Compare the Two Poets’ Representations of and Attitudes to Nature in ‘the Way Through the Woods’ and ‘Binsey Poplars’ Essay

These two poems, by Gerald Manley Hopkins and Rudyard Kipling respectively, are both concerned with how humans and how their presence among nature can have a negative effect. Both of these poems seem to agree that humans do have an influence on the natural evolution of nature; mainly due to the way humans interfere with nature. However, both of these poems illustrate different ways in the outcome of this interference. Binsey Poplars, focuses on the destruction of nature; specifically the felling trees. In this poem the author (Gerald Manley Hopkins) displays many themes, directly relating to the humans devastation of the trees in Binsey.

But the most prominent theme exhibited throughout this poem is mankind’s destructive attitude towards nature. Hopkins portrays mankind’s destruction of nature as savage, senseless, and inhuman. He shows humans with disregard towards nature, and its possible that Hopkins believes that the felling of the aspens is unnecessary, even a breach of the trees rights. This atmosphere is built up mostly in the second stanza, using phonological effects. The use of ‘Hack’ and ‘rack’, as assonance in line 11, induces a severe, enraged mood. The harsh sounds help build up this tone.

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These examples are also forms of internal rhyme. Which again emphasises the destruction. It could be argued that these words are indeed onomatopoeic, representing the sound of the actual trees being hewed to the ground, with an axe. Another instance of this destructive attitude is shown again, later in the second stanza: ‘When we hew or delve’. Here again we can clearly see Hopkins view on the mindless way humans destroy nature; ‘hew’ shows the fierce destruction of the trees. Also, structural affects are used to further illustrate this point, specifically repetition of key lines or phrases.

The line ‘When we hew or delve’ is used twice, although it is slightly rearranged, to emphasise his point. Hopkins is enraged with the unnecessary felling of the passive trees. He is mournful of the trees’ termination. Repetition is used to show his anger at the humans’ actions. ‘All felled, felled, all felled,’ is repeated to re-emphasise his disgust, and his irate outlook. Hopkins also shows a certain amount of disbelief regarding mankind’s negligent, disrespectful attitude towards nature. The use of repetition in line five illustrates this.

Hopkins cannot believe the event, and so repeats it, to reassure himself that it has actually happened, and convince himself and the reader that this is a real situation. He openly and persistently denounces the destruction of nature; showing his appreciation and respect for nature. Hopkins displays an appreciative attitude to nature. The author treasures the trees as if they were his own property, carrying sentimental value. He describes them using ‘Since country is so tender’ and ‘the beauty been’. This clearly shows how grateful he is and how much he values the trees, and nature.

The repetition in the last three lines of the poem ‘The sweet especial scene, Rural scene, a rural scene, Sweet especial rural scene’ The example above illustrates this exactly. The phrase ‘sweet especial’ shows the individuality Hopkins grants the trees. Seeing them as living, breathing creatures to be appreciated. The sibilance in this quote also creates a soothing reminder of the trees lost beauty. Also, Hopkins acts in a very possessive way of the trees. The way he uses personal pronouns, like ‘I’, the trees may even be described as his own possessions.

He uses ‘my’, indicating that he regards the trees as his. The fact that Hopkins appreciates nature and is possessive of his aspens, explains why he comes across as protective of the trees. He believes that as he realises the importance of nature, then he should try to protect it and preserve it for future generations. ‘After-comers cannot guess the beauty been’, develops this point, indicating that he may have wanted to preserve the beautiful trees, to share with others. They obviously hold a great value to him.

Hopkins also emphasises the idea that humans are ignorant when it comes to nature, and the sanctity of life. He believes that humans are unenlightened at what the trees and nature has to offer the community, and this may have been partly to blame for the trees’ demise. ‘Stroke of havoc unselve’, shows that Hopkins believes that the destruction of the trees was unnecessary. The use of this strange and previously unused verb, might serve to illustrate the authors disbelieve at the trees felling. He cannot describe his loss/anger in ordinary words. Moreover, Hopkins even seems to regard the trees/nature as sacred.

The first line of the second stanzas, ‘O if we knew what we do’, reiterates the line spoke by Jesus, while being crucified (and facing certain death): ‘Forgive them, for they know not what they do. ‘ This direct mirror is included to stress the idea that life is sacred, including nature, and so should not be destroyed. This line in Binsey Poplars also could be seen as a prayer to God, to allow forgiveness for the immoral destruction of nature; one of God’s creation. Even though Hopkins had nothing to do with the destruction of the aspens, he still seems to believe that he himself is also partly to blame.

