Pied Beauty by Hopkins: Summary, Poem Analysis & Meaning

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  • 0:01 Brief Biography of…
  • 1:00 'Pied Beauty'
  • 1:45 Summary and Analysis
  • 4:43 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Debbie Notari
Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem 'Pied Beauty' is a celebration of the mottled, seemingly imperfect parts of nature. In a world that is often obsessed with perfection, Hopkins finds the imperfect something to celebrate.

Brief Biography of Gerard Manley Hopkins

It is good to get to know a poet a little before digging into a poem. Gerard Manley Hopkins was born in 1844 and was the eldest of nine children. In elementary school, he won a poetry contest, and it was evident early on in his life that he was a gifted writer. However, he was devoutly religious and actually burned his early poems, feeling that writing poetry was too worldly a pursuit.

After some time, he came to realize that writing was not in conflict with his religious beliefs, and wrote to express and work through both his beliefs and doubts. He became a priest, and that was always his primary priority. He strove to keep a positive attitude in life, and even as he was dying of typhoid fever in 1889, his final words were, 'I am happy, so happy!' He died without seeing any of his poems published, but his good friend and Poet Laureate Robert Bridges published them in 1918.

'Pied Beauty'

First, let's look at the text of the poem '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 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:
Praise him.'

Summary and Analysis

First, let's look at the word 'pied' in the title, since it is not a common word that we use today. Pied means something that has more than one color.

Next, Hopkins praises God for dappled, or spotted, things. This is a unique idea, as humans tend to both seek and praise perfection. The idea that a perfect God could delight in the imperfections of his creation gives us pause.

In the second line, Hopkins uses a simile, comparing the sky to a 'brinded cow.' A brinded cow is a cow that has more than one color, often brown and white or black and white. The pattern varies from cow to cow. In much the same way, the sky varies from day to day, often spotted or fairly taken over with clouds. It is this variety that keeps us enthralled with the sky's beauty from day to day. As nice as it sounds, completely clear, blue skies might bore us after awhile.

'Rose moles' are colored spots on trout. It is interesting that Hopkins takes the time to notice these tiny spots and appreciate them. 'Fresh fire-coal chestnut falls' refers to the auburn chestnuts that fall to the ground in the Autumn.

In the next line, Hopkins gives us the image of a farmer who plots out his land as a patchwork quilt so that it yields the crops of his choice. He plows the land in lines. The land no longer looks natural and unspoiled, but worked. Yet, from this work comes a harvest.

Hopkins then opens up his praise for all of the tools that are needed for various jobs. When do we tend to stop and thank God for a hammer, for instance? Hopkins is stopping to appreciate the small, useful things we tend to take for granted each day.

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