Study Guide

Binsey Poplars Sadness

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

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It helps if you read "Binsey Poplars" with a handkerchief nearby. Some of you, of course, might be allergic to trees, so that's one reason. Another, though, is that this poem is just so darn…sad. Having seen his beloved trees cut down, our speaker has been put on a one-way train to Bummersville. The poem is really just a dispatch from a place where beauty has been lost, Nature has been spoiled, and some old friends have been permanently taken away. Any way you slice this onion, the tears are going to flow.

Questions About Sadness

  1. What effect, if any, does the speaker's sadness have on you as a reader? Why?
  2. Is there anything hopeful about this poem? If so, what? If not, why not?
  3. Apart from sadness, what other emotions can you find in the poem? Where do you see them?
  4. Do the poem's sound effects highlight, or work against, its sad tone? Why do you think so?

Chew on This

Sadness is the first step toward substantial change. This poem shows us that, without it, no improvements in society would ever be made.

Nice try, Hopkins, but the sheer quantity and quality of rhymes and other sound effects really make this poem seem a whole lot less sad. It's practically bubbling over with energy.

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