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What do the sky, a cow, a trout, and a chestnut all have in common? They are all pied, or contain two or more colors. Gerard Manly Hopkins’ shortened sonnet, ‘Pied Beauty’ (1918) gives praise to God for these peculiar, spotted, marked, and multicolored things. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s use of vivid imagery and unexpected phrases make the meaning of finding God in all things both imaginative and imaginable.
|‘Pied Beauty’ Information Overview|
|Author:||Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)|
|Type of poem:||Curtal sonnet|
|Key Themes:||Nature as a reflection of God’s beauty, The beauty of nature’s imperfections|
|Literary Devices:||Alliteration, imagery, oxymoron, rhetorical question, rhyme|
Gerard Manley Hopkins, the English poet and Jesuit priest, wrote the poem ‘Pied Beauty’ in the Summer of 1877. During this time, Hopkins was studying theology at the beautiful, green campus of St. Bueno’s College in North Wales. Gerard Manley Hopkins was inspired by the beauty of nature from boyhood. His love and keen observance of nature can be identified clearly in the imagery of the poem, ‘Pied Beauty.’
The poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins are colored by his concept of inscape. Inscape refers to the unique individuality and inner design of all created things—both living and nonliving. Gerard Manley Hopkins saw the intentionality and individuality of things in the world as a reflection of God, their creator. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems often contain vivid descriptions made up of unique vocabulary to reflect this individuality within all things.
Gerard Manley Hopkins begins the poem with the line “Glory be to God for dappled things,” 1 indicating that this is a poem of praise to God for the magnificence of his creation—particularly, for “dappled” or spotted things. Gerard Manley Hopkins provides specific examples of this peculiar category of “couple-colored,” or multicolored, spotted things through vivid uses of vocabulary and imagery.
In the second stanza of the poem, there is a volta, or shift in the focus of the poem from specific things in the world to be thankful for, to broader qualities that highlight creation‘s originality. Gerard Manley Hopkins begins the second stanza giving thanks to “All things counter, original, spare strange” 1 (Line 7). He uses these words in the poem to emphasize his appreciation for the mystery of creation in all its variety and variations. This mystery of creation is contained within a singular, unchanging God, who brings forth all of creation and “whose beauty is past change” 1 (Line 10). Gerard Manley Hopkins closes this prayer of thanks with the final words, “Praise him,” offering worship to a God who is capable of acting in an infinite number of ways, while remaining steady and unchanging.
|Line||‘Pied Beauty’ by Gerard Manley Hopkins||Notes|
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
|dappled: spotted, or marked with round patchesbrinded: streaked with grey or brown patches of coloring, brindledrose-moles: red-colored spots or marks on skinstipple: marked with many small dotsplotted: marked on a chart or graphfallow: land left unplanted to restore the soiltackle: equipment or hardware needed for a tasktrim: additional decoration of contrasting material or color|
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
|counter: opposing, contradictingspare: extra, additional, supplementaryfickle: variable, frequently changingadazzle: dazzling, gleaming|
’Pied Beaty' is an 11 line (or more specifically, 10.5 line), curtal sonnet written in Gerard Manly Hopkins’s characteristic, sprung rhythm. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCABC DBCDC. ‘Pied Beauty’ is a variation of the form of a traditional Italian or Petrarchan sonnet.
A curtal sonnet is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s term for his experimental, shortened, sonnet form. While a traditional Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet has 14 lines split into one 8 line stanza and one 6 line stanza, Hopkins’s curtal sonnet has one 6 line stanza plus one 4.5 line stanza (exactly 3/4s of the original number of lines in each stanza). The half-line contains significantly fewer words than the rest of the lines.
This shortened sonnet form compresses Gerard Manley Hopkins’s expansive imagery into a shorter span of words, creating nearly overwhelming flashes of comparative and contrasting colors and images.
