Summary of Pied Beauty

Pied Beauty is a ‘catalogue’ poem. The poet catalogues the things which change from moment to moment, from season to season; things whose function, appearance, characteristics mark them out separately and individually – the changing patterns of the sky, like the ‘brinded’ (dappled) hide of a cow; the small pink or red moles which lie like stippled (dotted) paint on a trout’s back : the contrast between the red-brown nut of the fallen chestnut and the green husk which encloses it, a contrast which he likens to the glowing flame which is revealed by breaking open a lit coal, the varied browns, and yellows of finches’ wings; the patchwork of landscapes, changing according to time and space from the green of the fold where animals are pastured, to dull fawn-brown of land left fallow, and the rich deep brown of fields newly ploughed; all the ‘gear, tackle and trim’ of man’s different jobs-the fisherman’s nets, floats and lines, the mechanic’s spanner, wrench and grease-gun and so on.

Then, moving from particulars, the poet lists the contrasts and antithesis of life which create instress and inscape- all things set in opposition, all things which strike one with a shock of newness, all things whose function is individual and economical. All these things whose nature is ‘freckled’ with opposites in union are products of God. Yet God himself is ‘past’ (or ‘above’) change; He who creates is not the same as His creations; they are the ‘signs’ of his powers of invention, of individuation. These things ‘praise him’, but the final words are really an imperative, addressed to man – ‘Praise Him; it is your duty and should be your delight to do so’. The poem is denotative in its method, indicating specific examples of God’s variousness.

As is evidenced in ‘Pied Beauty’, Hopkins’s nature poetry is descriptive but one finds no long passages of pure descriptions. His effort is to inscape objects with the art of concentration, activity and individuating. Needless to say, the result is ‘instress’ both by the poet and the reader. In his painting of nature, there is the Keatsian sensuousness evident everywhere. He prefers the concentrated thrust of compounds like ‘fresh-fire coal-chestnut-falls’ and dispenses with prepositions and articles which as elsewhere, show his violence to syntax. Excessive use of alliteration coupled with this concentration results in verbal inscape. On the whole, the poem itself becomes an ‘inscape’ of delicate variety and pattern.

The deep sympathy of Hopkins with the thirteenth-century Franciscan philosopher Duns Scotus was responsible for the lovely, carefree poems of praise such as ‘Pied Beauty’, ‘God’s Grandeur’, ‘The Windhover’ and ‘Hurrahing in Harvest’. The influence of the teachings of Ignatius Loyola and the two phases – his Keatsian sensuousness and Hellenic intellectualism – before he became a Jesuit priest, resulting in his sacramental view of nature, all go to make the poem characteristically Hopkinsian in form, theme and poetic art. The priest who was a poet demonstrated through the poem that as a poet he was deeply convinced of God’s presence and being in everything, while the poet, as man was also aware of sensuous beauty in everything.

Analysis of the Poem

‘Pied Beauty,’ one of Hopkins’ happier poems, is a creation hymn that honours the creator via appreciation for the created world. It extols all that is ‘pied’ or’spotted’ on this earth. According to the poet, it is a manifestation of God’s creative power. Hopkins vividly draws in kaleidoscopic variety, all the things and patterns that exemplify this kind of beauty, with the eye of a painter.

Hopkins begins with a benediction to God the creator: “Glory to God for dappled things.” This is followed by an inventory of dappled or speckled items. He includes the dappled sky at dawn, with blotches of blue colour splashed against delicate white, a juxtaposition Hopkins refers to as ‘couple-color.’ It reminds him of the “brinded cow,” also known as the ‘brindled’ or ‘piebald’ cow, whose hide is also a contrast of brown and white. Then he depicts a swimming trout fish whose body is painted [stippled] with rose-colored moles. The following image is a complex one of a chestnut, the meaty inside cradled within its hard shell sliding out, concealing its burning brilliance, like to coals in a fire, black on the exterior but glowing on the inside as it splits and falls. Finches, the tiny birds, are typically multicoloured with flecks on their wings; and the farming landscape, confined in portions, takes on a pattern depending on how it is cultivated, left fallow, or recently ploughed. The final example in the octave comes from man’s environment, where the tools and equipments of his job create a dappled pattern with their variety. Hopkins contextualises man – he is merely a part of the vast natural environment. And even human achievements such as commerce, gear, tackle, and trim may be viewed only in context.

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Hopkins then delves into the natures or moral attributes of the objects he has mentioned in the final five lines. Thus, all things, whether exceedingly unique, unconventional, or odd, whether freckled or fickle, with all their characteristics of swiftness or slowness, sweetness or sourness, brightness or dimness, originate with him, the creator. The animals’ plurality attests to God the father’s permanence and immutability, and inspires the world to “Praise Him.”

Hopkins’ opening phrase adopts the adulatory tone of the Old Testament’s Psalmist. Notably, he concludes on a note of adoration: “Praise him!” These opening and ending lines, with their parallelism, rearrange the Jesuit mottos “to the greater Glory of God” and “praise to God always,” giving the poem a ritualistic feel. This tempers the appreciation’s unconventionality – the poets’ preoccupation with dappled or spotted items. The parallelism in the first and last lines reflects the poem’s overall symmetry: the octave begins with praise and progresses to a laudatory list of creatures; the sestet begins with a description of the qualities of creatures and concludes with praise for the creator.

