Study Guide

Binsey Poplars Sound Check

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

Sound Check

Shhh—do you hear that? That's the sound of a Hopkins poem, which most closely resembles an auctioneer wrestling with a tongue-twister while stuck in an echo chamber. In short, a Hopkins poem is a full-on sonic experience. Sound effects, to put it mildly, are this guy's calling card—and if you don't believe us, just check out "Calling Card."

We could list all the sonic techniques going on in this poem, but it would take all day and most of tomorrow. Instead, we'll just go through the poem's first stanza, which happens to feature nearly every possible sound effect in the book. Once you have those down, we challenge you to see how many other examples you can find in stanza 2.

For now, let's start with the poem's first two lines: "My aspens dear, whose airy cages quelled, / Quelled or quenched in leaves the leaping sun," (1-2). Right off the bat, we get a dose of alliteration, with the repetition of the Q-words in "quelled" (twice) and "quenched." We also have a lot of assonance happening in these first two lines, with the long E sounds of "dear," "airy," "leaves," and "leaping." Do not adjust your sets out there, Shmoopers. This sonic mash-up is totally intentional on Hopkins part, and he's just getting warmed up.

The next two lines serve up a heaping helping of alliterative F-words (not that F-word): "All felled, felled, are all felled; / Of a fresh and following folded rank" (3-4). Nearly half of those words start with F, a tightness of sound that mimics the tightness of the trees as they stood closely together in the "rank" that's being described. Not long after, in line 6, we get some internal rhyme with the phrase "dandled a sandalled," followed by more S- and W-word alliteration in "Shadow that swam or sank / On meadow and river and wind-wandering weed-winding bank" (7-8). As well, these lines supply some added short A assonance with the vowel sounds in "Shadow," "swam," "sank," and "bank" and some consonance with the D sounds in "Shadow," "meadow," "wind-wandering," and "weed-winding."

At this point, Hopkins has busted out practically every sonic move in the book, and we're only eight lines in. As we said, we could point this kind of stuff out for days, but the real question is: what's up with that? Why did Hopkins cram so many sound techniques into this poem? Well, when you add up all of these sounds together, you get a poem that is filled with vibrant energy. Every line practically leaps off the page with reverberating echoes of sounds.

The effect of all this is a sense of enthusiasm and urgency, reflecting the speaker's deep investment in the fate of these trees and the natural world more generally. This guy isn't just laying down some boring, monotonous lecture. Nope—he's reaching across the page to grab you by your earlobe and wake you up to the grim reality of humanity ravaging the natural world. We'd say that's a sound approach.

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