"Binsley Poplars" is a perfect example of what Hopkins called his
close observation of, and excitement about, the natural world in its detailed and particularized forms.
It is with much poignancy that the speaker bemoans the loss of his "aspens dear" that have been felled by "hack and rack." He laments the cruelty of those who come into the forest and "hew or delve" the trees, preventing others who follow from knowing their beauty. Thus, Hopkins' theme is the transience of nature, a transience expressed with the swift-moving last line of the first stanza which is replete with alliteration:
On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank.
The last few lines "sound" like the the end of a rueful song as they express this transience of the poplars and end of life in the tenderest of tone with the whispering /s/ made by both s and the soft c as the poet forces the language to his mold. Each line heightens the theme of the poem, the mood, and the poet's feeling about his subject.
Ten or twelve, only ten or twelve
Strokes of havoc unshelve
The sweet especial scene,
Rural scene, a rural scene,
Sweet especial rural scene.
Along with frequent alliteration which serves to move the line of poetry in its musical manner, another literary device that Hopkins employs is his unique "sprung rhythm, a rhythm in which the number of accent of words is counted, but not the number of syllables. The effect of this is the onomatopeaic sound of the lifting and heaving of the axe and the falling trees as in the third line.
Another frequently used poetic device is imagery. Certainly, there is much visual and auditory imagery with such phrases as "Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun" and "Hack and rack the growing green!" Then, in the first stanza, there is a metaphor of soldiers who have been shot with the felled trees that are of a "following folded rank," while the second stanza has the simile comparing the tree "so slender" to "this sleek and seeing ball." The damaged tree has been permanently marred, just as an eyeball would were it pricked. Hopkins's alternate rhyme also mimicks the rise and fall of the axe.
Truly a splendid poem that demonstrates the poet's musical and tender nature expressed in his love for nature, "Binsley Poplars" recreates for Hopkins his motif of the individuality of natural objects.