Language and tone in Hurrahing in Harvest

Alliterative phrases

The vocabulary of the sonnet works as powerfully as its imagery: the two can hardly be separated:

  • ‘barbarous in beauty' is a striking phrase, an oxymoron, since barbarity usually suggests ugliness
  • The b-alliteration is emphatic, as we think perhaps of the stooks (sheaves) as spears or other weapons
  • Similar alliterating phrases that catch our ear are ‘wind-walks'; ‘silk-sack', ‘wilful-wavier', ‘world-wielding'.
More on Hopkins' alliteration: Alliterative phrases are Hopkins' trademark, deriving from Old English poetry, where similar compound phrases are known as ‘kennings'. Hopkins makes them alliterate, as if he really is fascinated by their patterns and sounds, whereas they do not have to be in Old English.

Biblical echoes

A key feature of the sonnet is the verbal echoes of biblical language. Hopkins had always studied the Bible, even before he started studying to be a priest. Even a simple, dramatic phrase like ‘Summer ends now' has its echo in the Bible:

‘The harvest is past, the summer is ended, and we are not saved.' (Jeremiah 8:20)

We have already mentioned another phrase: ‘I lift up, I lift up heart, eyes' as echoing a Psalm, but it also echoes Jesus' words:

‘Lift up your eyes and look on the fields, for they are white already to harvest. (John 4:35 AV).

The very title of ‘hurrahing' may have been derived from Isaiah 55:12:

‘for you shall go out with joy, and be led forth with peace; the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you with singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.'

Certainly Isaiah (an Old Testament prophet) is as celebratory of nature as Hopkins, seeing the natural echoing the supernatural.

Investigating Hurrahing in Harvest
  • Pick out other examples of alliterating word clusters.
    • Which ones do you find memorable?
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