Explain how Gerard Manely Hopkins uses language structure in "Pied Beauty" to convey his message.

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booboosmoosh | High School Teacher | (Level 3) Educator Emeritus

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"Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manley Hopkins, is one of my favorite poems. Its appeal lies both in its imagery and its musical nature. The imagery is stunning in that Hopkins creates pictures in the mind of the listener with lines like:

...rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim...

This describes the rosy dots scattered across the side of a trout that shine in the sun. Another beautiful images is found in:

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls...

This image brings to mind the chestnut trees in the fall, with leaves that are the color of glowing coals. This captivating imagery is employed throughout the poem's stanzas. However, the musical element comes from the poem's sounds, and the primarily literary device that creates these sounds so resoundingly when the poem is read aloud (as poetry has always historically been treated) is alliteration, which is...

...a pattern of sound that includes the repetition of consonant sounds.

Alliteration is completely based in sound, though at first one might at first believe it depends upon what is seen as the poem is read. However, when a duplicate sound is made by an "f" and a "ph," we can hear the similarities where we cannot always see them. And the use of similar sounds is what the ear registers much more quickly than what the eye sees. In fact, it is the pattern of sound that catches the ear—hence the need to read the poem out loud.

Alliteration is the repetition of the same consonant sound at the beginning of a group of words clustered together. It is this pattern the ear hears. Examples in the poem include:

  • "Glory be to God..." is alliterative with the repetition of the "hard" "g;"
  • "couple-colour as a brinded cow..." repeats the "hard" "c" (that sounds like a "k");
  • "Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings..." repeats the "f;"
  • and, "Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough..." uses alliteration first with the repetition of the "p" sound, followed then by the repeated "f" sound.

The lilting (swaying) nature of the poem also creates a musical quality in the poem. It is called "sprung rhythm," and is based on "Anglo-Saxon and traditional Welsh poetry."

In addition, the poem begins and ends like a hymn. The first line starts off the poem drawing attention to God: "Glory be to God." The end of the poem sounds like the closing of a hymn: "Praise him." There are short hymns sung in a variety of churches: one begins with "Glory be to the Father..." and another ends "Praise Father, Son..." In essence, then, the musical and the repetitive alliterative sounds, and the phrases that begin and end the poem, make the work sound like a hymn.

The poem's structure, then, creates something much like a church song or anthem—with the repetition of sounds and a rhythm; the content of the poem is used to lift up specific images in nature that the poet feels are worthy of adoration, to praise of God for their creation.


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