Study Guide to “Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend”

Study Guide to “Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord, if I contend”

This poem was written in Dublin on 17 March, 1889, one of the last poems that Hopkins wrote before he died of typhus on 8 June. Hopkins’s life in Ireland had been one of hardships:  physical illness, a heavy teaching load, little time for research or for poetry. Also he lived in a country torn by unrest and violence, and his physical surroundings were in dangerous disrepair. On top of all this, Hopkins felt like he could never get anything accomplished. He started many projects, but saw few of them all the way to completion. His great promise as a young man—double firsts at Oxford, for example—seemed to be coming to no fruition, while others, perhaps less talented, were thriving.  No wonder he shared Jeremiah’s complaint.

Here are some things to think about regarding this poem:

  • The quotation in the epigraph is from Jeremiah 12:1—“Lord, I know well that right is on thy side, if I plead against thee, yet remonstrate with thee I must; why is it that the affairs of the wicked prosper; …” Pleading like a lawyer in court, Hopkins charges God with injustice. Can you recall a time when you were disappointed about being treated unfairly? How could expressing those feelings in a poem help?
  • Why might Hopkins call himself “Time’s eunuch”?
  • Although most of the poem is an argument and a lament, the poem begins (“Thou art indeed just, Lord”) and ends (“send my roots rain”) with positive notes. What does this construction say about Hopkins’s attitude to God?
  • Among Hopkins’s few belongings in his room when he died was a copy of a sermon by Charles Spurgeon preached much earlier, in 1867. The text was Isaiah 58:11—“And the Lord shall guide you continually, and satisfy your soul in drought, and make fat your bones: and you shall be like a watered garden, and like a spring of water, whose waters fail not.”  Why do you think Hopkins kept the sermon and how could it have influenced this poem?

For this poem you might want to be familiar with the following terms from the Hopkins Terminology:
alliteration | counterpoint | parallelism | sprung rhythm

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