Language and tone in Harry Ploughman

As we saw with the imagery, some of the words used are obscure. For example, ‘knee-nave'. ‘Nave' is usually an architectural word used to describe part of a church. To use it as a synonym for ‘knee-cap' is not obvious, especially as other words like ‘ribs', ‘barrelled' and ‘flue' also have architectural connotations. Similarly ‘barrowy' is not usually associated with mounds of earth, particularly where the dead were buried, unless you are an archaeologist. And ‘quail' in the sense of being made to give way, instead of ‘appear frightened, cower' is unusual.

Then we have the compounds:

  • The most noticeable are ‘Amanstrength' and ‘Churlsgrace'. Once we realise a churl is a dialect form for peasant or labouring man, then the meaning is clear and striking. By putting ‘grace' and ‘churl' together, Hopkins creates something of an oxymoron, as typically a churl is seen as clumsy
  • The hyphenated compounds are equally interesting: ‘With- a-fountain's shining­shot', for example. One that Hopkins admitted was an act of desperation to get the rhyme right, is ‘his wind- lilylocks- laced' (‘his wind-laced lily locks'). It is a compound inserted within another compound!

There are regular alliterations every line, helping to pattern it, and a number of internal rhymes such as flank/lank (1.2). An unusual ellipsis is the ‘'s cheek' for ‘his cheek'.

Investigating Harry Ploughman
  • Are there any other compounds that caught your eye?
    • Comment on their effectiveness.
  • What do you think ‘cragiron' means?
  • Can you remember where else you have seen the word ‘lashed'?
    • Is this another Hopkins' favourite?
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