Study Guide to Ribblesdale
“Ribblesdale” was composed in 1882, while Hopkins was back teaching at Stonyhurst College in Lancashire, and he bases it on the beautiful nearby valley (dale) through which flows the river Ribble (see photo with poem and scrolling on the home page). The subject of the poem is two pleas to God: both man and nature plead. Nature bears the burden of man’s misuse with godly grace, and so its plea to God is strong. Since human beings misuse nature, their plea is tarnished. In the poem the pleas are intertwined, both pleaders should show concern. But even when human beings do not, as is so often the case, nature does. God “dealt” (built) each river long ago, and continually “deals” them in the present; since he has the power to destroy, he must constantly choose to renew life. Man’s choices are similarly continuous: we must strive to use our “ear, eye, tongue, and heart” to enhance our plea with as much constancy and doggedness as nature evidences (l. 9).
Some things to think about regarding this poem:
- The poet, using a Lancashire dialect term, describes the “louched low grass” near to the ground (l. 2). “Leaves throng” high in the air (l. 1). How does the poem compare and contrast high and low aspects of nature?
- What do you think the poet means when he describes man as “the heir /To his selfbent …bound” (ll. 10-11)?
- Consider the word “dear”. How does “dear and dogged man” differ from simply “dogged man” (l. 10)? Likewise, how does “dear concern” differ from just “concern” (l. 14)?