The poem continues in the manner of an extended sentence, with the lengthy predicate resembling a list finally yielding to a striking verb of creation in the penultimate sentence – “fathers-forth” – which serves as the sonnet’s volta*, directing the reader’s attention to the ultimate subject, God the creator. It takes the theological perspective that the diversity of the created word demonstrates the Creator’s limitless might. Additionally, it takes a polemic/political stance against the conformity and standardisation that characterised Victorian society, by valuing the variations encapsulated in the phrase “fickle, freckled.” Hopkins’ admiration is also not purely aesthetic. By juxtaposing ‘fickle’ and ‘freckled,’ Hopkins infuses a moral tenor into a purely physical description, imbuing it with a richer, fuller significance. It advocates for the acceptance of unattractive and eccentric objects as divinely created works of art. Hopkins draws emphasis to the fact that their distinctive individualising characteristics are of unexplained origin with the parenthetical musing: “(who knows how?)”, implying a divine origin. Hopkins thus departs from conventional romanticism, which perceives beauty exclusively in conventionally beautiful objects.

Hopkins’ spring rhythm imbues the poem with life and enthusiasm as it sprints through the list of variegated things. Alliteration sprinkled liberally throughout lines such as “Glory be to God”, “Fresh firecoal chestnut-falls, finches’ wings”, “plotted and pieced”, “fold, fallow”, “tackle and trim”, “fickle, freckled”, “swift, slow, sweet, sour”, and assonance resonating within expressions such as “rose-moles”, and “finches’ wings” lend the poem an The poet’s audacity in coining new compound terms such as “couple-color” and “fresh-firecoal” infuses the linguistic images with vitality. Hopkins’ linguistic experiments are not only ornamentation. They go beyond their decorative function to structurally enliven the poem’s topic aspects. Hopkins captures the inscape of dappled and speckled items successfully with his thick and complex expressions.

Pied Beauty Meanings

Pied: parti-coloured or multi-coloured.

Lines 1-2. Both the cow and the sky, one animate and the other inanimate, bear witness to God’s artistic power.

Dappled – brinded – marked with spots or streaks,

Couple-colour– two colour combination.

Brinded – early form of ‘brindled’; streaked.

Line 3. Stipple – dots of paint. The poet touches upon God’s handiwork in sky, land and in the water. Trout – a kind of fish.

Line 4. Fresh-fire coal etc – coloured husks that fall from the chestnut tree. Finch – a kind of bird – multi – coloured wings of these birds.

Line 5. Fold – sheepfold. Fallow – uncultivated land. Plough – ploughed land.

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Line 6. Trades – occupations.

Gear tackle and trim – occupational implements which reveal the glory of God.

Line 7. Counter – opposite.

Line 8. Freckled – coloured with.

Line 9. Things counter to each other.

Line 10. Fathers-forth – Hopkinsian word. God creates and puts it forth. God is a repository of beauty which does not change.

Whose beauty is past change – God’s beauty is not subject to change; it has neither past nor future; it does not pass or change; it is eternal in comparison to the transient beauty of nature.

Model Explanations

Glory be to God…. Tackle and trim.

These lines have been taken from the poem ‘Pied Beauty’ written by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Hopkins was a Victorian poet but his fame was posthumous. He was almost unknown to all except a few friends, especially Robert Bridges. It was Bridges who put him before the reading public. Today he is considered to be the greatest influence on modern poetry. ‘Pied Beauty’ is a curtal sonnet, that is, a sonnet which has less than fourteen lines. It has ten and a half lines in all. Hopkins wrote only two curtal sonnets, the other being ‘Peace’.

Here the main qualities of a sonnet are retained but in a circumscribed manner.

The theme of the poem is the praise and glorification of God for creating various multicoloured, multi-shaped and multi-natured things in this world. He begins the poem by this praise. He says “Glory be to God for dappled things”. The poet catalogues the various things which change from moment to moment, from season to season. He praises the sky which is many-coloured and compares it with a “brinded” cow. He also praises God for creating the fish with black-spots on their rose-coloured skin. And he also praises God for the fallen chestnuts and the green core which encloses it. Hopkins is all praise for God for the patchwork of landscapes, changing according to time and space.

The poet praises God for creating all fish and fowl, men and animals. It is from God that all animate and inanimate objects take life. Hopkins gives a catalogue of all the things created by God for which praise be His. Beginning with praise, the poem builds up through a description of a variety of beautiful things which either are pied or contain opposites of various kinds – colour, taste, speed, brightness- to an assertion of the Creator of them, whose ability to comprehend the paradoxes within his unity aptly demand praise.

