Pied Beauty: Poem by G. M. Hopkins - Summary & Analysis

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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 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.


      Pied Beauty was written at St. Beuno’s in summer 1877. Hopkins names it as ‘curtail sonnet’ as it is shorter in length as compared to a normal sonnet having fourteen lines. The sonnet basically seems a nature poem embodying a theological belief significant to many catholic and protestant philosophers.


      Stanza 1. The poet takes pleasure in the “pied beauty” of Nature—its dappled and variegated appearance. He admires these things and also the creator. He proceeds to give us examples of Nature’s beauty to reveal the idea that God’s glory is reflected in all his creation—in the “skies of couple-color”, in the trout (a kind of fish) swimming around with their rose-colored skin spotted with black, in the chestnut which after having fallen on the ground breaks open, revealing the reddish-brown kernel within, in the beautiful wings of finches (song birds).

      Man also has created many dappled things—he cuts landscapes into plots and fields. Some plots are used as sheepfolds, some fields remain uncultivated and used as a pasture ground, and yet some fields are plowed to raise crops. Not only the world of Nature, but even the world of trade and commerce with its neat and well-maintained equipment and apparatus, is also beautiful.

      Stanza 2. In the second stanza, the poet 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 and their speckled appearance. At the same time he asks the metaphysical question: “Who knows how?” The question reveals that nobody can explain the reason why these things are “freckled”. Some things are swift, others slow; some are swept, others sour; some are exceptionally bright, others lifeless. But no one knows the reason of this contrasts. The poet further says that God is the source or origin of all these things. God’s beauty is reflected in all the things that surround us. The whole process is quite mystery. It arouses question how these things are created and in what way. The things whether similar or opposed to each other originate from God, the father of everything. The beauty of Nature is transient whereas beauty of God permanent and not changeable. So we should praise God the creator of all dappled things.


Stanza 1

Line 1: Dappled things: Multi-coloured things.

Line 2: Couple-colour: Double colored.

Line 2: As a brinded cow: brinded means spotted. Like a double-colored cow.

Line 3: rose-moles: rose-colored spots or marks


Stipple—dotted or spotted work, like a painting done in dots.

Line 4: Fresh fire coal chestnut falls: when chestnut falls on the ground it breaks open, and its kernel looks reddish-brown like burning coals.

finches’ wings: The beautiful multi-colored wings of a finch. The finch is a song bird.

Line 5: Landscape plotted and pieced: Land divided into plots and fields.

fold: enclosures where sheep are kept; sheepfolds.

Fallow: uncultivated land used as a pasture-ground.

Plough: land which has been brought under the plough for raising crops.

Line 6: And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim: and all the industrial activity with its neat apparatus and equipment.

Stanza 2

Line 1: Counter: strongly contrasting.

All things counter: The world is full of things which are opposed to each other.

Original spare, strange: Certain things are original, certain rare, and certain thills are odd and strange. In this expression the poet admires the co-existence of contrary things, their uniqueness and originality, their rarity and their oddness.

Line 2: Fickle: irregular, changeable.

Freckled: spotted; who knows how?: Nobody knows why things are strange, fickle and freckled.

Line 3: With swift, slow....dim: This line emphasizes contrasts in Nature. Swift things co-exist with slow; sweet with sour, and bright and dazzling with dim and lustreless.

dazzle: exceptionally bright.

Line 4: He fathers-forth: God is the source or the creator of all the things whether it is contradictory or similar; swift or slow, sweet or sour, bright or dim. God is eternal. His grace and beauty, is permanent and all things issue forth from God.

Whose beauty is past change: God’s beauty is not subject to change. It is eternal.

Praise him: Let God be praised as he is the eternal source of everything in this world.


      The poem is a glorification of God. In the space of about nine lines, the poet covers a wide range of things to illustrate the pied beauty of the world which bear the sign of God’s glory. The poet mentions (i) Skies of couple-color; (ii) The trout with their rose-coloured skin spotted with black (iii) fallen chestnuts revealing the reddish brown nut. (iv) finches wings; (v) the landscape which looks like a patch work; and (iv) all trades.

      In addition to these the poet also mentions the things which are opposite in nature—swift and slow; sweet and sour; bright and dim; fickle and freckled. In the last two lines, the poet praises God, the father of all this variety and contrasts, whose own beauty is eternal, therefore “past change”. So the poem is remarkable for its religious fervor as much as for its vivid and compact imagery. To quote a critic “Hopkins praises God for brinded 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 the sour, the shade as well as the light. Pleasant little echoes ripple and lays through the poem-dappled, couple stripple, tackle, fickle freckled, adazzle. “Fold” may be taken two ways — of a sheep-fold and its associated meadows, or the folds, in the ground”. Though Nature here lives in dynamic charge it never repeats itself. Like the lark’s song it “goes on through all time, without ever losing its freshness, being a thing both new and old”. No two couple-coloured skies, trout or finches wings are alike. They are counter to one another, original “spare” in the sense that a spare part stands by itself; and strange in the sense that they cannot be wholly known in turns of past experience. Though the poet can recognize that it is a cow, a trout, or a sky, to some degree it evades his categories and appears strange, a strangeness which makes him recognize that he does not understand how it is, what it is? “who knows how?” He asks, which may mean both: “How can I tell you all the ways in which things can be fickle or freckled? and also: “It is impossible to understand how this comes about.”

      Commenting on this poem R.K. Thornton says: “Beginning with praise, it builds up through a description of a variety of beautiful things which either are pied or contain opposites of various kinds—color, taste, speed brightness—to an assertion of the creator of them, whose demanding praise, which ends the poem with formal perfection 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 oppositions here are pleasant, and the effect happily positive”.

      According to Peter Milward: “The conclusion of this sonnet is that all this variety of mortal beauty must proceed from Him whom St. 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 fickleness, 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 consideration 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 honor of their creator”.

      The first line and the last line of the poem say much the same thing: a pious thanks to God for having provided this wonderful world: “glory be to god for dappled things”, and “Praise him”. God is past change; all things flow from God and flow black to God. The first line of the sestet—‘Glory be to god for dappled things’—and the last line of the poem places the apotheosis of flux within a framework of stability. The sonnet begins in exhilaration and ends in solemnity. The two monosyllables (Praise him) are in a sense, themselves examples of specific creations; they are ‘counter, original, spare, strange’, for they throw the ten-line sonnet of balance in a most satisfactory way, even while they are introducing the listeners to a world of changeless values beyond the world of ‘fickle’ sensible things. And so Hopkins has wonderfully resolved the tension between man’s need for infinite variety, for change and his equal need for order, discipline and permanence. And the whole sonnet vibrates with an implicit contrast between ‘swift, slow’; creatures are moving at different rates of speed, and the patient plowman moves at even slower rate than fish and finches. And so in the sky, under the water, and on the rich earth; the whole universe is swaying in shifting patterns of movement to the dictates of some unseen orchestra. And for Hopkins, behind the orchestra was a silent God, who caused all flux and all majesty of motion and all binding to principles beyond flux and motion.

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