Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Could you summarize and analyze Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem "Spring"?

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"Spring" by Gerard Manley Hopkins is a Petrarchan sonnet celebrating the beauty of spring and connecting the season's onset with purity, innocence, and Christ. In addition to the rhyme scheme characteristic of this sonnet form, literary devices include hyperbole, imagery, alliteration, consonance, assonance, and repetition. It also features the irregular rhythms and syntax that Hopkins typically employs.

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Gerard Manley Hopkins's poem "Spring" is a Petrarchan sonnet that praises the beauty of Spring. The speaker first comments on the beauty of spring, then provides vivid images of plants, birds and their eggs, trees, and lambs. The speaker then connects these physical features and sensory impressions to Judeo-Christian beliefs about creation, including the Garden of Eden. The last part praises Christ as well as the innocence that preceded sin.

A sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines. The Petrarchan form uses two stanzas. The first, the octave, has eight lines, while the second, the sestet, has six lines. The octave uses a rhyme scheme of abba abba to form two quatrains. The sestet typically uses a cdcdcd rhyme scheme, but Hopkins repeats the a rhyme, which ends in ing, to create a scheme of cacaca.

The poem begins with hyperbole, an extreme exaggeration for effect, in praising the exemplary beauty of Spring. The octave is especially rich in imagery, especially visual and auditory. Hopkins several types of repeated sounds, often in combination, to create unity of sound and enhance flow. Alliteration is the repetition of initial consonant sounds, while consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds elsewhere in a word. Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds anywhere in a word. In lines 2–4, he uses alliteration with the w, l, t, and r sounds and consonance using l, t, and r. Assonance is used with the long e, short e, and short i. Several related o and u sounds also add to the harmonious tone.

When weeds, in wheels, shoot long and lovely and lush;

Thrush's eggs look little low heavens, and thrush

Through the echoing timber does so rinse and wring...

While the sonnet typically uses iambic pentameter, Hopkins varies the rhythm by adding or removing syllables. Lines 1 and 3, for example, begin with a stressed syllable rather than an unstressed one. The irregularity creates a contrast with the smooth effect of the frequent alliteration and assonance. In the second stanza, the syntax also becomes irregular, even staccato through uses of several monosyllabic words; nevertheless, consistency is emphasized by repetition.

Have, get, before it cloy,

Before it cloud, Christ, lord...

The second stanza also switches to religious concepts and questions. The speaker links nature's coming to life with the beginnings of humankind in Eden. The "joy" of the natural phenomena is associated with Christ and connects with the "lambs" of stanza 1, as the lamb is a symbol of Christ. Childish innocence is also linked to Christ, as the speaker addresses him directly and evokes a time before things are spoiled or go "sour with sinning."

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Hopkin's poem focuses on the radiance of the spring season, calling on specific examples of how beautiful and fresh the world is, such as weeds, eggs in birds' nests, bird song, lambs, blue skies, and lush greenery.  The world feels clean and bright to the speaker, and his appreciation for its loveliness makes him compare it the Garden of Eden.  Reflecting on the sorry end of the Garden of Eden, the speaker uses the last lines of the poem to ask God to protect the innocence of spring and youth.


  • Stanza 1:  This stanza's strong focus on the natural world is colored through Hopkin's powerful use of detail and imagery. The opening lines of the poem create a strong image of weeds in wheel, which in itself does not sound appealing, but Hopkins also incorporates alliteration, "weeds in wheels" and "long and lovely and lush," that deepens the reader's appreciation for the visual.  The imagery of the wheel is rich with potential for interpretation, making the reader also think of the cyclical nature of the seasons.  Hopkins focuses on bright colors, like the "descending blue, that blue is all in a rush" and also uses simile "like lightning" to reinforce the power of spring.
  • Stanza 2:  The speaker poses a question about "all this juice and all this joy" which takes the poem from a surface-level appreciation of the niceties of Spring to a much deeper level.  Hopkins point-blank addresses the theme of the poem: how to find balance and meaning in this over-abundance of natural beauty and goodness.  In lines ten and eleven, he compares the scene to the Garden of Eden, a Biblical allusion that seems to reinforce the idea that the speaker fears the beauty and natural goodness of this spring cannot last. 
  • Stanza 3: The final stanza continues with its Biblical and Christian focus, calling on Christ to protect the innocence of youth and spring. Hopkins' last stanza reads dramatically different than the eloquent, flowing lines of the first stanza; the third stanza is broken into choppy phrases separated by commas.  The disjointed, broken qualities of the last stanza reflects Hopkins' fear of dysfunction and decay, that the beauty of spring cannot last, just as the innocence of youth falls victim to sin.  Hopkins' final line, "Most, o maid's child," references again to Jesus (who fits the descriptor 'maid's child' because of Mary's virginal status) who can "win" over the previously mentioned children, thus protecting them from sin.  The third stanza feels vague to the reader because Hopkins wrote it extremely vague and loose-ended; leaving the subtleties of each line open for interpretation and reflection.

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