Language and tone in To What Serves Mortal Beauty

Sexist language

We need to address the question of sexist language in this poem. ‘Men's wits'(l.5); ‘To man' (l.9) and ‘men's selves' (1.11) would not be tolerated to-day. However, in nineteenth century English, ‘man' and ‘men' were really gender-free terms, as much as they were to the translators of the Authorised Version in the seventeenth century.

Linguistic simplicity

For all his learning, Hopkins does not use long or latinate words. ‘Countenance' is as long and latinate as he gets. Typically, most lines consist nearly all of monosyllabic words. This is a much higher percentage than in ordinary speech.

Investigating To What Serves Mortal Beauty
  • What are the effects of the high percentage of monosyllables in the poem?
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