Imagery and symbolism in Harry Ploughman


In the effort to visualise the ploughman, Hopkins has packed his images tightly together. Some are simple similes, such as his arms being `Hard as hurdle'(l.1), or later, his thigh ‘as a beechbole firm'(l.9) or his limbs ‘as at a rollcall'(l.9), an interesting military, or perhaps naval (‘crew') image of his body parts on parade, answering to a roll-call, then being told what their jobs for the day are.

Skin and hair

Other images are harder to work out:

  • The opening line has ‘a broth of goldish flue/ Breathed round', where we have to know to start with what ‘flue' means (fluffy cotton)
    • at first, we might think it means his breath on a frosty morning, if we focus on ‘breathed'
    • but as he is describing Harry's arms, it is more likely it refers to the hair on the arms being curly and golden.

Repeated imagery

Poets tend to develop favourite metaphors and recycle them whenever appropriate:

  • Hopkins used the image of broth in Inversnaid
  • In earlier poems and in his notebooks, Hopkins often tries to depict the action of the wind on hair. So here we have ‘wag or crossbridle', and ‘windlaced'.
  • Hopkins seemed particularly fascinated with lace
  • In sestet of the The Windhover, Hopkins uses the ploughing image in terms of ‘plough down sillion / Shine'.
Investigating Harry Ploughman
  • Where else have you seen Hopkins use lace as an image?
  • What seems to fascinate Hopkins about the earth turned over by the plough?
    • What epithets and images does he use of it?
  • Would you say most of the imagery is drawn from nature?
    • Make a list of nature imagery.
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