect of such destruction is that those who visit the site of the hewn trees subsequently (after-comers) would not be able to appreciate the beauty which the trees had provided that place when the trees were still there. 

After-comers cannot guess the beauty been.

The havoc  which humans have caused by selling the trees in their numbers (ten or twelves) has altered the scenery of the rural setting:

Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve  Strokes of havoc unselve  The sweet especial scene,  Rural scene, a rural scene Sweet especial rural scene. 

Themes of The Poem  Binsey Poplars

The theme of orderliness of nature

This poem shows that there is orderliness in Nature. If one fakes a look at the natural things abounding in existence and the natural laws guiding them, one will notice a rare semblance and harmony of order in place. The sun has a time it rises, and a time it sets; the rain has a season in which it pours; the trees have a time frame for yielding fruits and so on. The poetic persona captures this orderliness when he says/Since the country is so tender/To touch, her being so slender/That like this sleek and seeing ball/ But a prick will make no eye at all (lines 12-15).
In these lines, the poetic persona exemplifies the beauty and the orderliness in Nature. Man most times creates innovations from what he has learnt in Nature. For example, the design of the aeroplane was birthed by watching birds in fright while the creation of submarines and ships’were based on the observation of fishes in the sea. Nature, with its orderliness and creativity, has added to man and helped him by providing food, shelter, clothing, the inspiration for innovation, and so many other benefits. On the other hand, man’s interactions with Nature have hardly been with the mind to aid its orderly Imphony. Instead, man’s interactions with Nature are at most disruptive. In the poem above, the poetic persona
 compares man’s interaction with Nature to a sharp object pricking an eye ball. It affects, the entirety of the eye and could even lead to blindness. This makes the eye useless for the purpose for which it exists. This comparison of ill-treatment to man’s interactions with Nature is further buttressed when the poetic persona says in line 17, ‘to mend her we end her’. ‘Her’ in this line refers to 'country’ or Nature. Here, the poetic persona infers that when man interacts with Nature intending to mend her, he ends up harming her. This could be another way to say that the evils in Nature like volcanic eruptions, earthquakes. floods, erosion and hurricanes, to mention but a few, are as a result of man’s interfering with Nature's orderly way of doing things.

.Apparently, for something that has been ordered to go through a particular route, any minor disruption of its movement would affect the entire process. Inherently, according to the poetic persona Nature is kind; orderly; enriching and beautiful. It is man’s interference in her affairs that brings up the ugliness that the world sees. Contemporary realities can attest to this with the changes in seasonal orderliness and ecological incidents arising out of the effects of excessive carbon on the ozone layer. Humans are quick to point to things like hurricanes, tempests, volcanic eruptions and earthquakes, to mention but a few, as the evils of Nature. However, what this poem tries to expose to the readers is that all these things are as a result of humans disruption of Nature’s ambience and serenity.

The Benefit of Nature to Human

The benefits of Nature to humans is one of the dominant themes in this poem. The poet is preoccupied with the relationship between man and his natural environment. It is not possible for humans to live in isolation from the environment, regardless of how hard he tries. The ‘airy cages’ of the trees keep the sun away from the earth and allow the fresh breeze to pass freely. The trees give shade and provide a cool spot where different elements of Nature can find shelter from the sun. However, while Nature appears to be beneficial to humanity, humans do not reciprocate in kind.

On the contrary, the trees are cut down without any hesitation. No thought is given to the negative effect of this action on the environment, or even on humans. Therefore, the relationship between man and the environment is not balanced. While Nature plays roles that are ultimately beneficial to humankind, man does things that are ultimately detrimental to Nature. 


The Theme of Sadness

It helps if you read "Binsey Poplars" with a handkerchief nearby. Some of you, of course, might be allergic to trees, so that's one reason. Another, though, is that this poem is just so darn…sad. Having seen his beloved trees cut down, our speaker has been put on a one-way train to Bummersville. The poem is really just a dispatch from a place where beauty has been lost, Nature has been spoiled, and some old friends have been permanently taken away. Any way you slice this onion, the tears are going to flow.

