English Literature
Pied Beauty

Pied Beauty

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Discovering the Unique Beauty in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Poem ‘Pied Beauty’

What connects the sky, a cow, a trout, and a chestnut? Surprisingly, it is their distinct blend of colors, as seen in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ 1918 poem, ‘Pied Beauty’. In this shortened sonnet, Hopkins praises God for the vibrant and diverse beauty found in seemingly mundane things, inviting readers to envision a world where everything reflects the intentionality of its creator through vivid imagery and unexpected phrases.

Background Information on ‘Pied Beauty’

Written by Gerard Manley Hopkins, an English poet and Jesuit priest, during the summer of 1877, ‘Pied Beauty’ was inspired by Hopkins’ time studying theology in St. Bueno’s College in North Wales. The picturesque campus surrounded by nature sparked Hopkins’ appreciation for the beauty of the natural world, leading him to write this poem.

Hopkins' Concept of Inscape

At the core of Hopkins’ beliefs was the idea of “inscape” - the unique inner design of every created thing, be it living or non-living, which he saw as a reflection of God, their creator. Through his poems, Hopkins used vivid descriptions and unique vocabulary to celebrate the diversity and intentionality of God’s creations.

Summary and Meaning of ‘Pied Beauty’

The poem opens with the line “Glory be to God for dappled things,” a clear indication that it is a poem of praise for God’s magnificent creation, especially the “dappled” or spotted things. Hopkins then goes on to provide specific examples of these colorful and peculiar things, using vivid language and imagery.

The First Stanza:

  • “Skies of couple-color as a brinded cow” - Hopkins suggests that the pattern and coloring of a brindled cow resembles the blue sky with white clouds, highlighting his belief that nature reflects God.
  • “Rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim” - Despite not being considered attractive, Hopkins finds beauty in the pink and rose-colored markings of trout, reminding readers to look beyond appearances and appreciate the uniqueness of all things.
  • “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls” - Hopkins uses the image of a chestnut to symbolize the purification of the soul, just as its spiky shell is removed to reveal its inner core, representing the burning away of imperfections and becoming more like Christ.
  • “Finches' wings” - The multicolored wings of finches symbolize the freedom and purity of a soul freed from sin and temptation.
  • “Landscape plotted and pieced - fold, fallow, and plough” - This line refers to the diverse patches of land used for farming, representing the man-made cuts and divisions in nature, yet Hopkins suggests that even these alterations can reflect God’s beauty and should be cared for by humans in cooperation with God.
  • “All trades, their gear and tackle and trim” - Hopkins expresses gratitude for the materials and tools used for work, which allow humans to appreciate and create variations in nature and things, highlighting the Christian belief that work is an opportunity to participate in God’s creation.

In ‘Pied Beauty’, Hopkins emphasizes the beauty in all things and the hand of God in his diverse and intentional creations. Through his use of vivid imagery and unique vocabulary, Hopkins invites readers to imagine a world where everything reflects the beauty and intentionality of its creator.

Celebrating the Diversity of God's Creation

The second stanza of ‘Pied Beauty’ marks a shift in focus from specific elements of creation to broader qualities that celebrate the uniqueness of creation. Hopkins begins the stanza by giving thanks for “All things counter, original, spare strange,” using these words to highlight his appreciation for the mystery and diversity of creation. This mystery is contained in a singular, unchanging God, whose beauty remains constant despite the ever-changing world. In the last line, Hopkins urges readers to praise an infinite God who remains unwavering while manifesting in an infinite number of ways.

The structure of the poem also reinforces its themes of diversity and stability. Written in Hopkins' signature "sprung rhythm," the 11-line curtal sonnet (or more specifically, 10.5 lines) follows an ABCABC DBCDC rhyme scheme, further emphasizing the interconnectedness and harmony of various elements in God’s creation.

The Unique Structure and Language of Gerard Manly Hopkins' 'Pied Beauty' Sonnet

Inspired by the traditional Italian sonnet, Gerard Manly Hopkins presents a variation in his poem 'Pied Beauty' with a compressed structure. The poem features one 6-line stanza and one 4.5-line stanza, allowing for a brief yet impactful use of language.

The closing half-line acts as a reflective pause, emphasizing the poem's ultimate purpose of giving thanks to God. This pause echoes the pattern of Catholic prayers, where the leader recites and the congregation responds, providing a moment for contemplation before offering praise. Additionally, the use of sprung rhythm creates a more natural and expressive reading, emphasizing key phrases such as "past change" and "Praise him." These phrases reflect the poem's themes of God's unchanging nature amidst a world of constant variability.

The Natural and Expressive Rhythm in 'Pied Beauty'

While most sonnets adhere to a strict pattern of 10 syllables per line, Hopkins' use of sprung rhythm in 'Pied Beauty' is more organic, mimicking the rhythm and emphasis of speech. This unique meter creatively emphasizes words and highlights unified ideas, such as "past change" and "Praise him," conveying the idea of God's constancy and the underlying theme of gratitude. Though the rhyme scheme may differ from a traditional sonnet, Hopkins still incorporates four sets of rhymes (A, B, C, and D) that hint at its resemblance to the traditional form.

Appreciating the Beauty of God's Creation in 'Pied Beauty'

In conclusion, Hopkins' 'Pied Beauty' is a masterful exploration of the diversity and constancy of God's creation. Through its distinct structure and use of language, the poem highlights the beauty and mystery of the natural world, encouraging readers to offer thanks and praise to an unchanging and limitless God. The poem's unique rhyme scheme and literary devices, such as alliteration and rhetorical questions, add depth and beauty to the overall expression of awe and reverence for God's creations.

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins: An Ode to God's Creative Majesty

In his poem "Pied Beauty," Gerard Manley Hopkins poses a thought-provoking question that leads to a beautiful exploration of God's wondrous creations. Through the use of literary devices such as oxymorons, imagery, and rhyme, Hopkins showcases the boundless creativity of God and the diversity found in nature.

Written in 1877, "Pied Beauty" is a curtal sonnet, a shortened form of the traditional sonnet. It serves as a testament of praise and gratitude to God for the splendor of his creation. Hopkins writes with exultation and awe, marveling at God's ability to bring forth intricate and diverse designs. The poem also highlights nature as a reflection of God's greatness, with the underlying theme of God's beauty and power in all things.

Through the use of literary devices, Hopkins effectively captures the magnificence of God's creation in everyday objects and scenes. The contrasting words of "swift" and "slow," "sweet" and "sour," and "adazzle" and "dim" showcase the infinite capacity of God, as seen in the multitude of variations found in nature. Hopkins also masterfully incorporates imagery, alliteration, rhetorical questions, and oxymorons to emphasize God's intricate and diverse creations.

References to elements such as the sky, a brindled cow, red-spotted trout, coal, chestnuts, finches' wings, a farming landscape, and tools further showcase God's boundless potential and creative majesty. Hopkins' words exalt God's wondrous nature and inspire us to appreciate the intricate details and diversity found in the world around us.

Overall, "Pied Beauty" is a timeless ode to the magnificence of God's creation and a reminder to marvel at God's boundless creativity and power. It celebrates and recognizes the greatness of God and serves as a reminder to appreciate the wonders of nature that surround us every day.

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