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Pied Beauty

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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, spáre, strange;
Whatever is fickle, frecklèd (who knows how?)
With swíft, slów; sweet, sóur; adázzle, dím;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is pást change:
Práise hím.

Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918

The Poetry Foundation
http://www.poetryfoundation.org/bio/gerard-manley-hopkins “Gerard Manley Hopkins is one of the three or four greatest poets of the Victorian era. He is regarded by different readers as the greatest Victorian poet of religion, of nature, or of melancholy. However, because his style was so radically different from that of his contemporaries, his best poems were not accepted for publication during his lifetime, and his achievement was not fully recognized until after World War I.”


Gerard Manley Hopkins, S.J. (28 July 1844 – 8 June 1889) was an English poet, Roman Catholic convert, and Jesuit priest, whose posthumous fame established him among the leading Victorian poets. His experimental explorations in prosody (especially sprung rhythm) and his use of imagery established him as a daring innovator in a period of largely traditional verse.

About The Poem

“Pied Beauty” is a curtal sonnet by the English poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844–1889). It was written in 1877, but not published until 1918, when it was included as part of the collection Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.


In the poem, the narrator praises God for the variety of “dappled things” in nature, such as cattle, trout and finches. He also describes how falling chestnuts resemble coals bursting in a fire, because of the way in which the chestnuts’ reddish-brown meat is exposed when the shells break against the ground. The narrator then moves to an image of the landscape which has been “plotted and pieced” into fields (like quilt squares) by agriculture. At the end of the poem, the narrator emphasizes that God’s beauty is “past change”, and advises readers to “Praise him”.

This ending is gently ironic and beautifully surprising: the entire poem has been about variety, and then God’s attribute of immutability is praised in contrast. By juxtaposing God’s changelessness with the vicissitude of His creation, His separation from creation is emphasized, as is His vast creativity.

This turn or volta also serves to highlight the poet’s skill at uniting apparent opposites by means of form and content: the meter is Hopkins’s own sprung rhythm, and the packing-in of various alliterative syllables serves as an aural example of the visual variety Hopkins describes.



The British poet Gerard Manley Hopkins is often described as an early modern poet ahead of his Victorian time. This is perhaps why, while he wrote “Pied Beauty” in 1877, in common with most of his other poetry, it was first published twenty-nine years after his death. It appeared in the first collected edition of his poems, Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins, edited by Robert Bridges (1918). The poem subsequently appeared in the second complete edition of Hopkins’s poetry, published in 1930. As of 2006, “Pied Beauty” was available in Gerard Manley Hopkins: The Major Works, edited by Catherine Phillips (1986).

“Pied Beauty” is one of the first poems that Hopkins wrote in the so-called sprung rhythm that he evolved, based on the rhythms of Anglo-Saxon and ancient Welsh poetry. His aim was to approximate the rhythms and style of normal speech, albeit speech infused with a religious ecstasy and enthusiasm that are characteristics of his poetry.

The poem also embodies Hopkins’s innovative use of condensed syntax and alliteration. It is written in the form of a curtal or shortened sonnet, another of Hopkins’s stylistic inventions. Thematically, the poem is a simple hymn of praise to God for the “dappled things” of creation. God is seen as being beyond change but as generating all the variety and opposites that manifest in the ever-changing world. Hopkins is best known as a nature poet and a religious poet, and “Pied Beauty” perfectly exemplifies both these aspects of his work.


The poem opens with an offering: “Glory be to God for dappled things.” In the next five lines, Hopkins elaborates with examples of what things he means to include under this rubric of“dappled.” He includes the mottled white and blue colors of the sky, the “brinded” (brindled or streaked) hide of a cow, and the patches of contrasting color on a trout. The chestnuts offer a slightly more complex image: When they fall they open to reveal the meaty interior normally concealed by the hard shell; they are compared to the coals in a fire, black on the outside and glowing within. The wings of finches are multicolored, as is a patchwork of farmland in which sections look different according to whether they are planted and green, fallow, or freshly plowed. The final example is of the“trades” and activities of man, with their rich diversity of materials and equipment.

In the final five lines, Hopkins goes on to consider more closely the characteristics of these examples he has given, attaching moral qualities now to the concept of variety and diversity that he has elaborated thus far mostly in terms of physical characteristics.The poem becomes an apology for these unconventional or “strange”things, things that might not normally be valued or thought beautiful. They are all, he avers, creations of God, which, in their multiplicity, point always to the unity and permanence of His power and inspire us to “Praise Him.”


This is one of Hopkins’s “curtal” (or curtailed) sonnets, in which he miniaturizes the traditional sonnet form by reducing the eight lines of the octave to six (here two tercets rhyming ABC ABC) and shortening the six lines of the sestet to four and a half. This alteration of the sonnet form is quite fitting for a poem advocating originality and contrariness. The strikingly musical repetition of sounds throughout the poem (for example, dappled, stipple, tackle, fickle, freckled, adazzle) enacts thecreative act the poem glorifies: the weaving together of diverse things into a pleasing and coherent whole.