The adverse effects of civilization on nature

In times past and even in recent times, humans have always tried to do things, create things and discover things that would be better than those of his predecessors. Change is the true meaning of civilization. Each period of humanity created a civilization of its own that once surpassed by the next generation led to the birth of another civilization. Civilization is good. It has brought man out of different ages from the stone age to that of iron. It has helped create things to help man and make his work easier and faster. It has led to a better understanding of the world with increased communication, education and travel amongst different people of the world. Civilization has created avenues for man to understand better his world and the areas he occupies in it. Unfortunately, civilization has come with a steep price and most times; it is Nature that pays that price. This is where the adverse effects of civilization come in Nature is fascinating in its orderliness. As things grow, bloom and die; Nature provides a means through which they can be reborn without causing harm to the existence of other things. Everything struggles for survival, but in the end, there is still balance. For example, a flower blossoms today only to wither and die by evening but its fallen parts decompose to grow and yield another. It is a continual case of rejuvenation and rebirth in Nature.On the other hand, civilization is rarely engineered with foresight because the immediate success of invention is the goal and not its effect in the long run. Inventions like paper for the printing press, ships for sea navigation, trains and a host of other inventions needed an increase in the felling of trees for its use. The deforestation has led to an increased level of destruction of trees without the thought of replanting these trees. Factories and manufacturing companies were adding problems to the environment due to their massive release of carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. The trees that could have absorbed these excesses in carbon were little if not nonexistent, and all these led to increased environmental problems as a result of civilization.

Interestingly, these trees are humans’ primary source of oxygen The relationship between humans and Nature is, in essence, symbiotic. In the poem, the poetic persona refers to trees. These trees are poplars and are of the softwood variety. They would have most likely been felled for the creation of papers Yet, the poetic persona is not concerned with the papers that these trees were going to make but with its natural benefits as a shield from sunlight. In the increase of civilization and technology, the simple things that the poplar helps with are forgotten and underestimated. This teaches the readers that, sometimes, it is the little things in life that make people happy. The poetic persona is more nostalgic about the loss of the shade provided by the trees than of the trees ability to be turned into paper. In essence, the poetic persona is stating that civilization is good in itself, but it should not just benefit itself by destroying Nature. Civilization should learn from Nature and find a way to renew what it destroys. Thus. in the poem, the poetic persona bemoans man’s destruction of the environment. The trees that initially lined the banks of the river have all been cut down. The poet persona laments the fact that none of them is spared, they are all cut down without any consideration for the damage that this act could have on the natural world. The trees that formed part of the aesthetics that are found in Nature are all destroyed ruthlessly. None of them is spared of this tragic fate. Words such as ‘felled’, ‘hack’, and ‘rack’ all help to create the image of destruction in the mind of the reader. The poetic persona further reiterates that only ‘ten or twelve strokes’ are needed to cause mayhem to Nature, Therefore, the trees serve as a symbol for Nature and its tendency to be irreversibly changed by man’s intrusion. 

The Regenerative Power of Nature

Hopkins’s early poetry praises nature, particularly nature’s unique ability to regenerate and rejuvenate. Throughout his travels in England and Ireland, Hopkins witnessed the detrimental effects of industrialization on the environment, including pollution, urbanization, and diminished rural landscapes. While he lamented these effects, he also believed in nature’s power of regeneration, which comes from God. In “God’s Grandeur,” the speaker notes the wellspring that runs through nature and through humans. While Hopkins never doubted the presence of God in nature, he became increasingly depressed by late nineteenth-century life and began to doubt nature’s ability to withstand human destruction. His later poems, the so-called terrible sonnets, focus on images of death, including the harvest and vultures picking at prey. Rather than depict the glory of nature’s rebirth, these poems depict the deaths that must occur in order for the cycle of nature to continue. “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord” (1889) uses parched roots as a metaphor for despair: the speaker begs Christ to help him because Christ’s love will rejuvenate him, just as water helps rejuvenate dying foliage

The fragility of nature

Nature is very fragile, and even the smallest act of cruelty is capable of upsetting its delicate balance. Unfortunately, man hacks and fells trees at will, giving no thought to the effect of his destructive acts on the environment. In this poem, one of the effects examined is the total erasure of the beauty in Nature inch that corning generations will no longer be privileged to see and appreciate it. The reduction of rural landscapes is also one of these effects. While industrialization has its advantages, the over-enthusiastic nurturing of industries could lead to the reduction and’ possibly, the extinction of the pristine rural landscape (lines 22-24). ft is pertinent to note that this poem was written at that period on the nineteenth century when industrialization was emerging in Europe and America. More factories were set up as opposed to small workshops, and an increasing amount of natural resources were needed both to run the Factories and to manufacture marketable products. As a result, more and more efforts were put into deforestation, quarrying, amongst others. The downside to these efforts was an increase in pollution and a Heady decrease in trees and other beautiful natural elements.   

