Pied Beauty, illustrated

Glory be to God for dappled things
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For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
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For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
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Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;
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Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

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And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

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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.

Gerard Manley Hopkins praises God, Who is uniform and immutable, for His grace in creating a category of things that are variegated and changeable. His little sonnet–it’s exactly 3/4 the length and breadth of a regular sonnet–is written in the tradition of a Psalm. Compare, for instance, “Sing unto the Lord with thanksgiving; sing praise upon the harp unto our God: / Who covereth the heaven with clouds, who prepareth rain for the earth, who maketh grass to grow upon the mountains.”

I am the opposite of Hopkins in many respects. (He was devout, depressed, gay, and highly gifted.) But lyric poetry is not for showing us ourselves; it’s a key to someone else’s mind. I cannot share Hopkins theology, but I can thank and praise him for appreciating a category of objects that–whether vast or tiny, whether human-made or natural–share the feature of being “dappled.”

(See also “Notes on Gerard Manley Hopkins’ Spring and Fall” and my own “For Gerard Manley Hopkins.”)

About Peter

Associate Dean for Research and the Lincoln Filene Professor of Citizenship and Public Affairs at Tufts University’s Tisch College of Civic Life. Concerned about civic education, civic engagement, and democratic reform in the United States and elsewhere.

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