The half-line at the end of the sonnet (which is actually less than one half), allows for a reflective pause directed towards the final phrase “Praise him.” 1 This distinctive half-line serves as a break from the flood of flowing, compacted imagery, and reminded readers what the poem is actually all about—praise to God. The created pause before the phrase “Praise him” also mimics the pattern of how Catholic prayers are said at mass, where the leader or reader recites the prayer or intention, and the congregation responds with a verse of praise after a pause for reflection.
While an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, or 10 syllable lines in an alternating pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables, Gerary Manley Hopkins’s poems are written in his characteristic, sprung rhythm.
Sprung rhythm is a term coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe a meter that is more natural in mimicking regular stresses in speech. Sprung rhythm counts the stresses within a line (there are typically 5), but there can be a number of unstressed syllables in between, or consecutively stressed syllables. Therefore, the line lengths often vary in the number of syllables they contain.
Gerard Manley Hopkins’s use of sprung rhythm in ‘Pied Beauty’ allows him to be more creative with the pattern of emphasis on words, creating a more natural, yet dramatic reading. Sprung rhythm also allows the poet to stress consecutive words, emphasizing words as unified ideas such as “past change” and “Praise him.” These ideas significantly influence the reader’s understanding of the poem. They explain that God is beyond change, or unchanging, despite all the variations found in nature, and remind readers that the poem‘s purpose is ultimately to praise God. The repetition of the consecutive words is suggestive of God's sense of stability and constancy amidst the everchanging world, which is mimicked by the changing stresses in the syllables around these phrases.
The rhyme scheme of ‘Pied Beauty’ is quite different from that of a Petrarchan sonnet, but Gerard Manley Hopkins hints at its resemblance to one by sticking to using four sets of rhymes, A, B, C, and D rhymes. The rhyme scheme of ‘Pied Beauty’ is ABCABC DBCDC.
The end rhymes of ‘Pied Beauty’ follow:
1. things — A
2. cow — B
3. swim — C
4. wings — A
5. plough — B
6. trim — C
7. strange — D
8. how — B
9. dim — C
10. change — D
11. him — C
Gerard Manly Hopkins uses this rhyme scheme to tie together his poem with subtle links that create a sense of steadiness and fluidity amidst the poem’s experimental meter and structure. Notice that the rhymes for one word follow three lines later. For example, the word “things” ending line 1, rhymes with “wings” in line 4, and the word “cow” in line 2 rhymes with both the word “plough” in line 5 and “how” in line 8.
This pattern creates continuity and balance across the poem's stanzas. The lack of rhyming couplets, or end rhymes in consecutive lines, provides a more subtle rhyming effect and keeps the poem sounding more natural and reflective rather than bouncy and songlike.
The rhymes in closest proximity are “dim” and “him” in lines 9 and 11. This more evident rhyme helps provide closure to the poem.
The tone of ‘Pied Beauty’ is praiseful and awestruck by the wonders of God and his creation. Gerard Manley Hopkins is in awe of God’s boundless creative capacity. He exults, or praises God’s ability to create in such varied, mysterious, and even opposing ways. Gerard Manley Hopkins is joyful and amazed as he contemplates the wonders of an unchanging God made visible in the variety, patterns, colors, and qualities of the natural world.
The poem ‘Pied Beauty’ emphasizes the variations in colors, patterns, and markings within both the natural and the man-made world. Rather than simply being thankful for the sky, the trout, the chestnuts, or the sky, Gerard Manley Hopkins praises God for the beauty of their unique details. Gerard Manley Hopkins draws upon his concept of inscape, which regards the unique design and individuality of every created thing. He points to the wondrous capabilities of God to make creations with such great detail and variation that it seems nearly frivolous or superfluous. However, this exquisite design lends beauty and importance to every observable thing.
The variations of nature mentioned in the poem add to its beauty by suggesting its mysterious and magnificent qualities. Ultimately, this mystery, magnificence, and beauty is a reflection of God, who brings forth creation with incredible, incomprehensible detail and design. Gerard Manley Hopkins views contemplation of nature and the world around him as contemplation and appreciation of God in all his mysteriously wonderful creative capabilities.
“Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings” 1 (Line 4)
Gerard Manley Hopkins is known for using an abundance of alliteration, which is the repetition of beginning sounds in phrases. Alliteration helps establish the stresses within Gerard Manley Hopkins’ irregular sprung rhythm, as the stresses tend to fall on alliterated sounds.
The repetition of the ‘f’ sound in this example helps carry the reader through the phrase and unites seemingly divergent imagery with the familiar sound. Normally, the “fresh-firecoal” would not be associated with “chestnut-falls,” but the repeated “f” sound links the two phrases to suggest a parallel between the two. As black coal burns to reveal bright flames, chestnuts cooked over fire reveal a light-colored inside. “Finches’ wings” seem completely separate from the coal fire and chestnuts, however, the “f“ of “finches“ lends a degree of continuity. The idea of chestnuts falling from a tree can be linked to the imagery of birds.
Gerard Manley Hopkins uses a seemingly out of the blue rhetorical question in order to suggest that only God knows how all of these variations and colors of nature come about. Though a rhetorical question is not meant to be formally answered. The fact that there is only one question in the whole poem, and it is separated in parentheses, forces readers to question Hopkins’s question.
The rhetorical question, “Who knows how?” can be understood in terms of the word preceding it, Who knows how freckles come about?, but also in the poem as a whole. The poem describes the odd amazements of nature‘s marks and beauty in intentional imperfections. Hopkins engages and puzzles the reader with the abrupt question “Who knows how?” to encourage them to think about how only God knows how all these things come about.
Gerard Manley Hopkins poses this rhetorical question to lead readers into the explanation that is to come in the following lines of the poem.
“With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim” 1 (Line 9)
Gerard Manley Hopkins uses oxymorons, or contradictory terms in close proximity, to answer the question “Who knows how?” in a detailed yet indirect fashion. The poet suggests that all these things he has listed include such variation because God can bring forth beauty in a multitude of ways—in “swift” or “slow” time, in “sweet” or “sour” tastes, in dazzling or “dim” light. Though these pairs appear to be oxymorons as they are opposites, they actually come together to suggest the singular infinite capacity of God. Hopkins suggests that nature, in all its unique beauty and variation, reflects God, who can work and be seen in an infinite number of ways.
1 ‘Pied Beauty,’ Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918.
The literal meaning of the title ‘Pied Beauty’ is something that is beautiful in being multicolored. Hopkins’ poem, ‘Pied Beauty’ is a poem of praise to God for his ability to create things with such great detail, variety, and mysterious design.
In ‘Pied Beauty,’ Hopkins focuses on the imagery of the sky, a brindled cow, the red spots on trout, coal, chestnuts, finches’ wings, an agricultural landscape, and work tools to present the glory of God in the everyday world.
The tone of ‘Pied Beauty’ is exulting and awestruck by the wonders of God and his creation. The poet is in awe of God’s boundless creative capacity. He exults, or praises God’s ability to create in such varied, mysterious, and even opposing ways.
In ‘Pied Beauty,’ Hopkins is praising God and God’s boundless creative capabilities.
The poem ‘Pied Beauty’ is about how God’s nature and power is reflected in the details of world around us.
Who is the author of ‘Pied Beauty’?
Gerard Manley Hopkins
What are two key themes in ‘Pied Beauty’?
Beauty in nature’s variation, and nature as a reflection of God
What is the poem praising?
God and his creation
Which of the following things are not described in the poem?
A bridge with animals crossing
What type of poem is ‘Pied Beauty’?
A curtal sonnet (or a shortened sonnet)
What is the meter of ‘Pied Beauty’?
What is the tone of ‘Pied Beauty’?
Praising and awestruck, or amazed
What are the final two words of ‘Pied Beauty’?
Which of the following literary devices does Hopkins not use in ’Pied Beauty’?
What does the word ‘pied’ mean?
Containing two or more colors
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