The Manifestation of God in Nature

Hopkins used poetry to express his religious devotion, drawing his images from the natural world. He found nature inspiring and developed his theories of inscape and instress to explore the manifestation of God in every living thing. According to these theories, the recognition of an object’s unique identity, which was bestowed upon that object by God, brings us closer to Christ. Similarly, the beauty of the natural world—and our appreciation of that beauty—helps us worship God. Many poems, including “Hurrahing in Harvest” and “The Wind hover,” begin with the speaker praising an aspect of nature, which then leads the speaker into a consideration of an aspect of God or Christ. For instance, in “The Starlight Night,” the speaker urges readers to notice the marvels of the night sky and compares the sky to a structure, which houses Christ, his mother, and the saints. The stars’ link to Christianity makes them more beautiful.

Intense feeling of loss

Another theme that is nestled in this poem is the theme of loss. The poem begins on a note of loss with a statement couched like an epitaph. The entire poem revolves around a loss. At first, it seems to be the loss of some trees, specifically, poplars. The poetic persona laments the felling of these poplar trees Hi refers to the branches of the tree as ‘airy cages’ (line 1) that help to reduce the impact of the sun by providing shade while it was still standing. He laments the loss of these trees because all of them have been cut and not one is left behind.
By stanza 2, however, the feeling of loss becomes full blown. The poetic persona is mourning the loss of familiar terrain, that he considers a heritage, a natural beauty and a habitat under threat from humans good intentions, I be poetic persona believes that by trying to mend Nature, humans actually ends and rends it apart. It is true that budding roads, amusement parks and the likes are all hallmarks of progress, but it is at the expense of Nature, At the end of the day, generations yet unborn might not be able to enjoy the beauty of Nature, For instance, in Africa, in this contemporary period, generations of young Africans ate not familiar and cannot appreciate, in a meaningful way, discussions about herbs. 

Structure of The Poem  Binsey Poplars

Binsey Poplar is a lyric poem of twenty-four lines and two stanzas. The first stanza contains eight lines while the second stanza contains 16 lines. The first stanza is used to introduce the poem to the reader and give him or her a general idea of what the poem is all about. These lines of the poem focus on a part of the poetic persona’s intended scope. ‘ Aspens’, a specie of the poplar plant, is the focus in this stanza. The second stanza, containing 16 lines, shift the focus from the poplars to focusing on the vastness of Nature.

Another quality of the poem’s structure is the poetic persona’s use of run-on-lines . In the poem, the lines run into each other to make a complete thought. For example, lines 1-3 say:

My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun, all felled, felled, all felled;

The poetic persona’s description of the tree keeps running from one line into the next lines until the end of the stanza. This creates a poem that flows in the similitude of the flow of speech. It makes the poem appear both conversational and at the same time musical. This is further emphasized by the poet's use of rhyming words in the ending of some lines. For example there is ‘quelled...felled’ (lines 1,3); ‘rank’, ‘sank’ and ‘bank’ (lines 4, 7 and 8); ‘tender’ and ‘slender’ (lines 12 and 13) and ‘ball* and ‘all’ (lines 14 and 15).

The rhyme scheme is abacbacceefgghhfgifiifff. However, it is somewhat irregular and follows no established rhyme scheme.The rhythm of the poem is known as sprung rhythm, and the poet developed it. The poet created this rhythm because he wanted his lines to resemble regular speech patterns.

Poetic devices in Binsey Poplars


One of the significant figurative devices used in this poem is alliteration. By alliteration, one refers to the repetition of consonant sounds at the beginning of different words on the same line. A golden example of this in the poem can be found in line 4, where the poetic persona says, ‘of a fresh, following and folded rank’. In these lines, there is the repetition of the sound /f7. Another example can be found in line 8, where the poetic persona says, ‘wind-wandering weed-winding bank’. Other examples within the poem include: ‘...swam or sank’ (line 7),’quelled...quenched’ (line 2), ‘all felled, felled, are all felled’ (line 3), ‘fresh...following folded’ (line 4),’quelled or quenched in leaves* (line 2), ‘growing green’ (line 11), ‘sleek.. .seeing’ (line 14) and’beauty been’ (line 19).
Alliteration makes the different words blend into each other and weave into each other harmoniously. The use of alliteration also aids the poet’s use of enjambment. The sounds and words do not end up clashing with each other; instead, they blend and give the work a kind of musicality. 


