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Kevin Heller

(Poetry for Students)

Kevin Heller

In the following essay excerpt, Heller gives an interpretation of Hopkins’s ‘‘Pied Beauty,’’ in which attention is given to the prayer form of the poem and how the ‘‘pied’’ poetic elements reflect the topic.

Through the use of various poetic devices in ‘‘Pied Beauty,’’ Gerard Manley Hopkins causes the words of his poem to take on meaning beyond their dictionary definitions. By alluding to common prayers and manipulating both sound effect and stanza form. Hopkins makes his poem itself an example of pied beauty: it is pied, ordered and beautiful, and is an imitation of the creative act of God written to praise him in the form of a poem-prayer.

With the opening line, ‘‘Glory be to God [ . . . ]’’ (1), Hopkins alludes to the ‘‘Glory Be’’— ‘‘Glory be to the Father, and to the son, and to the Holy Spirit, as it was in the beginning, is now, and ever shall be, world without end. Amen.’’ By beginning ‘‘Pied Beauty’’ with those words, Hopkins forces the reader to recall the entire prayer and asks the reader to consider his poem a prayer. The ‘‘Glory Be’’ itself is unclear just what, exactly, about the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit is deserving of glory, but Hopkins provides an answer: the pied beauty of so many of God’s creations is what causes God to be deserving of glory. In ‘‘Pied Beauty,’’ God deserves glory for having created such beautiful things out of nothing, and humans have no idea what magnificent creation God will place on the earth in the future, just as the ‘‘Glory Be’’ discusses the past, present, and future.

The last line of Hopkins’s poem, ‘‘Praise him’’ (11), is significant, just as the last line of the ‘‘Glory Be’’ is ‘‘Amen.’’ Granted, ‘‘amen’’ does not mean ‘‘praise him,’’ but rather ‘‘certainly’’ or ‘‘truly.’’ Hopkins implies, however, that ‘‘Praise him’’ and ‘‘Amen’’ should be equated, and the context makes sense: Hopkins believes ‘‘Certainly’’ or ‘‘Truly’’ one should ‘‘Praise him.’’ Readers can imagine listening to ‘‘Pied Beauty’’ being read (as it was intended to be read) aloud and nodding in assent to the last line. They might even be tempted to call out ‘‘Amen’’ or ‘‘Praise him.’’

The sounds that Hopkins’s audience hears are brilliantly construed sentences and words that illustrate just why God deserves glory for his myriad creations: By combining words in such a new, unique, and beautiful manner, just as God created so many things in the world, Hopkins creates pied sounds—and both God’s and Hopkins’s creations are beautiful in their pied nature: God creates ‘‘brinded cows’’ the ‘‘couple-colour’’ (2) of the sky, and Hopkins creates beautiful sounds, such as, ‘‘Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings’’ (4). This phrase alliterates with f four times and contains six sprung rhythm feet—three single stresses, and three trochees—just as three separate God created natural things are discussed. Further. Hopkins highlights the pied nature of the three things, because the reader cannot easily distinguish between the subject noun and the modifier in the sets ‘‘fresh-firecoal,’’ ‘‘chestnut-falls,’’ and ‘‘finches’ wings.’’ One word does not modify the other, but both work in conjunction to heighten the pied nature of their pairings. God creates ‘‘rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim’’ (3)—a line rich in imagery and sound. Hopkins creates a fraction of a line. ‘‘who knows how?’’ (8) in which the letter o is pronounced differently—in a pied fashion—in three separate words: these words utilize w’s and h’s to make the pattern ‘‘whwhw.’’ Hopkins combines things in ways that do not at first seem to go together. But both God and Hopkins give their creations order, and within that order is beauty. Or within that beauty...

(The entire section is 7,592 words.)