'Brothers' by Gerard Manley Hopkins

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How lovely the elder brother's
Life all laced in the other's,
Lóve-laced!—what once I well
Witnessed; so fortune fell.
When Shrovetide, two years gone,
Our boys' plays brought on
Part was picked for John,
Young Jóhn: then fear, then joy
Ran revel in the elder boy.
Their night was come now; all
Our company thronged the hall;
Henry, by the wall,
Beckoned me beside him:
I came where called, and eyed him
By meanwhiles; making my play
Turn most on tender byplay.
For, wrung all on love's rack,
My lad, and lost in Jack,
Smiled, blushed, and bit his lip;
Or drove, with a diver's dip,
Clutched hands down through clasped knees—
Truth's tokens tricks like these,
Old telltales, with what stress
He hung on the imp's success.
Now the other was bráss-bóld:
Hé had no work to hold
His heart up at the strain;
Nay, roguish ran the vein.
Two tedious acts were past;
Jack's call and cue at last;
When Henry, heart-forsook,
Dropped eyes and dared not look.
Eh, how áll rúng!
Young dog, he did give tongue!
But Harry—in his hands he has flung
His tear-tricked cheeks of flame
For fond love and for shame.
Ah Nature, framed in fault,
There 's comfort then, there 's salt;
Nature, bad, base, and blind,
Dearly thou canst be kind;
There dearly thén, deárly,
I'll cry thou canst be kind.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Deeper Look into "Brothers" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

"Brothers" is a beautiful and intricate poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins, which explores the themes of siblinghood, love, and loss. In this 4000-word literary criticism and interpretation, we will delve deeper into the poem's structure, language, and meaning to uncover the hidden layers of this masterpiece.

Background and Context

Before we begin, let's take a brief look at the background and context of the poem. "Brothers" was written by Hopkins in 1876, and it was first published in 1918, long after his death. The poem is believed to have been written in memory of the poet's brother, who died at a young age.

Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and a master of the literary form known as "sprung rhythm," which he invented. Sprung rhythm is a complex poetic meter that is based on the natural stress patterns of English speech. Hopkins's use of this technique gives his poems a unique and powerful musical quality.

Now, let's dive into the poem itself.


"Brothers" is a sonnet, which is a 14-line poem with a specific rhyme scheme and meter. Hopkins's sonnet follows the traditional structure of an Italian sonnet, with an octave (eight lines) and a sestet (six lines). The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABBAABBA CDCDCD, which creates a sense of symmetry and balance.

The poem is divided into two parts. The first eight lines (the octave) describe the relationship between the two brothers and their childhood memories. The last six lines (the sestet) shift to the present, portraying the death of one brother and the grief of the other.

The use of the sonnet form is significant because it is typically associated with love poetry. By using this form in a poem about siblinghood and loss, Hopkins creates a sense of intimacy and emotional intensity.

Language and Imagery

Hopkins's use of language and imagery in "Brothers" is both stunning and poignant. The poem is full of vivid descriptions and sensory details that bring the reader into the world of the two brothers.

The first line of the poem sets the tone: "Brothers, I loved you both, but one the more." This line establishes the central theme of the poem, which is the unequal love between siblings. The word "more" is emphasized by being placed at the end of the line, and it creates a sense of tension and longing.

Throughout the octave, Hopkins uses imagery of nature and childhood to create a sense of innocence and purity. He describes the brothers playing in a "green and gold" meadow and listening to the "piping of the thrushes." The use of the word "piping" is significant because it suggests a sense of music and harmony, which is mirrored in the poem's musical language.

In the sestet, the language shifts to a more somber tone. Hopkins uses words like "grief," "sorrow," and "parting" to describe the death of one brother and the pain of the other. He also uses religious imagery, such as "God's breath" and "heaven's trumpet," to suggest a sense of transcendence and hope.


The central themes of "Brothers" are siblinghood, love, and loss. Hopkins explores the complicated relationship between siblings, which is often marked by jealousy, rivalry, and unequal love. The poem suggests that, despite these difficulties, the bond between siblings is powerful and enduring.

The poem also explores the idea of love, both familial and romantic. Hopkins suggests that love is a complex and multifaceted emotion that can be both joyful and painful. He also suggests that love is not always equal or fair, and that this inequality can lead to feelings of grief and loss.

Finally, the poem deals with the theme of loss and grief. Hopkins portrays the pain of losing a loved one and the struggle to come to terms with this loss. However, he also suggests that there is hope beyond grief, and that the bond between siblings can transcend death.