The words used in this poem seem to have been deliberately chosen to project the poet’s message about the destruction of the environment. In line 6, the poetic persona makes use of the word ‘dandled’. While ‘dandled’ might have been understandable to a Victorian audience, it is archaic in twenty-first century contexts. ‘Dandled’ is the past tense of ‘dandle’ which is an archaic English word that refers to a playful way of lifting a baby up and down on one’s knee. The original meaning of this word does not apply to what is being said in the poem. It is the imagery that the word creates in the mind that the poetic persona seeks to apply to his ideas. Other words that project the poet’s ideas about the negative effect of the activities of humans on the environment to the reader include ‘quelled’ (line 1), ‘felled’ (line 3), ‘hew’ (line 10), ‘hack’ (line 11), ‘rack’ (line 11) and ‘unselve’ (line 21), to mention but a few.
Also, the poem contains words that are ‘formal ‘or ‘high’ in a conversational and lyrical way and which are used as non-conventional sentences and phrasal structures. This technique gives the words some aristocratic and regal bearings when the poem is being read. An excellent example of this in the poem can be found in line 19, ‘after-comers cannot guess the beauty been’. This has an almost subtle case of an inversion. In this case, the poetic persona is trying to say that when these natural habitats are destroyed, the later generation will not know of the beautiful landscapes that existed in those places before. This is also the case in lines 14-15 of the poem when the poetic persona says: ‘That like this sleek and seeing ball/but a prick will make no eye at all’. In standard conversational language, lines 14 and 15 can be rewritten as ‘just a prick on our eyeballs could lead to loss of sight’. This use of inversion and verse-like structure foregrounds this poem as poetry. This is because one of the defining features of poetry is that it is written in verse and not in ordinary language. Moreover, the use of this style in the above example, creates a rhythm in the two lines given as an example.



This poem is also awash with imagery. The visual images incurred by the reading of this poem are rich in vibrancy and power. In line 1, the poetic persona describes the tree branches as ‘airy cages’. This expression cages can mean that the cages contain much space. However, within the context of this poem, what is brought to the readers’ imagination is the idea of a cage that can retain air. This is impossible because most of the time, a cage is made up of iron bars with spaces and thus, cannot hold in air. Here, one is made to imagine a tree’s branches and how although it has spaces like a cage, it can cage air is to cool anyone that comes under its shade. In line 3, the poetic persona says, ‘all felled, felled, are all felled’. This creates in the mind of the reader the visual image of the trees falling and landing on the ground. Even the sound of ‘felled’ in continuous repetition sounds like the thud of falling trees.

Another word used by the poetic persona is ‘hack’ (line 11). Apart from meaning ‘to cut something’, hack also sounds like the impact of a cutting tool on a tree trunk. This sound corroborates strongly with the visual imagery produced by the word in the minds of the readers. These expressions all create the image of destruction. They allow the reader to visualize of damage done to the environment through the complete annihilation of all the trees that once lined both sides of the river.

This is further emphasized by the poet’s use of alliteration and the selection of sounds used in this poem creating an onomatopoeic auditory imagery. The poetic persona’s use of /fr and /w/ create the imagery of wind in motion and the rustling of leaves. The sound /d/ at the end of ‘mend’ and ‘end’ in line 17 also has meaning. Line 17 says, ‘to mend her we end her’.  



Birds appear throughout Hopkins’s poetry, frequently as stand-ins for God and Christ. In “The Windhover,” a poem dedicated to Christ, the speaker watches a falcon flying through the sky and finds traces of Christ in its flight path. The beauty of the bird causes the speaker to reflect on the beauty of Christ because the speaker sees a divine imprint on all living things. Similarly, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” meditates on the innate behaviors and patterns of beings in the universe: the inscape of birds manifests in their flights, much as the inscape of stone manifests in the sound of flowing water. Christ appears everywhere in these inscape manifestations. In Christian iconography, birds serve as reminders that there is life away from earth, in heaven—and the Holy Ghost is often represented as a dove. “God’s Grandeur” portrays the Holy Ghost literally, as a bird big enough to brood over the entire world, protecting all its inhabitants.


Hopkins uses images of fire to symbolize the passion behind religious feeling, as well as to symbolize God and Christ. In “God’s Grandeur,” Hopkins compares the glory of God and the beautiful bounty of his world to fire, a miraculous presence that warms and beguiles those nearby. He links fire and Christ in “The Windhover,” as the speaker sees a flame burst at the exact moment in which he realizes that the falcon contains Christ. Likewise, “As Kingfishers Catch Fire” uses the phrase “catch fire” as a metaphor for the birds’ manifestation of the divine imprint, or inscape, in their natural behavior. In that poem too, the dragonflies “draw flame” (1), or create light, to show their distinct identities as living things. Nature’s fire—lightning—appears in other poems as a way of demonstrating the innate signs of God and Christ in the natural world: God and Christ appear throughout nature, regardless of whether humans are there to witness their appearances.


