Critically analyze the poem "Brothers" by Gerard Manley Hopkins.

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Noelle Thompson | High School Teacher | eNotes Employee

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The purpose of critically analyzing a work of literature is to judge the value of the work by separating the piece of literature into its valued parts through discussion. This is certainly possible in regard to Hopkin's poem called "Brothers." Even though Hopkins' "Pied Beauty" is the usual poem chosen for literature texts, Hopkins' "Brothers" is a wonderful example of the grand quality of Hopkins' poetry due to his sprung rhythm, exact rhyme, assonance, and alliteration.

First, one must mention Hopkins' breakthrough in regard to sprung rhythm; "Brothers" is an apt example. Sprung rhythm is a reaction to the typical "running rhythm" of English poetry and can be seen as a precursor to free verse poetry. Basically, the feet of Hopkins' poem have varied numbers of syllables; however, the stress is always on the first foot. In this way, Hopkins talked about breaking free of the constraints of running rhythm by creating his own. An example can be found here:

Young Jóhn: then fear, then joy
Ran revel in the elder boy.

Next, while breaking free of constraints with sprung rhythm, Hopkins also held fast to exact rhyme.  Hopkins follows this tradition in "Brothers."  Take this stanza as an example:

Eh, how áll rúng!
Young dog, he did give tongue!
But Harry—in his hands he has flung
His tear-tricked cheeks of flame
For fond love and for shame.

Note the exact end-rhyme here with the use of "rung/tongue/flung" as well as "flame/shame."  Therefore it is appropriate for us to praise Hopkins for breaking free of constraint with his sprung rhythm while sticking to the constraint of exact rhyme.

Next, let's look at Hopkins' use of assonance in his poem "Brothers."  Assonance is the repeated use of the same vowel sound (apart from the actual rhyme of the poem).  There are many examples here, but let's look at my favorite:

Two tedious acts were past;
Jack's call and cue at last

Assonance can be found here in the repeated use of the short "a" sound.  There are five examples in just these two lines with the words "acts/past/Jack's/at/last"! 

Finally, Hopkins should be praised for his use of alliteration in his poem "Brothers."  Alliteration, of course, is the repetition of consonant sounds (often at the beginning of words) within a line or lines of poetry.  There are countless examples in "Brothers," but here are a few:

Truth's tokens tricks like these, / Old telltales

Here we have the repetition of the "t" sound at least four times (and that is if you don't count the "th" sound in the word "these").  Still, this poetic device certainly stands out here.

But Harry—in his hands he has flung

I love this line because it has FIVE bouts of repetition with the "h" sound!  Absolute alliteration here!  A master of alliteration, it can be found within most lines of Hopkins' poem "Brothers." 

Thus, we can say because of Hopkins' masterful use of these four poetic devices (sprung rhythm, exact rhyme, assonance, and alliteration), "Brothers" is a good one.  As a final note, one must not discount the importance of sprung rhythm as a new kind of rhythm created directly by Hopkins to break with tradition.  Using this nontraditional rhythm, Hopkins often highlighted many of the other poetic devices in his poem "Brothers."

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