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.)