Trees appear in Hopkins’s poems to dramatize the earthly effects of time and to show the detrimental effects of humans on nature. In “Spring and Fall,” the changing seasons become a metaphor for maturation, aging, and the life cycle, as the speaker explains death to a young girl: all mortal things die, just as all deciduous trees lose their leaves. In “Binsey Poplars,” the speaker mourns the loss of a forest from human destruction, then urges readers to be mindful of damaging the natural world. Cutting down a tree becomes a metaphor for the larger destruction being enacted by nineteenth-century urbanization and industrialization. Trees help make an area more beautiful, but they do not manifest God or Christ in the same way as animate objects, such as animals or humans


The poetic persona makes use of simile in line 14. He says, ’that, like this sleek and seeing ball’. In this poem he compares the 'country' (Nature) with an eye. He tries to argue, using this similarity that Nature IS a unified whole, working together just like our eyeball. The way a needle which pierces through one pari of our eyeball could destroy the entire eye is the way humans’ indiscriminate uprooting of natural products is destructive Nature is compared to an eyeball to foreground its delicate Nature. When an eyeball is pricked, it immediately deflates and no more exists. In the same vein, the slightest acts of vandalism could have devastating effects on the natural environment.


There is also metaphor in this work. The branches of the trees are described as ‘airy cages’ (line 1). This imagery presents to the readers the similarity between how tree branches retain air to create a serene ambience, to a cage that is capable of keeping air or one that is full of air. This is further extended in lines 12-13, where Nature is now described as ‘country’, which by inference is another word for ‘countryside’, which is usually synonymous with serenity and peace. The poetic persona then compares the ‘country* or ‘countryside’ to a woman by making use of the pronoun ‘her’ in its description. This is a symbolic way of referring to the countryside’s fertility, beauty and its vulnerability to human action.


The poet also uses antithesis in this work. In line 17, the poetic persona says that ‘to mend her we end her’. ‘ Mend her’ and ‘end her’ are different ideas, but they are placed side by side, to emphasize the evil effects that can come out of seemingly good deeds. There is also the compounding of words like ‘after- comers’ (line 19) and ‘wind-wandering’ (line 8). These are used by the poet to create musicality and to Create a whole idea by fusing these words. ‘After-comers’, for instance, refers to the coming generation and what they would meet that the older generation left behind. The poetic persona can create these ideas by fusing ‘after’ and ‘comers’ together. 


After-comers cannot guess the beauty been -stokes of havoc unselve


Repetition For the purpose of. emphasis on his concern about the destruction of the trees, the poet resorts to the use of repetition thus

  ⦁ My aspens... quelled, quelled

⦁ Not spared, not one

⦁ Where we, even where we mean

⦁ All felled, felled, are all felled

⦁ Tenortwelve, only ten or twelve

⦁ The sweet especial scene

⦁ Rural scene, a rural scene. 



Synecdoche also comes to play in this poem. It is essential to take note of the fact that ‘aspens’ or’Binsey poplars’ refer to just one species of the poplar plant, but it is used to refer to the entirety of Nature. Then, in line 20, the poetic persona says ‘ten or twelve, only ten of twelve’. By mentioning these numbers, the poetic persona is talking about ten or twelve trees that were cut down. The trees symbolize Nature in its entirety. The poetic persona’s focus on the little parts of a large whole is used to teach the lesson that little things can affect a whole structure. These are used to show the power of something little (over something huge. Even though there is a whole forest, the poetic persona is trying to say that the felling of one tree can have a significant effect on the whole that has been left behind. This can even be seen in contemporary times. For example, in fashion, if a dress has been well sewn to perfection, and there is just one small tear, that small tear can prove catastrophic to the entire dress. Hence, this is the lesson that synecdoche is used to teach in this poem. The poet also uses internal rhyme to enhance the rhythm of the poem: ‘hack..rack’ (line 11) and ‘mend...end...’ (line 17). In line 2, the poet employs

'Binsey Poplars'  Review BOX

Poem Author Gerard Manley Hopkins
Authors Profile   G.M Hopkins was born on July, 28, 1844 in Stratford, Sessex, England. He was an English poet and as Jesuit priest. His work was not published in collected form until 1918 but his work had much influence on many leading poets after. G.M Hopkins died on June, 8,1889.
Release Date 1879
Poem Type Lyric Poem
Language of the Poem The poem has an unusual language though with the use of simple syntax. Appeal is made to imagery and symbolism to enhance poetic effect in the presentation of the theme of the poem.

Mood & Tone of the Poem

The poet's mood is that of sadness at the cutting down of the trees. His tone Is that of shock, worry, regret and warning.

Star Rating 5 Star
Poetic devices & Figures of speech 
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