Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Catholic priest who wrote about the wonders of God and nature. His poems often sounded like a hymn to the natural world.
This poem “Pied Beauty” unconventionally details the unusual aspects of nature: those things that are spotted, freckled, speckled, and variegated. The word pied is defined as multi-colored or particolored.
The poet begins by praising God just as he would if he were praying. He thanks the Lord for the spotted things in nature. Then he begins to list them:
- The beautiful skies at dawn or sunset that display the oranges and yellows intertwined with the blue skies of the day and compares the coloring to the cows that are spotted.
- The pink spots on the scales of the trout that look as though they have been drawn on to create a special effect.
- The chestnut when it falls and opens up---the nut itself looks like a burning ember of coal [In Hopkins’ England, the reader would have understood about the nut more than the modern one].
- The finches’ wings which are spotted on the underside.
Unexpectedly, the poet turns to the types of land that one might see in the fields:
- The land might be divided into plots for different purposes.
- The piercing would imply that the land has been fenced to separate livestock.
- A fold is a fenced-in area for sheep.
- Fallow land has not been touched.
- The plough would be used to turn over the land for planting.
The speaker then mentions the types of workmen and their equipment, whether it be tackle or using 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
Now, the poet wants to thank God by identifying qualities of things and categorizing these unusual items:
Counter—opposing; original---unique; spare---thin/frugal; strange---extraordinary
He thanks God for anything that is fickle (changeable) or freckled (regardless how it happens).
He also includes opposites: swift –slow; sweet-sour; dazzling—dim.
The deity that has given these beautiful pied parts to nature and made them will never change. He is constant as the setting sun.
Give thanks to God.
For those of us who have freckles, what a delightful poem to read! It is a reminder that God loves us despite our flaws or spots.