Commentary on Patience, Hard Thing!

An unattractive attribute

Patience is portrayed in the first quatrain as being not only hard but also unattractive. It is defined more by negatives:

  • We would rather have war and wounds, to be fighting in some good cause
  • When there appears nothing worthwhile, we have to exercise patience, ‘do without', and just ‘take tosses' without fighting back
  • It hardly sounds a virtue, just a negative chore, like scrubbing the classroom floor with a toothbrush.


  • ‘but to' (l.1) means ‘only to'
  • ‘bid for' (l.2) means ‘ask for, petition'
  • ‘wants' (l.3) can mean ‘lacks' or its more modern meaning of ‘desires'

The virtues of patience?

The second quatrain sees some virtue in patience through the image of ivy:

  • patience is actually quite rare, and can only grow where there are negatives such as ‘weary...times' and ‘tasks'. Hopkins had many chores as a teacher, particularly marking hundreds of exam papers and essays
  • patience also hides our lost ambitions - ‘wrecked past purpose' - a telling line, suggesting that if Hopkins had had his say, he would not have remained in the post in which he found himself.

Two responses

In the sestet, Hopkins compares the natural man (including himself) with the virtuous man who has learned patience:

  • the natural man has a heart that grates upon itself in frustration and rebelliousness
  • the virtuous man seems to drop honey by his graciousness.

Hopkins talks about his heart, rather than to it as he does in I Wake and Feel the Fell of Dark. So, unlike that poem, the ‘we' of l.8 is a generalised ‘we', meaning people generally, and thus the poem becomes a wider statement than most of the other dark sonnets.

Investigating Patience
  • 11.9,10 are quite difficult. They could mean:
    • ‘yet even our rebellious hearts do eventually do what God bids us do'
    • ‘our rebellious wills fight against everything we bid them do; but even so God bends down to help'
    Which do you prefer, and why?

  • Explain ‘that comes those ways we know' (l.14).
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