Gerard Manley Hopkins

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins

The poem, ‘Pied Beauty’ by Hopkins, 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 demanding praise, which ends the poem with a formal perfect by returning to its beginning. The poem differs from “The Wreck of the Deutschland” which also deals with paradoxical appearances behind which God was the “ground of being”, in that all the opposites here are pleasant, and the effect happily positive.

Pied Beauty by Gerard Manley Hopkins


Pied Beauty Analysis

Glory be to God for dappled things –

In the opening line of the poem, Hopkins plays his homage to God for having created “dappled things “in this world. These dappled things are evidence of God’s glory. The poet takes pleasure in the “pied beauty” of Nature – its dappled and variegated appearance. Here the meaning of “dappled things” refers to the multi-coloured and spotted things; mottled thing. Actually, the word “pied” in the title consists of the same meaning.

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;

From line 2 to 4, the poet then proceeds to give us examples of Nature’s pied beauty. He first mentions the “skies of couple colour” which he compares to a brindled cow or a cow on which the brown colour is mixed with streaks of another colour. Then he mentions the trout swimming around with their rose-coloured skin spotted with black.

The meaning of “skies of couple-colour” is the double-coloured sky; the sky  when it looks double-coloured, while the meaning of “as a brinded cow” means a double-coloured cow. Here “Brinded” means “streaked”. The comparison of the sky with a streaked cow is rather odd. When the poet says “For rose-moles all in stipple”, he means the rose coloured markings spotted with black, while trout refers to a kind of fish.

Next, he mentions the windfalls from chestnut trees: having fallen on the ground they break open, revealing the reddish-brown nut within, looking like fresh fire-coal. He goes on to mention the finches with their multi-coloured wings.

When he says: “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls”, he means chestnuts that have fallen down from the tree and which look like burning coals. This vision of Nature flowing from within with radiant colours and life is characteristic of Hopkins in the time of his spiritual formation. Finches’ wing means the wings of a bird that has multi-coloured wings.

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;

And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

From line 5 to 6, the poet says that but there dappled things created by man, too. Man divides land into small plots or fields, some being used as folds on enclosures for sheep, others lying “fallow” for a time as meadowland, and yet others being plowed to raise crops. Then there are different kinds of industry, with their neat and well-maintained equipment and apparatus.

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)

With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

In line 7 to 9, the poet sums up the general qualities he admires in such dappled things. He admires the co-existence of contrary things: he admires their uniqueness and originality, their rarity which makes them precious, and their oddness which differentiates each from the others. He likes their very fickleness (that is, their irregularity in duration), and their freckled or speckled appearance (which implies an irregularity in the pattern). At the same time, he asks the metaphysical question: “Who knows how?” He means to say that nobody can explain the reason why these things are “freckled”. Some things are swift, others slow; some are sweet, others sour; some are exceptionally bright, others lustreless. But nobody knows why such contrasts exist.

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:

Praise him.

In line 10-11, the poet says that all these things have their origin in God. His beauty is changeless and eternal. Let us praise God who created all dappled things.



In the poem, “Pied Beauty” by Hopkins, the poet gives glory to God for the rich colour-dappling of the world of Nature and of man. As illustrations of the pied beauty of the world, he mentions:

  1. skies of couple-colour;
  2. the trout with their rose-coloured skin spotted with black;
  3. fallen chestnuts revealing the reddish-brown nut;
  4. finches wings;
  5. the landscape which looks like a patch work;
  6. all trades.

Apart from the above illustrations, the poet also refers to the general qualities which he appreciates in dappled things such as:

  • Swift and slow;
  • Sweet and sour;
  • Bright and dim;
  • Fickle and freckled.

Thus, in the space of about nine lines, the poet covers a wide range of things and their attributes. In the last two (or one and a half) lines he praises God, the father of all this ever-changing variety and contrast, whose own beauty is eternal, therefore “past change”.

From the glorification of God as revealed in dappled things to the final injunction to the  reader (“Praise him”), the movement of this poem takes place between the two mottoes of St, Ignatius: “To the greater glory of God” and “Praise be to God always”.

The original mottos are in Latin, of course: (1) “Ad majoren Dei gloriam” abbreviated as A.M.D.G. (2) “Laus Deo semper” abbreviated as L.D.S Pupils in Jesuit schools follow the practice of writing the former motto (A.M.D.G.) at the beginning of each exercise, and the latter motto (L.D.S) at the end. We may therefore assume that Hopkins has treated this poem as an exercise in the Jesuit manner.


Pied Beauty Described as “Curtal” Sonnet

Hopkins described Pied Beauty as a “Curtal Sonnet” by which he meant a shortened form of the sonnet, with only ten and a half-line, and a different rhyme scheme. Although Hopkins used this form in only two of his poems—Pied Beauty and Peace – it is one of his most successful inventions. The main proportions of the sonnet are retained but within a smaller compass. Instead of fourteen lines made up of eight plus six, we have ten and a half lines made up of six plus four and a half. Hopkins described the metre as “sprung paeonic”, a paeonic foot being stressed plus three unstressed syllables.

Pied Beauty is a Scottish poem in the sense that Hopkins, following Scotus, is preoccupied with the intense particularly and distinctiveness of natural things. A theological problem that greatly exercised the mind of Scotus was: how the various attributes in God can be really distinguished from one another without prejudice to the simplicity of this divine being. Hopkins touches upon this problem in Line 10 when he says that all the various things he has mentioned flow from their source in the paternal being of him “whose beauty is past change”.

The poem has undoubtedly a moral purpose, urging us to join the poet in praising God for God’s glory as revealed in various things. The poet’s sincerity of feeling cannot be questioned. The poem is remarkable for its religious fervor as much as for its vivid and compact imagery. Religion and poetry unite here to give us a song in praise of the Creator.

“Hopkins praises God for brindled cows and the blacksmith’s anvils 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 sour, the shade as well as the light.

Pleasant little echoes ripple and lap through the poem –dappled couple, stipple, tackle, fickle, freckled, adazzle. “Fold” may be taken two ways-of a sheep-fold and its associated meadows, or the folds in the ground.”


Critical Analysis

The conclusion of this sonnet is that all this variety of mortal beauty must proceed from Him whom Saint Paul recognizes as the source of all fatherhood in heaven and on earth – the immortal source of all that is mortal.

Earthly beauty may be fickle; but in its fickleness there is something that charms us by virtue of Him whose “beauty is past change”. Earthly beauty may be dappled; but in its dappleness there is something that reminds us of Him who is perfectly simple and without differentiation.

All good attributes of creatures, however, diverse among themselves, are somehow – as Hopkins learned from Duns Scotus – fully present and united in the rich simplicity of the divine being.

These considerations terminate somewhat abruptly in the practical exhortation; Praise him”. In this brief exhortation, everything in the poem, as in the world of Nature, is drawn to a point, in which all creatures contribute, as well by their varied sounds as by their show of pied beauty, to the grand symphony of praise in honour of their Creator.

Discover the Essential Secrets

of Poetry

Sign up to unveil the best kept secrets in poetry,

brought to you by the experts

Dharmender Kumar Poetry Expert
Dharmender is a writer by passion, and a lawyer by profession. He has has a degree in English literature from Delhi University, and Mass Communication from Bhartiya Vidhya Bhavan, Delhi, as well as holding a law degree. Dharmender is awesomely passionate about Indian and English literature.
Notify of

Oldest Most Voted
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments

The Best-Kept Secrets of Poetry

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry ever straight to your inbox

Discover and learn about the greatest poetry, straight to your inbox

Start Your Perfect Poetry Journey

Share via
Copy link
Powered by Social Snap