Gerard Manley Hopkins: Poems

Inscape, Echo, and Elegy in “Binsey Poplars”

Elegy is a poetic form to which Hopkins continually returns. In one of his most famous poems about death, “Spring and Fall,” Hopkins’s speaker uses the occasion of “Goldengrove unleaving” to teach a child about her own mortality (2). In an earlier poem, “Binsey Poplars,” Hopkins also writes about trees to reflect on the nature of loss. This poem features a tension between humans and the natural world: it mourns humanity’s destructive influence on nature in its description of a group of trees that have been “all felled” (3). Indeed, the poem’s primary focus is to recover the lost sense of inscape surrounding the trees’ destruction. In order to rectify the violence of mankind toward the natural world and thereby reconcile the poem’s conflict, Hopkins writes “Binsey Poplars” as an elegy that seeks to reconstruct an echo of the trees both in his memory and in the poem.

The idea of inscape permeates “Binsey Poplars,” as well as a number of Hopkins’s other poems. Catherine Philips defines inscape both as “the characteristic shape of a thing or species,” and, “more importantly,” as “the crucial features that form or communicate the inner character, essence, or ‘personality’ of something” (“Introduction” xx). In addition, Paul Mariani...

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