Commentary on Tom's Garland

The poem is in sonnet form, but as with a number of sonnets written about this time, Hopkins was pushing at the boundaries of the sonnet form, to see how flexible they were. Here he adds a further six lines to the form, as a pair of tercets, technically called codas. An earlier sonneteer, John Milton, had pioneered this extension for serious purposes in his On the New Forcers of Conscience, which, like this poem, makes specific political comments. Previously, codas had only been used for satiric purposes.

The sonnet is not an easy one to understand. Fortunately, perhaps, for us, Robert Bridges and Canon Dixon both found it difficult, too, and asked Hopkins for an explanation, which he gave. (See W.H.Gardner's explanatory notes at the end of the Penguin edition.)


The poem is founded on the New Testament analogy of the church being like a body, with Christ as the head:

‘The body is a unit, though it is made up of many parts; and though all its parts are many, they form one body. So it is with are the body of Christ.....and the parts we think are less honourable, we treat with special honour...' (1 Corinthians 12:12; 1 Corinthians 12:27; 1 Corinthians 12:23 TNIV)

The political equivalent is the ‘Commonweal' (commonwealth). It is important to Hopkins that all sectors of society are honoured, because they are all part of the same unit.

Related material
Scan and go

Scan on your mobile for direct link.