The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Pied Beauty” is a rhymed “curtal” (shortened) sonnet divided into two stanzas, consisting of three full tercets and a truncated fourth. The title refers to the variegated beauty of the world that first may appear ugly or chaotic. Though “pied” suggests at least two tones or colors, it also suggests a blotched or botched effect, as when in an earlier era, a printer spilled a galley of set type, creating a printer’s “pie.”

Though traditional sonnets are fourteen lines, Gerard Manley Hopkins, in his experiments with poetic form, line, and meter, altered the shape of the sonnet. In the case of “Pied Beauty,” he “curtailed” or shortened the sonnet’s traditional fourteen lines to eleven; in some other cases, he lengthened the form and wrote sonnets “with codas,” or tails.

The poem celebrates God for the beauty in a varied creation. Hopkins, a devout Jesuit priest, isolates a number of instances of this “pied” or dappled beauty in the first stanza (lines 1-6). He finds it in two-toned skies as well as on cows, on spotted trout, and on the wings of birds. He also sees variety and unity in the contrasts between all these life-forms, for he sees echoes of plants on fish—“rose-molesupon trout,” echoes of the dying embers of fires in the chestnuts falling from the tree.

In fact, the first stanza catalogs God’s infinite variety in creation in instances that symbolize all life as well as inanimate...

(The entire section is 473 words.)

Historical Context

(Poetry for Students)

The Society of Jesus (Jesuits)

St. Ignatius of Loyola (born Iñigo López de Loyola, 1491–1556) founded the...

(The entire section is 991 words.)

Forms and Devices

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Characteristic of Hopkins is his use of a variety of intricate sound devices, each heightened or altered in some untraditional way. Hopkins’s idiosyncratic and innovative techniques perhaps explain why the majority of his poems were published only in the first decades of the twentieth century, nearly thirty years after his death. “Pied Beauty” consists of patterns of such idiosyncracy in its alliteration, assonance, neologism, archaism, end rhyme, and rhythm. All these patterns interconnect and contrast with one another so that the poem itself is an example of “pied” beauty, or mixed elements.

Thus the alliterative g sounds of the first line (“GloryGod”) give way to the l sound, which echoes in “dappled,” “couple,” “colour,” “moles,” and “stipple,” interconnecting the patterns of the first three lines with the entire first stanza. The alliterative pattern of sounds connects the “couple-colour” of the sky to the skin of the “cow.” The c sounds are thus “pied” or combined in contrast with the l sounds.

At first glance, a word such as “rose-moles” seems both odd and hard to pronounce because the assonance of the o sounds contrasts with the following consonants of s and l. It is a near rhyme or off-rhyme that occasionally turns a Hopkins lyric into a near tongue twister. Even a sympathetic reader may wonder what a rose-mole is, for it...

(The entire section is 526 words.)

Literary Style

(Poetry for Students)

Sprung Rhythm

Hopkins based his sprung rhythm on the metrical systems of Anglo-Saxon and traditional Welsh...

(The entire section is 799 words.)

Compare and Contrast

(Poetry for Students)

1870s: Hopkins’s innovative use of sprung rhythm, alliteration, compound words, and condensed syntax, in part borrowed...

(The entire section is 327 words.)

Topics for Further Study

(Poetry for Students)

• Write an essay in which you compare and contrast “Pied Beauty” with John Keats’s poem “Ode to a Nightingale” or Dylan...

(The entire section is 211 words.)

What Do I Read Next?

(Poetry for Students)

• All of Hopkins’s poems, along with extracts from his journals and letters, and some of his sermons and devotional writings, are...

(The entire section is 220 words.)

Bibliography and Further Reading

(Poetry for Students)

Gardner, W. H., Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889): A Study of Poetic Idiosyncrasy in Relation to Poetic...

(The entire section is 487 words.)