Explain the poem "Pied Beauty" by Gerald Manley Hopkins.

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carol-davis | College Teacher | (Level 1) Educator Emeritus

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Gerald Manley Hopkins loved nature and all of its oddities.  According to Hopkins, his “Pied Beauty” was a shortened sonnet acclaiming the variety in nature. The poem itself replicates the sound of a hymn which would not be unusual since the poet was a Jesuit priest.

At the heart of the poem is the word “pied” defined as having two or more colors as on various birds and animals.  This is a poetic hymn to those beautiful things in nature that have more than one color in their makeup. 

 For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow;

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-fall; finches’ wings…

Thematically, the poem is a devotional to God thanking him for the aspect of the natural world that is different.  God made the world so that everywhere one looks there is variety of appearances not only in the animal world and plant world but in humanity as well. From those who are freckled, black, white, brown—all are made by God and are to be loved and worshipped.

Form

The form of the poem is eleven lines which Hopkins called a curtal sonnet or a shortened sonnet. The rhyme scheme of the poem is erratic: ABCABCDBCDC.  Hopkins intended the poem’s meter to mimic that of an ordinary speaking.  The tone of the poem is joy and love of nature and God.

The first and last lines hold the poem together.by praising God for the gifts that he has given humanity.  The heart of the poem elucidates the specifics for which one should be thankful.  He gives a list of specific items to give admiration for in the world. Then, he lists the more abstract and opposites things of which mankind should take note.

Alliteration

 The poet uses alliteration to add to the musicality of the poem. Almost every line uses a strong consonant emphasis:

  • …couple-color cow
  • Fresh-firecoal, falls, finches
  • …plotted and pierced, plough
  • …fickle, freckled
  • …swift, slow; sweet, sour;

 The language of the poem is not only lovely to read silently, but the alliteration demands to be read aloud.

 Summary

 Thanks be to God for all the variegated things in the world:

Skies that have more than one color like the brindled cow that might be brown and black. For the scales of the trout that shimmer as they swim

The fiery colored chestnuts that fall on the ground. The finches’ wing with its stippling. The beauty of the landscape whether it is plowed or uncultivated.

The tradesmen that work with all their equipment. The things that are opposites, original, spare, and odd.Whatever in the world that is changeable, spotted, Fast and slow; sweet and sour; bright and dark. The Lord gave life to all of these things and should be changed.

Thanks be to God.

Hopkins loved all of the things in the world but particularly those things that are odd or weirdly colored or made. Mankind should be more appreciative of the things that show variety in the world.  The world cannot be placed in little boxes under specific labels because not everything is the same.  . He eloquently loves nature for its quirks, the way one might love someone for his huge nose.
God did not plan for everyone and everything to look exactly the same.  The poet’s approach is to point out all of the things in life that quirky or different and hope that the reader loves them as well.  The poem focuses on the “pied” things in life that color the world.  If things were spotless, Hopkins believes that the world might a little boring.

 

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