The poet uses pronouns to indicate collective responsibility between all of humanity. Hopkins uses ‘we’ several times to show this. The reason for this collective responsibility is ambiguous. Maybe Hopkins thinks that he could have done more to stop the cruel felling of the trees. Possibly he did not try to oppose the felling to start with, and believes that he should have. ‘When we hew or delve’ shows that Hopkins clearly believes that he had a part in the felling, whether directly or as a bystander. However, what is clear is that he regrets the trees’ destruction.

Hopkins also personifies the trees, when he likens nature to a woman. ‘To touch, her being so slender,’, here using the pronoun ‘her’, we can see that Hopkins believes that nature is in some way like a woman; maybe it is as precious, or as fragile. This may be used to create a mood of vulnerability and dependence of the trees on humans. Maybe this is why Hopkins feels he should have protected the trees from being felled. This poem is prominently about how humans change nature to suit their needs, with absolute disregard to nature, specifically these aspens, with no consideration to the consequences.

In this poem, humans are depicted as savage, monstrous creatures. The Way Through the Woods depicts the story of how a footpath through a wood, is closed, and forgotten. The poem shows the nature has reclaimed the wood and returned it to its natural state. This poem can be greatly compared with Binsey Poplars, mainly due to focus on nature that they both share. Human interference and intervention is also a key theme explored here. Nature is represented as a peaceful, tranquil environment and almost as a sanctuary, away from the hustle and bustle of human life.

The calm wood illustrated in the poem is abundant with animals, living peacefully and in harmony. The use of assonance helps to create this effect. For example, in the first stanza the line ‘It is underneath the coppice and heath, And the thin anemones’, uses assonance to make the reader feel at ease, and peaceful. The soft words; ‘coppice’, ‘heath’ and ‘anemones’, helps to build up a calm, placid atmosphere, meant to reflect the wood. Nature is portrayed as a beautiful, attractive haven. Such instances of this include, ‘Steadily cantering through’, which shows how creatures amble freely through the woods.

This serene environment is liberated from destruction and interference from unwanted others (i. e. humans). The verbs and adverbs used in The Way Through the Woods also contribute to produce this effect. For example the verb ‘roll’ and ‘swish’ are used, which are very calm, and soft words. This point described in The Way Through the Woods can be mirrored with a point in Binsey Poplars. In Binsey Poplars, Hopkins tells us how nature is beautiful, ‘tender’ and of how nature should be appreciated and respected. Kipling also seems to try and convey this point.

However, he does not try to communicate this point as strongly, although has not had the beauty of nature destroyed against his wishes, and so is less likely to be as passionate. There is also an indication that the presence of humans contributes to the degradation of nature. Also, the poem suggests that humans have now deserted the wood. The badgers can now ‘roll at ease’ without any threat spoiling the peaceful atmosphere. It seems that this atmosphere can only exist, because there are no longer any humans infringing on the wood.

This is also present in Binsey Poplars. In Hopkins poem, he is distraught and enraged at the humans’ presence and destruction of nature. Similarly in Kiplings poem he seems to convey the thought that the wood is a better place without humans. Although, Kipling is not as hostile as Hopkins, probably due to the fact that his sanctuary of nature has not been destroyed or harmed. In fact, quite the opposite has happened; Kipling wood has been freed from the degradation of humans, the degradation has been ‘undone’. However the poem is very ambiguous in some places.

This is shown in the second stanza, where memories of the old human presence still remain in the wood. ‘You will here the beat of a horse’s feet, And the swish of a skirt in the dew’. Kipling suggests that nature or the creatures miss the human presence or would prefer that the road through the woods had not been closed. This ambiguity might be for a reason. Maybe Kipling is undecided on whether humans infringing or changing nature is good, or acceptable. This is in complete contrast with Binsey Poplars where Hopkins states his views precisely, leaving no room for different interpretations.

Although, it can be positively said that the minimal human presence has changed the way the wood has developed in The Way through the Woods. The wood is definitely more unconstrained and undisturbed, especially in comparison with the aspens of Binsey Poplars. These two poems both show similar attitudes towards nature, and the way in which human’s have an effect on nature. However, it can be said with great certainty that Binsey Poplars has a more negative attitude towards human intervention on nature than in The Way Through the Woods.