What is Gerard Manley Hopkins praising in "Pied Beauty"?

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mwestwood eNotes educator| Certified Educator

An Englishman who converted to Catholicism and became a Jesuit priest, Gerard Manley Hopkins begins and ends his poem with lines similar to the opening and closing lines of the Jesuit order: "To the greater glory of God," and "Praise to God always."  With this prayerful arrangement of his unique sonnet, the poet praises oddity and uniqueness because all that is created has been made by God and is, therefore, worthy of this exaltation.

In the first stanza, Hopkins mentions the "pied beauty" and "dappled things" of nature as well as the fields altered by the farmer along the various trades of man, thus including man in these myriad forms of beauty. The lines

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

point to those variegated properties which are derogated in Manley's Victorian Age as freckles were considered physical flaws, and fickleness certainly a character flaw.  However, with inward fervor Hopkins praises "fickle" and "freckled"; he appreciates their uniqueness and rarity, qualities that make them all the more worthy.  For, after all, God created these qualities and, while current tastes have them in disfavor, tastes will later change:

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                Praise him.

Hopkins praises all that is different in nature and life because the creator of all that is pied or dappled or variegated or fickle or freckled is, in the final analysis, God "whose beauty is past change" and superior to all other standards.

quddoos | Student

Employing variations of the mottoes of the Jesuit order to which he belonged--"to the greater glory of God" and "praise to God always"--Gerald Manley Hopkins appears in his abbreviated sonnet to revere the beautiful colors and variety in nature, and by praising the beauty of nature, he praises God, the Creator. However, Hopkins hymn of praise disguises in its controlling metaphor of "pied beauty" things that do not meet the uniformity, standarization, and efficiency lauded in his Victorian age, and thus takes on a tone of protest.

In the fifth line Hopkins moves from an appreciation of variety in nature to "all trades," implying the human and moral aspect.  The lines

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim. 
All things counter, original, spare, strange; 
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?) 
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim; 
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise Him

suggest that diversity among humans is just as beautiful as it is in nature and is created alike by God, and should, therefore be respected and appreciated.  Interestingly, Hopkins applies some adjectives that were used about his poetry:  "original, spare, strange." These oddities, along with his turning of "fickle" and "freckled"  which normally suggest a negative judgment to a positive connotation, are used, instead, as evidence of the infinitude of God's creation.

quddoos | Student

The first stanza describes specifics in nature that show a multiplicity of colours or aspects: birds, fish, cloudy skies, landscape, work. His sense of wonder at the huge variety of existence is prefaced with his personal certainty: "Glory be to God".
The second stanza speaks of generalities: "Whatever is fickle, freckled..." The poet concludes that there is one creator of all this multiplicity, the One who Himself is beyond change, because perfect. The final exhortation "Praise him" reflects the beginning of the poem. 
I'm not sure this answers your question, but at least you've got some thoughts here to chew over.

anjali989 | Student

In the poem, the narrator praises God for the variety of "dappled things" in nature, such as cattle, trout and fiinches. He also describes how falling chestnuts resemble coals bursting in a fire, because of the way in which the chestnuts' reddish-brown meat is exposed when the shells break against the ground.

The word "pied" in the title means spotted (or, if you prefer, dappled). This entire poem is in praise of things with spots, from trout to cows to the way the skies have spots of cloud or the fields, which are compared to a quilt: "Landscape plotted and pieced — fold, fallow and plough".

The first six lines give examples of the pied things for which Manley is offering thanks; the second stanza (of four and one half lines) expands to thank the Lord for all of the things that might fit within this category. What I like about the second stanza is its ambiguity: is Manley telling all those things that are freckled, fickle, etc. to praise God, or is he praising God for having made them? The stanza reads well both ways, and I rather think that was on purpose.

hope it helps :)