Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in 1844, the eldest of nine children. Though he had won a poetry contest at school, he was devoutly religious and burned his early work, feeling that writing poetry was too worldly. Later, though, he united his religious beliefs and his poetic talents. He became a priest. Dying of typhoid fever in 1889, his final words were, 'I am happy, so happy!’ ‘Pied Beauty’ is a good starting point for an exploration of his poetry.
Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
The essence of the poem’s ideas is the word ‘dapple’, meaning mark with spots or rounded patches, or a patch or spot of colour or light. In this poem, ‘dappled things’ are a metaphor: examples begin with objects that consist of two colours - the ‘couple-coloured’ sky is compared using a simile to a ‘brinded cow’, reddish dots on the sides of swimming trout, fallen chestnuts and coals in a fire - but towards the end of the first stanza, ‘dappled’ implies the mixture of different kinds of things, not only physical but conceptual: not only ‘Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough’, but also ‘áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim’. The concept of ‘dappled’ is further extended in the second stanza into verbs and the worlds of action and perception: ‘swift, slow’, ‘sweet, sour’, ’adazzle, dim’.
‘Pied Beauty’ is an unusual hymn to creation, suggesting that the multiple and varied nature of creation glorifies God. ‘Glory be to God’ makes it an explicit prayer, placing the emphasis on God and with a rhetorical question in parentheses making the point that no one knows how or why the world is ‘freckled’ in this way with so much diversity. God ‘fathers-forth’ all of it.
Alliteration - ‘Glory’ and ‘God’, ‘couple-colour’ and ‘cow’, ‘Fresh-firecoal’, ‘falls’ and ‘finches’’, ‘plotted’, ‘pieced’ and ‘plough’, ‘fold’ and ‘fallow’ and so on -contributes to the idea of unity-in-diversity by suggesting linkages between things not otherwise linked except by how we see them or speak of them. It also contributes to the unique, strongly accented sound of the poem.
Hopkins invented or delineated ‘sprung rhythm’ - in effect, there are many small ‘springs’ scattered throughout the poem, concentrating accents and downbeats together in small ‘explosions’ or releases which are both sound-based and conceptual, compressing elements of meaning as well.
For example, ‘Fresh fire-coal chestnut-falls’, fuses words and otherwise unconnected ideas together, condensing meaning. The rhythm is composed of sudden jolts, stops and starts.
The poem has a complicated rhyme scheme - ABCABC DBEDE - and lines with the same indentation tend to rhyme at the end. ‘Praise Him’ is the concluding ‘amen’ of the prayer. Throughout the poet has worked to unite apparent opposites or disparate ‘dappled things’, and though the poem has been about variety, we are left with God's attribute of unchanging transcendence, emphasising His separation from Creation as well as His vast and varied creativity.