Kevin Heller

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 entire section is 835 words.)

Claire Robinson

Claire Robinson

Claire Robinson has an M.A. in English. She is a writer and editor and a former teacher of English literature and creative writing. In the following essay, she examines how Hopkins uses the poetic techniques of the oral traditions of Anglo-Saxon and traditional Welsh poetry to express his meaning in “Pied Beauty.”

Gerard Manley Hopkins’s experimentation with the poetic techniques of Anglo-Saxon and Welsh poetry was entirely geared to his intention that his poems be read aloud with the ear, not on the page with the eye. In a letter of August 21, 1877 to Robert Bridges (cited in Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works), he writes, “My verse is less to be read than heard . . . it is oratorical, that is the rhythm is so.” In another letter to Bridges in 1886 (cited by Paul L. Mariani in A Commentary on the Complete Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins), enclosing his sonnet, “Spelt from Sibyl’s Leaves,” he writes:

Regular rhythm tends to soothe and lull readers with its incantatory effect, whereas irregular rhythm such as Hopkins uses wakes them up and shocks them into something approaching a state of astonishment, awe, or wonder.

Of this long sonnet above all remember what applies to all my verse, that it is, as living art should be, made for performance and that its performance is not reading with the eye but loud, leisurely, poetical (not rhetorical) recitation, with long rests, long dwells on the rhyme and other marked syllables, and so on.

One of the tools that Hopkins took from the Anglo-Saxon and Welsh oral traditions was alliteration, the repetition of initial consonant sounds in neighboring words, sometimes called consonant-chiming. For example, every line of the Anglo-Saxon poem Beowulf contains three alliterations. The Welsh-language poetic genre called cynghanedd (meaning harmony), a traditional form dating from ancient times and continuing into the present day, relies heavily on alliteration and internal rhyme (in which two or more words in the same line rhyme). Hopkins was studying the Welsh language and literature in the years prior to writing “Pied Beauty.”

In “Pied Beauty,” Hopkins includes such alliterative phrases as “skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow,” where the initial letter “c” is repeated three times, and “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls,” where the alliteration lies in the letter “f.” The effect of alliteration is similar to rhyme in that it sets up an expectation of repetition that is later satisfied, thereby carrying the listener through the poem. (For one who recites, the alliteration is an aid to memory.) It also has a musical, incantatory effect similar to that of metrical rhythm, due to the repetition of sounds. Often, Hopkins reinforces the chiming effect of the alliteration by making the alliterations fall on strongly stressed syllables, in the Anglo-Saxon style. This point is illustrated in all the above examples.

Hopkins’s use of compound words is another conscious borrowing from the Anglo-Saxon tradition. Beowulf is laden with such constructions, called kennings (literally, knowings). A king is called a ring-giver (a king rewards his warriors with gifts of rings), a burial mound is an earth-hall, and a ship is a sea-rider. Such descriptions lend a concrete and picturesque quality to the object described; they pull it from the realm of the abstract into the more directly felt world of the senses, turning an idea into an object. For example, Hopkins’s “couple-colour” conjures up a concrete image of a pair, perhaps a pair of people, while the word...

(The entire section is 1530 words.)

John Ferns

John Ferns

In the following essay, Ferns gives a critical analysis of Hopkins’s work.

While Gerard Manley Hopkins’s importance as a Victorian poet is well established, his significance as a Victorian prose writer is not as fully recognized. This is, perhaps, because his prose did not appear in single works, like John Ruskin’s Modern Painters, Matthew Arnold’s Culture and Anarchy, or Walter Pater’s Studies in the History of the Renaissance, published in his lifetime but is found in such varied forms as essays, notes, sermons, and letters which were not collected and published until well after his death. Nevertheless, Hopkins is demonstrably one of the...

(The entire section is 5227 words.)