Thou Art Indeed Just: by G. M. Hopkins - Summary & Analysis

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Justus quidem tu es, Domine, si disputem tecum; verumtamen
justa loquar ad te: Quare via impiorum prosperatur? &c.

Thou art indeed just, Lord, if I contend
With thee; but, sir, so what I plead is just.
Why do sinners’ ways prosper? and why must
Disappointment all I endeavour end?
Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend,
How wouldst thou worse, I wonder, than thou dost
Defeat, thwart me? Oh, the sots and thralls of lust
Do in spare hours more thrive than I that spend,
Sir, life upon thy cause. See, banks and brakes
Now, leavèd how thick! lacèd they are again
With fretty chervil, look, and fresh wind shakes
Them; birds build – but not I build; no, but strain,
Time’s eunuch, and not breed one work that wakes.
Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain.


      The poem Thou Art Indeed Just, Lord was written in Dublin on March 17, 1889. It is an autobiographical poem. The poet accepts the aridity of his role as ‘Time’s eunuch’ and ends with the plea, ‘Mine, O thou lord of life, send my roots rain’. The poem is an example of Hopkins’s artistic maturity and a further stage of his spiritual development and self-awareness. In a plain, restrained language enlivened by the tones of the speaking voice the poem expresses a sad resignation of dryness. In January 1888, Hopkins had written; “What is my wretched life? Five wasted years almost have passed in Ireland. I am ashamed of the little I have done, of my waste of time, although my helplessness arid weakness is such that I could scarcely do otherwise. All my undertakings miscarry. I am like a eunuch” In January 1888, too, Hopkins had in a letter to Bridges, written: “All impulse fails me; I can give myself no sufficient reason for going on. Nothing comes; I am a eunuch—but it is for the kingdom of heaven’s sake”. These observation provide a clue to the mood in which this sonnet was written.


      Lines 1-8: In the first eight lines of the poem the poet says that God is just and he must acknowledge God’s justice in any disputation. But a question arises in poet’s mind and he expresses this doubt which seems to him quite justified. His question is how sinful persons prosper in this world and how they thrive in this world? His next question is why all his endeavors, both in respect of his profession a priest and in respect of the exercise of his poetic faculty end in disappointment and failure. Addressing God as “Sir” the poet just like a student wants to know these things.

      The poet has belief in God’s love and affection for him, but he is disappointed enough to see that sinners of various kinds prosper even in their spare or idle moments much more than the poet who is spending his whole life in the service of God. The fools and slaves of lust—that is sinners—prosper even more the poet. It seems quite strange and unjustified to the poet. The poet does not intend to oppose God’s will, he just asks why and how all these things happen.

      Lines 9-14: In this part of the poem the poet wants God to look at the hedgerows and thickets growing thick with fresh leaves. These are all some phenomena in the world of Nature. In the middle of March the hedgerows and thickets of the countryside are thick with fresh leaves; they are once more intertwined with cheril and they are being shaken by the fresh wind. The birds are too busy to build their nests in the trees and hedges. But the poet has not been able to build anything or do anything. He has only been straining himself and making fruitless efforts at poetic composition. The poet calls himself “Time’s eunuch” as he has not been able to create anything, rather has been rendered unproductive with the passage of time. He finds himself unable to build or to achieve anything. In the last line the poet appeals to God to send rain of grace to fertilize the dry roots of his poetic inspiration. The poet here addresses God as “Lord of life” and so the source of inspiration. Without his inspiration, the creations of the poet will all go in vain. Thus a renewal of faith and appeal for divine help in creation are to be noted in the closing part of the poem.


Line 1: Indeed just: really just or fair-minded.

Contend: enter into a debate or discussion.

Line 2: Sir: Address to God. The poet is speaking to God on equal terms as one man would respectfully speak to another man.

Line 2: So what I plead is just: “So” here means “thus”. The poet says that what he has to say is fully justified.

Line 3: Why do sinner’s ways prosper? The poet asks God why do the sinners prosper and succeed?

Lines 3-4: And why must/Disappointment all I endeavor end?: The poet asks why should all his efforts end in failure?

Line 5: Were thou my enemy: Had you been my enemy.

O thou my friend: The very thought of God as an enemy shocks the poet, so he hastens to call him his friend.

Lines 6-7: How wouldst thou worse.....thwart me?: Even if God had been the poet’s enemy He would not have treated to poet worse than he is already doing.

Line 7: thwart: defeat.

Sots fools

Thralls: slaves.

Line 8: In spare hours: In vacant mood, in idleness.

Line 9: Life upon thy cause: The drunkards and slaves flourish more than the poet who is spending his whole life in God’s service.

upon why cause: in God’s service.

banks and brakes: woods, hedgerows and thickets.

Line 10: Leaved how thick: how thick is the growth of leaves upon hedges, trees, plants etc.

Line 11: Fretty Chervils: “Chervil” is a kind of plant. “Fretty” refers to the indented shape of the leaves of the plant.

Line 12: birds build: Birds are building their nests on trees and in hedgerows, but not I build: The poet can build nothing. No but train: The poet only exerts his faculties without achieving much.

Line 13: Time’s eunuch: The poet calls himself eunuch. A eunuch is incapable of producing children. The poet thinks that he has not been able to produce anything worthwhile; or it may be said the poet has produced nothing worthwhile in spite of the passing of years.

And not breed one work that wakes: The poet could not produce a single great work which lives forever.

Line 14: Send my roots rain: The poet prays to God to render His rain of grace to him to fertilize his poetic faculty. The poet, in this expression, is quite submissive. He opens his heart and appeals to God to remove his drawbacks


      The sonnet is a brilliant act of creation. Hopkins is asking himself a question, why do the petty men so often succeed and enjoy apparent favor; and why do they appear to be drowned with success at the moment of their most fragrant disobedience to divine commands? The problem that the poet faces in the sonnet is that of reconciling faith and reason. For a moment Hopkins thinks God to be his enemy, to be working against him, but immediately he considers Him to be his friend: “Wert thou my enemy, O thou my friend”. The poet has still belief in God for Christ should be above the reproach of injustice. He speaks to God just like a student speaks to his teacher. He asks God “why do you speak angrily Sir? — indeed I am doing the best that I can”. Hopkins hopes to get answer. His meditations for the last five years of his life contain unnerving evidence of moral and spiritual breakdown. The problem that the poet faces in the sonnet is that of reconciling faith and reason. The poem has an epigraph taken from Jeremiah 12:1 which sets the tone and imagery of the sonne and is partially, paraphrased in the first two lines. The epigraph says: “Thou art always in the righty Eternal one, when I complain to thee; yet I would argue this with thee — why do bad man prospers? Why are scoundrels secured and serene? The poet seems to be asserting that God will be just in his arguments but only if the poets pleas are just also. The reference to just pleading establishes an over all relationship of patron and protege, or master and servant or great landowner and tenant.

      “The poem ends on a slightly plaintive note, culminating in a request which is a cross between a plea and a demand”. For a moment Hopkins is carried away by his delight at the coming of spring. But the resurgence of life serves only to remind Hopkins of his own sterility—a sterility of feeling marked by the failure to produce poetry. However, “plaintive” though the ending is, the ray of hope is dearly perceptible.

      The present sonnet is free from obscurities. There is nothing either in the vocabulary or in the syntax here to baffle us. Some irregularities are there, of course, for instance: “birds build—but not I build”. On the whole, the poem is easy enough and free from any oddities.

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