Gerard Manley Hopkins’s “Binsey Poplars” contains two irregular stanzas of eight and sixteen lines which mourn the loss of a stand of poplars to the woodsman’s axe. These remembered trees, which are addressed in the first line, grew along the bank of the Thames River as it meandered from Oxford to the small village of Binsey, a charming walk of two miles that Hopkins often followed as a student at Balliol College, Oxford. The Thames, sometimes called the Isis in the Oxford area, is very narrow in the Binsey area; hence Hopkins recalls the slow-moving water and “weed-winding bank.” The poet depicts the trees as “airy cages” that captured the sun in their leaves and supported a child dangling a sandal over the water, then reports their utter destruction, with none spared.
The second stanza chastizes humanity for its destructive impact on nature, which the poet calls “country” and personifies as both a young girl and an eyeball. Just as pricking an eyeball renders it sightless and unable to perform its proper function, even minor alterations to nature, including ones intended to aid it can destroy it and render it selfless. By investing nature and the Binsey poplars with “self,” Hopkins exemplifies one of his most important concepts, that of the “inscape” of all living things, a sort of fluid DNA, which is made dynamic by the “instress” of God in the world. Hopkins emphasizes that it takes so little to irreparably alter...
(The entire section is 454 words.)