Themes in Harry Ploughman

Grace in ordinary life

LabourerThis is the single theme. The sonnet is focused entirely on Harry's physique and the unity of movement he achieves in his work: this is his inscape. Like many men who have sedentary jobs or a delicate physique, Hopkins seems to admire the raw strength of this labourer immensely, building up an idealised picture of him.

As with Tom in Tom's Garland, ‘Harry' is a composite person. No single specific ploughman is being portrayed, which makes the inscape much vaguer.

More on inscape: The original idea of inscape was particular places or views. Here, Hopkins sees the man as much like an animal as anything. Ted Hughes, in some of his early poems, catches the same sort of feel of the idealised animal doing its special thing.

The idea of grace is captured in the compound ‘Churlsgrace'. It is a grace of motion, of creation, rather than any supernatural grace (given to undo the effects of the Fall). There is no sense of anything fallen in Harry. He is perfect, created as he should be.

Investigating Harry Ploughman
  • Pick out words, phrases and images that mark the man's essential being, the essence of his ploughing.
  • What words or phrases convey Hopkins' admiration for the man?
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