Critical Appreciation of Pied Beauty

‘Pied Beauty’ is a dazzling creation of Hopkins. It is a ‘curtal sonnet’ a sonnet curtailed in length. Instead of having the traditional fourteen lines, it consists of ten and a half lines. Hopkins used this curtal form only in two of his poems, in the present poem and in ‘Peace’. The curtal form was an original invention of Hopkins. Still, the poet is able to retain all the essential character- ristics of a sonnet- it has an octave and a sestet. The Octave consists of the first six lines while the last four and a half lines form the sestet. The metre of this poem is ‘sprung paeonic.’ A paeonic foot has one stressed and three unstressed syllables.

The religious fervour of the poems is extremely remarkable. According to Norman H. Mackenzie, “Hopkins praises God for brindled cows and the blacksmith’s anvil as well as for the so-called poetic objects around him. He whose beauty is past change is recognized as fathering forth the slow and the sour, the shade as well as the light, pleasant little echoes ripple and lap through the poem – dappled, couple, stipple, tackle, fickle, freckled, adazzle.

Even though it is unwise and hard to categorize a poet’s works, the poems of Hopkins can be divided into two categories: the poems written between 1876 and 1879 as nature poems expressing joy, positive faith and mystical perception and those written between 1879 and 1885 as poems on man trying to adjust himself to a difficult world. But whether a poet of nature or of man God was always supreme in the mind of Hopkins.

Hopkins had great admiration for Wordsworth. But Wordsworth was a pantheist; Hopkins, a true Catholic. So God is apart from Nature to Hopkins God is an artist, the Master-creator of beauty, for Hopkins. And the beauty of created things is a message from God, that behind ‘Pied Beauty’, varied and shifting, is the creator, changeless, eternal, One. The poem expresses the poets’ joyous wonder at the beauty of the work, of joy enhanced because creation is seen sacramentally and because he himself is using beauty to praise his Maker. The beauty of created things, including the beauty of Nature, is not permanent, but only by knowing transient beauty in the many, can the heart grasp the ‘Immutable Beauty’ of God. God is Beauty is itself. So praise Him; let it be your duty and your delight.

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Hopkins uses the technique of enumeration in the poem. He is a poet of particulars, here. He catalogues things which change form moment to moment, from season to season : the changing patterns of the sky, the contrast between the rich, red-brown nut of the fallen chestnut and the green husk or case which encloses it ; the patchwork of landscape changing according to time and place; the green pasture-land, the dull fawn-brown fallow lands, the deep brown ploughed lands ; the different implements of artisans and workmen; he catalogues them all. Then he generalizes, contrasting the antithesis of life, things set in opposition. All these things are products of God. Yet, God, Himself is ‘past’ or above change. He creates, but He is not the same as His creations. These things praise Him; are meant to praise Him.

In his Nature poetry, Hopkins betrayed as complete and unashamed a sensuousness as Keates himself. He fuses a Keatsian immediacy of sense perception with the spiritual tranquility of Wordsworth and his sublime healing power. ‘Pied Beauty’ shows how alert and alive, his sensuous faculties were. The poet is ‘adazzled ‘ by different colours in Nature; his physical feelings are stirred by thought of earthly occupation: he is aware of the sweet-sour tastes of life. As for the power of concentration shown by the poet the original poem has to be placed by the side of a paraphrase to understand the poet’s ‘nutty’ style. The compound words, like ‘Fresh fire coal, Chestnut-falls, are full of force and meaning. At the same time, the poem is a good example of the violence to syntax and grammar.

To understand what ‘Inscape’ was to Hopkins, one need read-only ‘Pied Beauty’. The poem is full of image to give an idea of the variety and ‘dapple’ of the world, giving experiences of inscape in nature. For ‘Cynghanedd’, the Welsh art of making intricated and beautiful patterns of speech sound which Hopkins turned to good use in his poems, lines like with swift, slow, sweet sour addazle, dim are good examples. This is the art of alliteration by which language inescaped.

Like Milton who rose to greatness by writing poetry to vindicate the ways of God to men’, Hopkins, by nature a dreamer and a sensualist, only raises himself to greatness by writing poetry for ‘great causes as liberty and religion’. In doing this, he had to sublimate his poetic power. In a poem like ‘Pied Beauty,’ we see how he did it. There is sensualism in the poem; there is no asceticism. It is a tribute to God’s glory, as all poetry must be; but they are tributes of the senses.

Questions Answers

(a) Answer the following questions in about 20 words each:-

1. What is a curtal sonnet?
Answer: A curtal sonnet is a sonnet curtailed in length. It contains ten and a half lines.

2. Who is the English poet associated with the curtal sonnet?
Answer: Hopkins is associated with the curtal sonnet.

  1. What, according to Hopkins, is our duty?
    Answer:: Our duty is to praise the Master – the creator who created the things of variegated beauty for us.
  2. Name the ‘catalogue’ poem prescribed for your study?
    Answer: ‘Pied Beauty’

  3. Why is the poem ‘Pied Beauty’ called a catalogue poem?
    Answer: Hopkins uses the technique of enumeration in ‘Pied Beauty’ and catalogue things which change from moment to moment, from season to season.

  4. Name the Franciscan philosopher who had a great influence on Hopkins?
    Answer: Duns Scotus.

(b) Answer the following questions in about 500 words each.

Answer: Critically appreciate Hopkins’ curtal sonnet ‘Pied Beauty’.

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