This poem is a miniature or set-piece, and a kind of ritual observance. It begins and ends with variations on the mottoes of the Jesuit order (“to the greater glory of God” and “praise to God always”), which give it a traditional flavor, tempering the unorthodoxy of its appreciations. The parallelism of the beginning and end correspond to a larger symmetry within the poem: the first part (the shortened octave) begins with God and then moves to praise his creations. The last four-and-a-half lines reverse this movement, beginning with the characteristics of things in the world and then tracing them back to a final affirmation of God. The delay of the verb in this extended sentence makes this return all the more satisfying when it comes; the long and list-like predicate, which captures the multiplicity of the created world, at last yields in the penultimate line to a striking verb of creation (fathers-forth) and then leads us to acknowledge an absolute subject, God the Creator. The poem is thus a hymn of creation, praising God by praising the created world. It expresses the theological position that the great variety in the natural world is a testimony to the perfect unity of God and the infinitude of His creative power. In the context of a Victorian age that valued uniformity, efficiency, and standardization, this theological notion takes on a tone of protest.

Why does Hopkins choose to commend “dappled things” inparticular? The first stanza would lead the reader to believe that their significance is an aesthetic one: In showing how contrasts and juxtapositions increase the richness of our surroundings, Hopkins describes variations in color and texture—of the sensory. The mention of the “fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls” in the fourth line, however, introduces a moral tenor to the list. Though the description is still physical, the idea of a nugget of goodness imprisoned within a hard exterior invites a consideration of essential value in a way that the speckles on a cow, for example, do not. The image transcends the physical, implying how the physical links to the spiritual and meditating on the relationship between body and soul. Lines five and six then serve to connect these musings to human life and activity. Hopkins first introduces a landscape whose characteristics derive from man’s alteration (the fields), and then includes “trades,” “gear,” “tackle,” and “trim” as diverse items that are man-made. But he then goes on to include these things, along with the preceding list, as part of God’s work.

Hopkins does not refer explicitly to human beings themselves, or to the variations that exist among them, in his catalogue of the dappled and diverse. But the next section opens with a list of qualities (“counter, original, spare, strange”) which, though they doggedly refer to “things”
rather than people, cannot but be considered in moral terms as well; Hopkins’s own life, and particularly his poetry, had at the time been described in those very terms. With “fickle” and “freckled” in the eighth line, Hopkins introduces a moral and an aesthetic quality, each of which would conventionally convey a negative judgment, in order to fold even the base and theugly back into his worshipful inventory of God’s gloriously “pied”creation.


In A Nutshell
“Praise the LORD.
Praise the LORD from the heavens,
Praise him in the heights above.”

That’s not Gerard Manley Hopkins, but it sounds a little like “Pied Beauty,” doesn’t it? The quote comes from the Book of Psalms in the Bible. It’s a “hymn to creation,” just like “Pied Beauty.” The Psalms inspired this genre, which makes a very simple argument: the world is great and amazing, so God must be too. Some of Hopkins’s best poetry celebrates the creations of nature in all their quirky majesty. For example, check out “God’s Grandeur,” which you can also read about on Shmoop.

Hopkins wrote “Pied Beauty” in 1877, the same year that he was ordained as a Jesuit priest. He is known today as one of the great innovators of English poetry, and particularly for his use of “sprung rhythm.” (We’ll explain more about “sprung rhythm” in “Form and Meter.”)

Hopkins was born in England and lived during the reign of Queen Victoria, often called the Victorian period. His poems are beloved by people of all stripes and “stipples” (pun!) who think that oddness makes the world that much more praise-worthy.

With only a few exceptions, Hopkins did not publish his poetry during his lifetime. The first collection of his work, including this poem, became available to the public in 1918, almost thirty years after his death.

Why Should I Care?

In the history of artists who praise nature, Gerard Manley Hopkins stands out from the crowd. There are two conventional approaches to appreciating nature. The first is to be so bowled over that you can’t say anything at all: “Did you see that sunset!? Like…I can’t…it’s so….wow!” The second is to appreciate nature only insofar as it seems like a nice, organized system: “I love trees that are symmetrical and evenly spaced, waterfalls that fit perfectly on the mountainside, and even the way a snail’s shell makes a perfect spiral.”

Hopkins takes a different approach. He eloquently loves nature for its quirks, the way you might love someone for his or her big ears. Many writers who glorify nature try to make the world more orderly and manageable than it really is. Rather than ignoring the off-kilter parts of reality, Hopkins zooms right in on them. He would walk into your house and say something like, “Hey, I love how your picture looks a little crooked. Nice work.” And you would wonder if he were kidding. But you would soon realize that, no, he is not.

