Structure and versification in Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord

The sonnet form is fascinating, too. The rhyming scheme (abbaabba cdcdcd) suggests a Petrarchan John Miltonsonnet, but the division between the octave and sestet is not shown in the sentence structure, which takes the octave well into the ninth line. The poet John Milton used the same feature in a number of his sonnets, to the extent they are sometimes called Miltonic sonnets. The final ‘turn', as in Milton's sonnet ‘On His Blindness', is delayed till the very last line, where the complaint is changed into a prayer.

The other interesting feature is that although each line consists of the ten syllables which we would expect in the iambic pentameter structure of a sonnet, most lines have extra stresses (or spondees) because of the monosyllabic choice of diction. Thus the last line would have stresses on ‘mine', ‘lord', ‘life', ‘send', ‘roots' and ‘rain', with the explosive extra stress being on the first word ‘Mine', which is then echoed by ‘my' and contrasted to ‘thou'. It takes on a life of its own, detached from any noun, whether that be ‘lord' or ‘life'. Most other lines can be examined in the same way to show that there are six or even seven stressed syllables instead of the normal four or five.

Hopkins wrote to Robert Bridges, this sonnet ‘must be read adagio molto and with great stress.' We can see why.

Investigating Thou Art Indeed Just
  • Read the poem out loud at different speeds, bringing out the stressed syllables, and making sure you follow the punctuation.
    • Which speed do you find most satisfying? Why?
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