Pied Beauty
A Poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
A Study Guide
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Type of Work
Composition and Publication
Point of View
Text With Notes
Figures of Speech
Study Questions
Writing Topics
Study Guide Prepared by Michael J. Cummings...© 2010
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 Notes

Glory 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.

Figures of Speech

.......Following are examples of figures of speech in the poem.


Line 1:....Glory be to God
Line 2:....skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow
Line 4:....Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches
Line 5:....Landscape plotted and pieced
Line 6:....trádes, their gear and tackle and trim
Line 7:....spare, strange
Line 9:....swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim
Line10:...He fathers-forth whose

Lines 2 and 3: For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow; 
......................For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim; 


Line 3: rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim
Comparison of the spots on a speckled trout to moles

Line 4: Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls
Comparison of chestnut kernels to burning coals

Line 10: suckled in a creed outworn 
Comparison of creed to a mother nursing her child

Line 9: things that are swift and slow
...........things that are sweet and sour
...........things that are dazzling and dim
Lines 2: skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow
Comparison of skies to a cow

The Opening Words

.......The opening words of the poem paraphrase in English the Latin motto of the Jesuits: Ad majorem Dei gloriam (To the greater glory of God). Hopkins was a member of the Jesuits, an order of Roman Catholic priests with the official name of the Society of Jesus. The order was founded by the Spanish theologian Saint Ignatius of Loyola (1491-1556). His Spanish name was San Ignacio de Loyola.

Study Questions and Writing Topics

1. Write a short poem about nature. 
2. Hopkins writes in line 9 about things with opposite qualities. What opposite qualities do you have? 
3. Identify examples of neologisms in the poem. If you do not know what a neologism is, first look up the word in a dictionary, then answer the question.
4. Another poem about the beauty of nature is "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud," by William Wordsworth. Write an essay comparing and contrasting these poems.