Much of “Pied Beauty” focuses on spots, dots, and speckles in particular. These are the “pied” things from the title. We typically think of spots as our enemy. We have spot removers for our clothes, and when we clean a room really well we call it “spotless.” For Hopkins, “spotless” would be a sad state – if it were possible. Fortunately, the word is an exaggeration – a figure of speech. For just when you think you have every last speck of dust cleaned from a room, a ray of sunlight will suddenly come down through the window, lighting up all the tiny floating specks in the air, and you’ll be frozen with wonder. You might even say to yourself, “Hey, I could write a poem about this.”


The speaker says we should glorify God because he has given us dappled, spotted, freckled, checkered, speckled, things. (This poem says “dappled” in a lot of different ways.)

The speaker goes on to give examples. We should praise God because of the skies with two colors, like a two-colored cow. And the little reddish dots on the side of trout. And the way fallen chestnuts look like red coals in a fire. And the blended colors of the wings of a finch (a kind of bird). And landscapes divided up by humans into plots for farming. And for all the different jobs that humans do.

In short, the speaker thinks we should praise God for everything that looks a bit odd or unique, everything that looks like it doesn’t quite fit in with the rest.

All these beautiful, mixed-up, ever-changing things were created or “fathered” by a God who never changes. The speaker sums up what he believes should be our attitude in a brief, final line: “Praise Him.”

The Cummings Study Guide

Type of Work

“Pied Beauty” is a lyric poem praising God for his variegated creation. The author, Gerard Manley Hopkins, called the poem a curtal sonnet, meaning a shortened or contracted sonnet. A curtal sonnet consists of eleven lines instead of the usual fourteen for the standard Shakespearean or Petrarchan sonnet. Besides being a lyric poem in the form of a curtal sonnet, “Pied Beauty” may also be classified as catalogue verse because it presents a thesis followed by a list of examples (catalogue) that support the thesis.

Composition and Publication

Hopkins completed “Pied Beauty” in 1877. The London firm of Humphrey S. Milford published it in 1918 in Poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.


The theme of the poem is this: Nature in its variety–including streaked, spotted, and multicolored skies, fields, nuts, fish, birds, and other animals–is a gift of God for which we all should be thankful. One may interpret this theme to include human beings, with their many personalities, moods, idiosyncrasies, occupations, cultures, languages, political systems, skin colors and other physical attributes, and so on.

Meter: Sprung Rhythm

The meter of “Pied Beauty” is sprung rhythm, a term coined by Hopkins to describe a metric format that permits an unlimited number of unstressed syllables in each line to accompany stressed syllables. A metric foot in sprung rhythm usually contains one to four syllables. Hopkins intended sprung rhythm to mimic the stresses occurring in ordinary English speech.


Hopkins begins and ends the poem with a call to praise God for the gifts He has given us. Between these calls, he presents two short lists and a comment about the beauty of God. The first list uses concrete and specific language (skies, the cow, trout, chestnuts, finches, and farm fields); the second list, abstract and general language (things counter, original, spare, strange, fickle, etc.). The comment notes that the beauty of God, unlike the beauty of creation, does not change. Thus, Hopkins structures the poem as follows:

1. A call to praise God for his gifts.
2. A list of gifts in specific language.
3. A list of gifts in abstract language.
4. A comment about the immutable beauty of God.
5. A call to praise God.


The rhyme scheme of the poem is as follows:

Lines 1-6: ABCABC
Lines 7-10: DBDC
Line 11: C


The tone is exuberant and spirited. The poem is a song of joy.

Summary of the Poem

Glory to God, the speaker says, for giving the world spotted, streaked, and multicolored things. Blue skies, for example, may display streaks of white or gray–or the colors of the sunset. In this respect, skies are like cows, which may be brown with streaks or patches of another color. And then there are the speckled trout and the fallen chestnuts with open hulls that reveal kernels with an intense color resembling the glow of burning coal. Consider also, the speaker says, the multicolored wings of the finches and the farmland with patches of green contrasting with plowed or fallow patches of brown. And what of the variety of tools and kits and equipment that dapple the workplace of men?

There are many varieties of odd and strange things in the world–some of them original, one of a kind. The qualities of these fickle things may be freckled with opposites. Swiftness may be freckled with slowness, sweetness with sourness, brightness with dimness.

But He who brings forth dappled things is not Himself dappled. He is changeless, ever the same.

Praise him.

Pied Beauty
By Gerard Manley Hopkins
Text and NotesGlory be to God for dappled1 things—
For skies of couple-colour2 as a brinded3 cow;
For rose-moles4 all in stipple5 upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls;6 finches’ wings;
Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow, and plough; 5

And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.7
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth8 whose beauty is past change: 10
Praise him.


1…dappled: Spotted, speckled, pied; multicolored.

2…couple-colour: Two colors.

3…brinded: Brindled; having a brownish yellow or gray coat with spots or streaks of a darker color.

4…rose-moles: Reddish spots on the skin.

5…stipple: Pattern of spots.

6…Fresh . . . falls: Fallen chestnuts with shells that opened. The exposed nuts resemble glowing coals.

7…trim: equipment.

8…fathers-forth: Creates, begets.|

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