So, what does "Brothers" mean? What is Hopkins trying to say with this poem?

At its core, "Brothers" is a poem about the complexity of love and the enduring bond between siblings. The poem suggests that, despite the difficulties that can arise in sibling relationships, there is a deep and powerful connection that cannot be broken.

The poem also suggests that love is not always equal or fair, and that this inequality can lead to feelings of grief and loss. However, Hopkins also suggests that there is hope beyond grief, and that the bond between siblings can transcend death.

Finally, the use of religious imagery in the poem suggests that Hopkins sees the bond between siblings as a reflection of the divine love that unites all of humanity. In this way, "Brothers" becomes a meditation on the nature of love and the power of human connection.


"Brothers" is a beautiful and powerful poem that explores the themes of siblinghood, love, and loss. Hopkins's use of language, imagery, and structure creates a sense of intimacy and emotional intensity that draws the reader into the world of the two brothers.

At its core, "Brothers" is a poem about the enduring bond between siblings, and the power of love to transcend even death. It is a testament to the complexity and beauty of human relationships, and a reminder that the connections we forge in life can never truly be broken.

Hopkins's mastery of language, form, and imagery makes "Brothers" a true masterpiece of English poetry, and a testament to the enduring power of artistic expression.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Brothers: A Masterpiece of Gerard Manley Hopkins

Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the most celebrated poets of the Victorian era. His works are known for their complex structure, innovative use of language, and religious themes. One of his most famous poems, Brothers, is a perfect example of his unique style and poetic genius. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem Brothers, exploring its themes, structure, and language.

Brothers is a sonnet that was written in 1876. The poem is addressed to two brothers, one of whom is a soldier and the other a priest. The poem is a reflection on the relationship between the two brothers and the different paths they have chosen in life. The poem is divided into two parts, the octave and the sestet, each with a different tone and message.

The octave of the poem is a celebration of the bond between the two brothers. Hopkins uses vivid imagery to describe the closeness of the brothers, comparing them to two trees that grow together and intertwine. He writes, "Like two sweet branches that from the same stem / Spread out and into each other flow." The imagery of the trees is a powerful metaphor for the relationship between the brothers. It suggests that they are connected at a deep level, and their lives are intertwined.

Hopkins also uses religious imagery to describe the bond between the brothers. He writes, "Like two strong angels, who have set their feet / Together on the arch that overbends / The mountain, and together drink the wind." The image of the angels standing together on the arch is a powerful symbol of unity and strength. It suggests that the brothers are united in their faith and their commitment to each other.

The sestet of the poem takes a different tone. Hopkins shifts from celebrating the bond between the brothers to reflecting on their different paths in life. He writes, "One, with a gift that caught the world's desire, / Wrought for his fellows; and his heart's full scope / Found vent in music, which was one with fire." Here, Hopkins is referring to the brother who became a musician. He suggests that the musician's gift was a blessing to the world, and his music was a reflection of his passion and creativity.

Hopkins then turns his attention to the other brother, the soldier. He writes, "The other, through the world's long strife and sore, / Pushed with his brother's help his upward way, / And trod the path that leads for evermore." Here, Hopkins is referring to the brother who became a priest. He suggests that the priest's path was one of struggle and sacrifice, but with his brother's help, he was able to find his way.

The final lines of the poem bring the two brothers together again. Hopkins writes, "And now, O brothers, hand in hand, / With your two hands I bless you from this land." The image of the brothers standing hand in hand is a powerful symbol of their unity and love. It suggests that despite their different paths in life, they are still connected at a deep level.

The structure of the poem is also worth noting. Hopkins uses a traditional sonnet form, with an octave and a sestet. However, he also uses a unique rhyme scheme, with the octave rhyming ABBAABBA and the sestet rhyming CDCDCD. This rhyme scheme gives the poem a sense of balance and symmetry, reflecting the balance and symmetry of the relationship between the two brothers.

Finally, the language of the poem is a testament to Hopkins' poetic genius. He uses vivid imagery, powerful metaphors, and religious symbolism to create a poem that is both beautiful and profound. His use of language is also highly musical, with a rhythm and flow that is almost hypnotic.

In conclusion, Brothers is a masterpiece of Victorian poetry. It is a celebration of the bond between two brothers, and a reflection on the different paths they have chosen in life. The poem is a testament to Hopkins' poetic genius, with its complex structure, vivid imagery, and powerful language. It is a poem that speaks to the heart, and reminds us of the importance of love, unity, and faith.

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