Analysis: Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Background
Hopkins was born in England in 1844 and died in 1889. This poem was published in 1918, some forty-one years after Hopkins wrote it in 1877, the year he became a Jesuit priest. His distinctive and innovative poetry found fame after his death rather than during the English Victorian age in which he lived, when more traditional verse was popular and perhaps more acceptable to the Victorian palate.

The poem is a curtal (or curtailed sonnet). Instead of an octave, there are two tercets. Instead of a sestet there are four lines and a final line comprising two words.

And writing that ‘the rhyme scheme is ABCABC’ (in the first six lines) adds little to an appreciation of poetry – unless its relationship with the content is explored.

Poem celebrates the breath-taking variety of nature in its many forms.

ALOT of archaic words and some that Hopkins made up himself… why would a poet do this?
What do brinded cows and rose-moles on trout actually
look like?

The poem can be broken down into these manageable units:
Line 1 gives thanks to God for creating ‘dappled things’.
Lines 2 – 5 provides a list of specific things which are ‘dappled’ and which cumulatively express delight at such variety in the natural world. In order, they are:
ƒ

skies presumably of blue sky and white cloud

ƒ a ‘brinded’ cow – i.e. a cow streaked with different colours

the trout with its specks of different colour (‘stipple’ is a speck)

ƒ chestnuts glowing like coal – an image approaching the surreal, the black of the coal
and the glow of the flame

ƒ finches’ wings

ƒ landscape of fields ‘plotted and pieced’ like a patchwork, some planted, some fallow
and some recently ploughed (‘fold, fallow and plough’).

Line 6 shifts attention from natural phenomena to the jobs that people  have and the different types of equipment they have. ‘Gear’ and ‘tackle’ are more recognisably comprehensible to the twenty-first century reader than the word ‘trim’ as used here.

Line 7 marks a turning-point. The language becomes more abstract in character, after the concrete detail of the previous lines. It might be helpful to look at the final two lines of the poem first: God is the creator of all things mentioned in the poem, and should be praised. Then go back to the adjectives in line 7: God is creator of ‘all things counter, original, spare, strange’. These ‘fickle’ things are themselves ‘freckled’ with opposite qualities: swift / slow; sweet / sour; adazzle / dim.

The central place of God as creator is picked up again in the final two lines. The ‘dappled things’ are listed in lines 2 – 5.

What it is precisely is God being praised for? Look closely at the descriptions of cow, trout, chestnut, finches and landscapes. In what ways do the descriptions appeal to the sense of sight?

There is a note of religious devotion in this celebration of the diversity of God’s creations.

Thematic links with set poems
Religion: A Different History, Horses, A Birthday
Nature: Horses, Hunting Snake, Pike, The Woodspurge, Summer Farm,
Where I Come From, Composed Upon Westminster Bridge

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