Pied Beauty

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 trades, their gear and tackle and trim,

All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckléd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change: 
Práise him.

Footnotes

  1. Hopkins controls the meter in the last pair of lines to end the poem with a jolt. The penultimate line follows standard iambic pentameter and builds tension that is released in the short final line: “Praise him.” This phrase is a trochee, a pair of syllables that begins with a stress. The trochee, with its bursting quality, is particularly powerful after the march of iambs in the preceding line.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. There is a slight irony to the phrase “past change.” The phrase seems to refer to those objects—the “dappled things”—that are not objectively beautiful, suggesting that they never will be. Yet the poem finds beauty in them nonetheless. Thus there is a “change” that occurs: a change in the eye of the beholder, rather than in the objects.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The verb “to father” applies in two different ways here. God “fathers” the dappled things in the role of creator. The construction “fathers-forth” adds the connotation of continued stewardship: God protects the dappled things as he sends them into the world. Hopkins’s verb choice alludes to God’s status as the “father” in the Christian Holy Trinity.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Hopkins uses alliteration to express an all-encompassing embrace of the things in the world. Things both “swift” and “slow” are beautiful, as are things both “adazzle” and “dim.” The alliterative tie in each opposing pair conveys their equal beauty.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The question “who knows how?” is issued as a parenthetical aside yet is key to the poem. Hopkins honors the beauty found in the imperfect and the ordinary, but he stops short of explanation. The question is an expression of mysterium fidei—or “the mystery of faith”—a concept in the Bible that points to the limits of human understanding. Hopkins seeks simply to praise, not to understand.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Hopkins strikes a tone that is both divine and earthy. The opening phrase, “Glory be to God,” gives the poem a religious register. Yet much of the the subject matter—from cows and trout to landscapes—is common. Hopkins’s praise for “all trades, their gear and tackle and trim” grounds the poem in a rustic reality. The poem’s purpose is to uncover grandeur in the humblest places.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Hopkins's use of alliteration and internal rhyme is abundant. Notice how in this line the alliteration of “plotted and pieced” is picked up again in the final word, “plough.” In the middle lies a second alliterative phrase, “fold, fallow.” Yet Hopkins weaves together these words with the dense repetition of l sounds throughout the line.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Throughout his poetry, Hopkins experiments with rhythm and meter. While “Pied Beauty” is roughly in pentameter—with five beats per line—the metrical feet vary and the words often create surprising, elaborate rhythms. “Fresh-firecoal” builds up to a pair of dactylic phrases: “chestnut-falls; finches’ wings.” With their leading stressed syllable and trailing unstressed syllables, these two dactyls create a fitting, falling sound.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. Once again, Hopkins sketches a vivid image—“fresh-firecoal”—before transforming it into metaphor. By the third word, the fresh firecoal has become an adjective to describe fallen chestnuts. This use of metaphor attunes us to the purpose of the poem: to reconsider beauty by viewing the world anew. Surprising, metaphorical relationships force us to encounter the world with fresh eyes.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. Hopkins creates dense, deceptive layers of metaphor and imagery. As each image presents itself, it turns from literal image to metaphor: “Rose” transforms from a flower into the color of the “moles.” The “moles” take a similar fall from the literal, becoming the “stipple[s] upon trout that swim.” Hopkins uses these metaphors to show that all objects in nature carry the same divine charge.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. Hopkins uses metaphor to introduce two important images at once. The skies are “of couple-colour as a brinded cow.” While the image of the skies is offered as the dappled thing, the image of the brinded cow is equally relevant. Through such use of metaphor, Hopkins shows us the interconnected nature of the world.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. “Dappled things” refers to all things dotted, spotted, speckled, freckled, or mottled. The subsequent series of images shows numerous examples of dappled things in nature and culture. The deeper theme Hopkins explores is the great beauty of imperfection. The poem’s ethos embraces the messiness of the world.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  13. The opening phrase “Glory be to God” places the poem in the context of the form of a Christian prayer. After the first line, the poem departs from the tradition of the prayer and embodies a unique style. One can say that the poem itself is, like its subjects, “counter, original, spare, strange” and thus beautiful in form.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  14. In addition to his career as a poet, Gerard Manley Hopkins was a Jesuit priest. The questions, longings, and perspectives that arose from his Christian faith are central to his poetry. Often in Hopkins’s work, God is a gateway into an inspired examination of the world. Notice how in “Pied Beauty” the figure of God appears in the opening and closing lines, serving as a bookend to a study of beauty.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff