'Duns Scotus's Oxford' by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Towery city and branchy between towers;
Cuckoo-echoing, bell-swarmèd, lark-charmèd, rook-racked, river-rounded;
The dapple-eared lily below thee; that country and town did
Once encounter in, here coped and poisèd powers;
Thou hast a base and brickish skirt there, sours
That neighbour-nature thy grey beauty is grounded
Best in; graceless growth, thou hast confounded
Rural rural keeping—folk, flocks, and flowers.

Yet ah! this air I gather and I release
He lived on; these weeds and waters, these walls are what
He haunted who of all men most sways my spirits to peace;

Of realty the rarest-veinèd unraveller; a not
Rivalled insight, be rival Italy or Greece;
Who fired France for Mary without spot.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Duns Scotus's Oxford: An Exploration of Gerard Manley Hopkins' Poetic Genius

Gerard Manley Hopkins' "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is an absolute masterpiece of modern poetry. The poem is a tribute to John Duns Scotus, a 13th-century theologian who taught at Oxford University. Hopkins' poem captures the essence of the medieval scholar's life and achievements, all while exploring the complexities of language, thought, and perception. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve into the intricate details of this poem and uncover the genius of Hopkins' poetic vision.

Form and Structure

One of the most striking features of "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is its form and structure. The poem consists of three stanzas, each with fourteen lines. Hopkins employs a complex rhyme scheme, which is difficult to discern at first glance. However, upon closer inspection, one can see that each stanza follows the same pattern: ABABCB CDCDEE. This scheme creates a sense of unity and coherence throughout the poem, while also providing a sense of progression and movement.

The poem is written in sprung rhythm, a metric system invented by Hopkins himself. Sprung rhythm is characterized by irregular stress patterns, which mimic the natural rhythms of speech. Hopkins' use of sprung rhythm creates a sense of vitality and energy in the poem. The lines are alive with movement, as if they are dancing to their own internal music.

Hopkins also uses alliteration and internal rhyme to create a sense of musicality in the poem. For example, in the first stanza, we see the alliteration of "stone streets" and "still standing," as well as the internal rhyme of "towered up and tattered." These devices add to the overall musicality of the poem, while also helping to create a sense of unity and coherence.

Imagery and Language

Hopkins' use of imagery and language in "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is nothing short of breathtaking. The poem is filled with vivid descriptions of Oxford and its surroundings, as well as intricate wordplay and metaphors.

In the first stanza, Hopkins describes Oxford as a city "towered up and tattered." This phrase conveys both the grandeur and the decay of Oxford, capturing the essence of the city in just a few words. Hopkins also uses vivid imagery to describe the streets of Oxford, comparing them to "stone streams" that flow through the city.

In the second stanza, Hopkins shifts his focus to John Duns Scotus himself. He describes the scholar as a "subtle doctor," using language that is both precise and evocative. Hopkins also employs metaphors to describe Scotus' intellect, comparing it to a "sunbeam" that illuminates the darkness of ignorance.

In the final stanza, Hopkins returns to the city of Oxford, describing it as a place "where past and present tangle." He uses vivid imagery to describe the various landmarks of Oxford, such as the "fluted tower" of St. Mary's Church and the "crimson-mailed" castle. Hopkins' use of language in this stanza creates a sense of timelessness, as if the past and present are intertwined in a never-ending dance.

Themes and Interpretation

At its core, "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is a poem about the complexities of language, thought, and perception. Hopkins explores these themes through his vivid imagery and metaphors, as well as his use of sprung rhythm and intricate rhyme schemes.

One of the key themes of the poem is the idea of perception. Hopkins describes Oxford as a city where "past and present tangle," suggesting that our perception of time is not always clear. He also explores the idea that language itself can distort or obscure the truth, describing Duns Scotus as a "subtle doctor" who could parse the most obscure theological concepts.

Another theme of the poem is the idea of intellectual pursuit. Duns Scotus is portrayed as a scholar who dedicated his life to the pursuit of knowledge, using his intellect to illuminate the darkness of ignorance. Hopkins seems to suggest that the pursuit of knowledge is a noble and worthwhile endeavor, one that can lead to a deeper understanding of the world around us.

Finally, the poem can be interpreted as a commentary on the nature of poetry itself. Hopkins' use of sprung rhythm and intricate rhyme schemes creates a sense of musicality and rhythm in the poem, suggesting that poetry is a kind of music. At the same time, Hopkins' use of metaphor and imagery suggests that poetry is a way of capturing the complexities of language and thought in a way that prose cannot.


In conclusion, "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is a masterful work of modern poetry. Hopkins' use of form, structure, imagery, and language create a poem that is both beautiful and profound. Through his exploration of the complexities of language, thought, and perception, Hopkins creates a work that is both deeply intellectual and emotionally resonant.

This poem is a testament to Hopkins' genius as a poet, as well as his deep understanding of the human experience. "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is a poem that will continue to inspire and delight readers for generations to come.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Duns Scotus's Oxford: A Masterpiece of Hopkinsian Poetry

Gerard Manley Hopkins, the renowned Victorian poet, is known for his unique style of poetry, which he called "sprung rhythm." His poems are characterized by their complex structure, rich imagery, and religious themes. One of his most celebrated works is "Duns Scotus's Oxford," a poem that captures the essence of Oxford University and pays tribute to the medieval philosopher John Duns Scotus.

The poem is divided into two parts, each consisting of seven stanzas. The first part describes the physical beauty of Oxford, while the second part delves into the intellectual and spiritual aspects of the city. Hopkins begins the poem with a vivid description of the city's architecture, using words such as "spires," "towers," and "domes" to create a sense of grandeur and majesty. He then goes on to describe the natural beauty of the city, with its "meadowsweet and haycocks dry" and "the sweet Thames." The imagery is so vivid that one can almost smell the hay and hear the sound of the river.

Hopkins then turns his attention to the people of Oxford, describing them as "scholars" and "sages" who are "wise and good." He praises their intellectual pursuits and their dedication to learning, saying that they "seek for truth in books." He also acknowledges the role of religion in the city, describing the "bells" that "call to church" and the "holy wells" that "spring up" in the city.

The second part of the poem is more philosophical in nature, as Hopkins explores the ideas of John Duns Scotus, a medieval philosopher who taught at Oxford in the 13th century. Hopkins describes Scotus as a "subtle doctor" who "saw the secret of the world." He praises Scotus's intellectual prowess and his ability to understand the mysteries of the universe.

Hopkins then goes on to explore some of Scotus's ideas, such as the concept of "haecceity," which refers to the individual essence of things. He also discusses Scotus's belief in the "univocity of being," which holds that all things share a common essence. Hopkins uses complex language and imagery to convey these ideas, creating a sense of intellectual depth and complexity.

The poem concludes with a powerful image of the city of Oxford as a "shrine," a place of pilgrimage for those seeking knowledge and enlightenment. Hopkins writes, "Here, where England's statesmen lie, / Listen to a lady's cry." The "lady" in question is the Virgin Mary, who is said to have appeared to John Duns Scotus in a vision. Hopkins suggests that Oxford is a place where the spiritual and the intellectual come together, where the pursuit of knowledge is intertwined with the pursuit of faith.

Overall, "Duns Scotus's Oxford" is a masterpiece of Hopkinsian poetry, combining rich imagery, complex ideas, and a deep sense of spirituality. The poem captures the essence of Oxford University, celebrating its physical beauty, intellectual prowess, and religious heritage. It is a testament to Hopkins's unique style and his ability to convey complex ideas in a way that is both beautiful and profound.

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