Synopsis of Tom's Garland

Subtitled ‘Upon the unemployed', the poem was written in Ireland in September 1887. It is one of a number of poems titled after individuals, often idealised to become representatives of a whole class of people. Thus we have also Felix Randal and Harry Ploughman, as well as The Bugler's First Communion.

Obviously, as a priest, Hopkins would have ministered to many working-class men and women, some of whom clearly made a strong impression on him, like Felix Randal, even though his own social background was so completely different. Here, however, Tom belongs to the phrase ‘Tom, Dick and Harry', meaning no-one in particular. We have Tom and Dick mentioned in this sonnet, Harry in the one written at the same time, Harry Ploughman. ‘Tom' is thus a cypher in Hopkins' political expression of how unsound a society is that allows its workers to become unemployed. It is not a portrait of an actual unemployed person, as we might think from the title.

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