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Analysis of Poem "Pied Beauty" by Gerard Manley Hopkins

Updated on March 9, 2017
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Andrew has a keen interest in all aspects of poetry and writes extensively on the subject. His poems are published online and in print.

Gerard Manley Hopkins
Gerard Manley Hopkins | Source

Gerard Manley Hopkins and Pied Beauty


Pied Beauty is a reduced form of the sonnet, known as a curtal sonnet, and is one of many poems written by Hopkins that gives praise to God's natural omnipotence.

The poem focuses on things in nature that have distinct patterning and unusual design and compares and contrasts differences or similarities. In eleven lines the poet distills the essence of these whilst noting that their beauty comes from a single source - God.

Gerard Manley Hopkins converted to Catholicism in 1866 and went on to become a Jesuit priest and teacher. He wrote poems as a young man but burnt most of them when his calling came. It was only in 1875 that he returned to verse.

Pied Beauty, written in the summer of 1877, was inspired by the Welsh countryside and contains sprung rhythm, a special metre (meter in USA) invented by Hopkins to bring fresh, stressed vitality to conventional iambic lines.

He was one of the first Victorian poets to move away from traditional rhythms and form in verse, exploring his relationship with God through experimental stress patterns, syntax and language.

Pied Beauty

Analysis

Pied Beauty is a special sonnet consisting of a sestet + quintain, the last line of which is shortened. The rhyme scheme abcabcdbcdc neatly tightens up the whole poem, the full end rhymes, all monosyllabic, help bring a crisp finish.

Sprung rhythm occurs when stress is placed on two consecutive feet, and the usual iambic beat is broken, with alliteration often present, giving a burst of energy and reflecting more natural conversation :

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; (line 3)

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;

  • Finding the right rhythmic balance internally when reading this poem is a challenge, which is why it is a good idea to read through several times, taking into account the punctuation and dense language.

Rhyme and Rhythm

There are some interesting word combinations and internal near rhymes in Pied Beauty. Look out for:

dappled/couple/stipple/plotted

cow/trout/plough/counter/how/sour

For rose moles/Fresh-firecoal/fold,fallow/who knows/slow/whose

And the hyphenated combinations of:

couple-colour/rose-moles/Fresh-firecoal/chestnut-falls/fathers-forth

These all combine to produce a pied effect themselves, a multitude of sounds, arranged stresses and images, all tied up with full end rhymes - what some have called an aesthetic of contrast.

Special Words

dappled - marked with spots or rounded patches of colour or light.

brinded - archaic word which is now brindled, brownish with streaks of varying colour.

rose-moles - reddish spots on the side of trout.

stipple - small dots of or specks of colour.

fold - a small hill or hollow in the ground.

fallow - land that is ploughed and harrowed then rested ready for seeding.

trim - equipment.

counter - contrary.

spare - rare.

Analysis Lines 1 - 6

Pied Beauty begins with a direct, respectful expression of gratitude - to God - for the multitude of things that are dappled, beautiful to the eye in their design and patterning. The speaker announces the presence of God, a reflection of the poet's religious beliefs.

God is the creator of these natural phenomena and, as the title suggests, expresses beauty through them.

Take the sky, which can be full of loose, textured cloud, or blotchy cloud, or a variation on a theme of brindle, just like the hides of cows. Look up at the colours then check out the cattle in the field. There is a connection between the two according to the speaker.

Hopkins was living in North Wales when he wrote this poem and loved to walk from his house to a nearby church through meadows and fields. He was a keen observer of all things natural. In his diary he wrote: ' Sunset over oaks, a dapple of rosy clouds blotted with purple....'

  • couple-colour is a special alliterative word created by Hopkins to denote a sky with two colours. As you read through the line it is part of, the eye tends to treat this combination as one word and so the voice alters a little, the sound changes subtley.

In line three another combination appears: rose-moles, which are reddish spots on the sides of trout. This line has assonance in a 13 syllable mix of vowels - like the flow that runs over and hits stones in a stream:

For rose-moles all in a stipple upon trout that swim;

This second hyphenated word reinforces the idea of things being connected/related. From the celestial to the terrestrial to the liquid, air, earth and water, the three elements, needing only fire to complete the set.

Line four bursts with alliteration and internal half-rhyme:

Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;

Here is the fourth element, fire, in the form of recently fallen chestnuts (either horse or sweet), which tend to shine as if they're alight when they're fresh on the ground. The variegated texture and colour of finches' wings is well known, the goldfinch being especially beautiful.

But could it be that Hopkins chose the finch to highlight his discomfort with Darwin's theory of evolution? Darwin used the finch (and the different types of beak/bill shape within a species) to help form his earth shattering theory.

Both Darwin and Hopkins were aware of the bewildering variety of design in nature - Hopkins saw this as evidence of the 'soul of the deity' and created his own spiritual poetry to help express his own inner feelings.

Darwin, on the other hand, was above else a scientist and chose to publish his findings in a book, The Origin of Species.

Line five moves the reader out into the countryside, where neat fields fit together with copse and woodland, where the texture and colour vary. Again alliteration is present, as is a minifeast of long and short vowels in fold, fallow, and plough.

Human interaction is brought into the poem for the first time as line six follows the plough, the speaker suggesting that the work of humankind is also to be attributed to the all encompassing dappledness, God-given.

Trades - all the work done by people - need tools and equipment and the speaker reaffirms the work of God in the regular their gear and tackle and trim.

So ends the sestet, a packed stanza with heavy punctuation (semi-colons at the end of most lines) and unusual rhythms, giving the reader an insight into all things pied, as inspired by the speaker's God.

A Stress on Rhythm

Pied Beauty has varied metre (meter in USA) throughout, reflecting the pied nature of things. Using the first line as an example:

Glory be to / God for / dappled / things -

In technical terms there is a:

first paeon (xuuu = stressed long vowel + three short unstressed vowels)

2 trochees ( xu/xu = stressed beat + unstressed beat)

stressed syllable

Further Analysis Lines 7 - 11

Pied Beauty is a sort of hymn, a paean, and the next five lines reinforce this notion of a changeless God divinely creating dappledness, complexity, variety and flux.

Everything that is a little bit odd, nuanced, rare and contrary; all fickle things, including humankind, all freckled things (including faces and skin) are mysteriously brought into the world by God. The whole spectrum of nature in all its beauty is germinated by Him, who is worthy of praise.

The alliteration continues right to line 10 and culminates in the six stressed line 9:

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

And the poem comes to the imperative conclusion - Praise him.

© 2017 Andrew Spacey

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