Binsey Poplars by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1879)

by on Mar 31, 2016
felled 1879
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 só 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.


“Binsey Poplars” is my favorite lyrical poem.  I discovered Hopkins in a Victorian literature class in college—40 years ago.  He has stayed with me since.  As a poet, I find what he can do with sound practically miraculous.  What a great ear!  And repetition!  The last two lines, so sad, so right, bring the poem together.  The poem touches me in part because I love trees—and I find the same peace among them that the speaker found.  Until, of course, they were felled, his “aspens dear.”  Clear cutting is a popular money-mad activity now, the tree roots more shallow than the bank roots.  I saw a favorite area by a lake we love—one year tree dense and lovely, the next year stumpy and it looked bombed out.  “All felled, felled, are all felled;….” Hopkins came to mind right away.

—Kenneth Pobo


Kenneth Pobo has a book forthcoming from Blue Light Press called Bend Of Quiet. His recent work has been in: Weber: The Contemporary West, Floating Bridge, The Queer South (anthology), and elsewhere.

One thought on “Binsey Poplars by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1879)

  1. Andrea Wyatt says:

    Dear Kenneth,
    The first line of Hopkins’ poetry I ever heard was “I caught this morning, morning’s minion” and I was completely bowled over. Now, you’ve given me “Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun” and for that, I thank you, I thank you.

    Andrea Wyatt

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