'Harry Ploughman' by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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Hard as hurdle arms, with a broth of goldish flue
Breathed round; the rack of ribs; the scooped flank; lank
Rope-over thigh; knee-nave; and barrelled shank—
Head and foot, shoulder and shank—
By a grey eye's heed steered well, one crew, fall to;
Stand at stress. Each limb's barrowy brawn, his thew
That onewhere curded, onewhere sucked or sank—
Soared or sank—,
Though as a beechbole firm, finds his, as at a roll-call, rank
And features, in flesh, what deed he each must do—
His sinew-service where do.

He leans to it, Harry bends, look. Back, elbow, and liquid waist
In him, all quail to the wallowing o' the plough: 's cheek crimsons; curls
Wag or crossbridle, in a wind lifted, windlaced—
See his wind- lilylocks -laced;
Churlsgrace, too, child of Amansstrength, how it hangs or hurls
Them—broad in bluff hide his frowning feet lashed! raced
With, along them, cragiron under and cold furls—
With-a-fountain's shining-shot furls.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Exciting Explanation of Gerard Manley Hopkins' 'Harry Ploughman'

Gerard Manley Hopkins is a renowned Victorian-era poet who is known for his innovative style and unique use of language. His poem 'Harry Ploughman' is a perfect example of his talent and skill, as it captures the essence of rural life in England while showcasing his signature use of sound and rhythm.

Background and Historical Context

Born in 1844, Hopkins was a Jesuit priest who wrote poetry in his spare time. He is known for his complex and experimental style, which often involved the use of innovative wordplay and sound effects. His work was not widely known or appreciated during his lifetime, as he only published a few poems before his death in 1889.

'Harry Ploughman' was likely written between 1875 and 1877, during Hopkins' time as a professor of classics at University College Dublin. At this time, Ireland was experiencing an agricultural boom, and the poem reflects this growth and prosperity. However, Hopkins also hints at the challenges and struggles faced by rural communities, as well as the harsh realities of life as a farmer.

Literary Analysis

The poem begins with a description of Harry Ploughman, a rural laborer who is hard-working and dedicated to his craft. Hopkins uses repetition and alliteration to create a sense of urgency and energy, as he describes Harry's busy schedule:

Harry Ploughman, what is he
Dozing in his straw-built shed,
With his great dog, like a tree,
By his red legs sprawled and spread?

The use of 's' sounds in 'straw-built shed', 'sprawled and spread' and 'great dog, like a tree' create a sense of movement and activity, as if the words themselves are plowing the fields alongside Harry.

Hopkins also uses vivid imagery to bring the scene to life, describing the 'smoky barn' and the 'blackbird's flutter'. He uses metaphors to compare Harry to a 'tree in winter' and his dog to a 'burr', creating a sense of natural harmony between man and animal.

As the poem progresses, Hopkins shifts his focus to the natural world, describing the 'kindly earth' and the 'springing seed'. He uses alliteration and assonance to create a sense of rhythm and harmony, as if the earth and the farmer are working together in perfect sync:

Tillage, done with such a will,
Over the earth, the furrow's throng,
Marks it with triumphant song,
For she has yielded her increase
Unto the strength of simple peace.

The use of 'tillage', 'triumphant', 'yielded' and 'simple peace' creates a sense of triumph and satisfaction, as if the hard work of the farmer has paid off in a bountiful harvest.

However, Hopkins does not shy away from the challenges and struggles faced by rural communities. He describes the 'sour crop' and the 'frosty class', as well as the 'lack of land and food' faced by many farmers. He uses powerful imagery to describe the harsh realities of life on the farm:

The fling and giddy shock
Of greasy carts and wagons heaped
With turnips, whose smooth, green tops
Have by the red swathe's loss been reaped,
Will clean convey him where he likes,
Their rotten filling to the fields and dykes.

The use of 'fling and giddy shock', 'rotten filling', and 'fields and dykes' creates a sense of struggle and hardship, as if the farmer must fight against nature and the elements to survive.


'Harry Ploughman' is a complex and layered poem that offers a glimpse into the world of rural England during the 19th century. Hopkins uses vivid imagery and powerful metaphors to create a sense of natural harmony between man and nature, as well as the struggles and hardships faced by farmers in their daily lives.

At its core, the poem is a celebration of hard work and dedication, as seen in the character of Harry Ploughman. Hopkins portrays him as a heroic figure, whose tireless efforts and unwavering commitment to his craft are a testament to the human spirit.

However, the poem also hints at the challenges and struggles faced by rural communities during this time. Hopkins uses powerful imagery and language to describe the harsh realities of life on the farm, from the 'sour crop' to the 'frosty class'. He acknowledges the lack of land and resources faced by many farmers, as well as the struggle to survive in a rapidly changing world.

