Explain the ways in which Gerard Manley Hopkins portrays nature in his poem "Pied Beauty".

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

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Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest. Many of Hopkins’ poems praise nature.  His approach to nature was two-fold: He was amazed by the beauty of nature; and he loved the all of the natural world. Hopkins takes a different approach because he emphasizes the peculiar. The poem “Pied Beauty” represents this philosophy perfectly. The poet does not just love a pretty face.  He loves the pretty face with freckles.

The title of the poem prepares the reader for the unusual aspects of nature.  The word pied is defined as having patches of two or more colors as various birds on their wings or a pied horse [appaloosa horses with their colorful leopard-spotted coat pattern]. Hopkins devotes his poem to everything spotted or unusual in the natural world.

Glory to God for dappled things—

For skies of couple-color as a brinded cow…

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

The poet divides his poem in two parts. The first stanza brings to life the spotted things. In the second stanza, Hopkins denotes opposites that are found in nature.  The beauty of the poem’s descriptions is enhanced by the use of alliteration which is used throughout the poem. The words that begin with the same consonant sound contribute to the unified yet diverse theme. The rhythm of the poem has a strong accented almost staccato sound.

  • Line 1: Glory and God
  • Line 2: couple-color and cow
  • Line 5: plotted, pieced, plough, fold fallow.

1st stanza

The poem begins by thanking God for all the spotted things in nature.  Then the poet begins to illustrate examples of these multi-colored objects:

Using a simile, the beautiful skies as in the sunset with its oranges, pinks, yellows, and blues are compared to the spotted cow

The small pinkish splotches of color on the side of a rainbow trout

Chestnuts when they fall on the tree are a reddish brown.  They are heated and when they burst open from the heat, the meats look like hot burning embers. This is a metaphor comparing the fallen chestnuts to the coals in a fire.

The beauty of the finches wings which are barred or lined like a zebra

The various types of landscapes—plotted/charted; pierced/bored-- fold/turned; fallow/unplanted; plowed

All the craftsmen, their equipment, and accoutrement.

2nd stanza

Thanks be to God for everything that is unusual, unique, sparse, and odd.

Anything in nature that is changeable, freckled (the poet asks the question how do freckles come about?)

The contrasts in life: fast/unhurried; saccharine/acerbic; and glittery/faded.

The one created all of the wonderful things—God—never changes.  Give all the glory to God.

What a creative poem! He does not just talk about the beauty of the trees or the skies.  He emphasizes the excellence of the unusually colored facets of nature. In addition, the poet focuses on the polar opposites in life. The poet glorifies the creation of the unique whose wondrous mysteries come from God.  Then he denotes the relationship of God and his fathering of everything in nature.

 

Sources:

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