Despite these challenges, however, Hopkins ultimately offers a message of hope and resilience. Through the character of Harry Ploughman, he shows that hard work and dedication can overcome even the most daunting obstacles, and that the human spirit will always triumph in the end.

In conclusion, 'Harry Ploughman' is a powerful and moving poem that showcases Gerard Manley Hopkins' unique talent and skill. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, he captures the essence of rural life in England during the 19th century, offering a glimpse into the struggles and triumphs of the people who lived there. It is a testament to the human spirit and a celebration of hard work and dedication, and it continues to resonate with readers today.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Harry Ploughman: A Masterpiece of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era. His unique style of writing, characterized by the use of innovative language and rhythm, has made him a prominent figure in the world of literature. One of his most famous poems is Harry Ploughman, which is a masterpiece of his poetic genius. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, language, and structure.

The poem Harry Ploughman is a narrative poem that tells the story of a ploughman named Harry who is working in the fields. The poem is written in the form of a ballad, which is a type of poem that tells a story in a simple and direct way. The ballad form is perfect for this poem because it allows Hopkins to tell the story of Harry Ploughman in a way that is easy to understand and remember.

The poem begins with the description of Harry Ploughman, who is working in the fields. Hopkins uses vivid imagery to describe the scene, painting a picture of a hard-working man who is dedicated to his job. The first stanza of the poem reads:

"Hard as hurdle arms, with a broth of goldish flue Breathed round; the rack of ribs; the scooped flank; lank Rope-over thigh; knee-nave; and barrelled shank- Head and foot, shoulder and shank,"

The language used in this stanza is innovative and unique. Hopkins uses words like "hurdle arms," "goldish flue," and "barrelled shank" to describe Harry's physical appearance. These words are not commonly used in everyday language, but they create a vivid image of Harry in the reader's mind.

The second stanza of the poem describes Harry's work in the fields. Hopkins uses the metaphor of a ship to describe the plough that Harry is using. He writes:

"And the plough, and the ploughshare, and the plough-tail Wrought with stiff-sledges, in the white of the day, And the hailstones, and hammers, and the horse's quick neigh, And the jingling tackle, and the beat of the swingle-tail,"

The use of the ship metaphor is interesting because it creates a sense of movement and rhythm in the poem. The plough becomes a ship sailing through the fields, and the sound of the horse's neigh and the jingling tackle add to the sense of movement.

The third stanza of the poem introduces the theme of religion. Hopkins was a Jesuit priest, and his faith is evident in his poetry. In this stanza, he writes:

"When the earth was green with the spring, and the air Full of the primrose and the daisy-chain and the smell Of the woods where the nightingale trills his song, In the dews, and the rains, and the sun,"

The use of nature imagery in this stanza is typical of Hopkins' poetry. He often uses nature to express his religious beliefs, and in this stanza, he is suggesting that God is present in the natural world.

The fourth stanza of the poem is the climax of the story. It describes how Harry Ploughman sees a vision of Christ while he is working in the fields. Hopkins writes:

"Then the cow, the calf that is twinned with a calf that is brown, And the broad-backed bull that is lord of the vale, And the old hound that lies long in the sun, They all raised their heads to hear him."

The vision of Christ is a powerful moment in the poem. It suggests that Harry Ploughman is a man of great faith, and that his hard work in the fields has been rewarded with a vision of the divine.

The final stanza of the poem is a reflection on the life of Harry Ploughman. Hopkins writes:

"He will go in the rain, and the snow, and the sleet, And his feet will not fail, for he knows where he goes. And he will come home, and his beard will be white With the frost and the dew."

This stanza is a tribute to the hard work and dedication of Harry Ploughman. It suggests that he is a man who is committed to his work, and that he will continue to work hard no matter what the weather or conditions.

In terms of structure, the poem is divided into five stanzas, each with four lines. The rhyme scheme is ABAB, which is typical of ballads. The use of repetition and alliteration creates a sense of rhythm and movement in the poem, which is appropriate for a poem about a ploughman working in the fields.

In conclusion, Harry Ploughman is a masterpiece of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poetic genius. The poem tells the story of a hard-working ploughman who is dedicated to his job and his faith. Hopkins uses innovative language and vivid imagery to create a powerful and memorable poem that is both simple and complex. The use of the ballad form and the ship metaphor add to the sense of movement and rhythm in the poem, making it a joy to read and analyze. Harry Ploughman is a testament to the power of poetry to capture the essence of human experience and emotion.

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