Pied Beauty

What do the sky, a cow, a trout, and a chestnut all have in common? They are all pied, or contain two or more colors. Gerard Manly Hopkins’ shortened sonnet, ‘Pied Beauty’ (1918) gives praise to God for these peculiar, spotted, marked, and multicolored things. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s use of vivid imagery and unexpected phrases make the meaning of finding God in all things both imaginative and imaginable.

Pied Beauty Pied Beauty

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Table of contents
    ‘Pied Beauty’ Information Overview
    Author:Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889)
    Year written:1877
    Year published: 1918
    Type of poem:Curtal sonnet
    Key Themes:Nature as a reflection of God’s beauty, The beauty of nature’s imperfections
    Literary Devices:Alliteration, imagery, oxymoron, rhetorical question, rhyme

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Background Information

    Gerard Manley Hopkins, the English poet and Jesuit priest, wrote the poem ‘Pied Beauty’ in the Summer of 1877. During this time, Hopkins was studying theology at the beautiful, green campus of St. Bueno’s College in North Wales. Gerard Manley Hopkins was inspired by the beauty of nature from boyhood. His love and keen observance of nature can be identified clearly in the imagery of the poem, ‘Pied Beauty.’

    Pied Beauty, St. Beuno’s College in North Wales, StudySmarterFig. 1 - St. Beuno’s College in North Wales.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins‘s idea of Inscape

    The poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins are colored by his concept of inscape. Inscape refers to the unique individuality and inner design of all created things—both living and nonliving. Gerard Manley Hopkins saw the intentionality and individuality of things in the world as a reflection of God, their creator. Gerard Manley Hopkins’s poems often contain vivid descriptions made up of unique vocabulary to reflect this individuality within all things.

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Summary and Meaning

    Gerard Manley Hopkins begins the poem with the line “Glory be to God for dappled things,” 1 indicating that this is a poem of praise to God for the magnificence of his creation—particularly, for “dappled” or spotted things. Gerard Manley Hopkins provides specific examples of this peculiar category of “couple-colored,” or multicolored, spotted things through vivid uses of vocabulary and imagery.

    The meaning of the imagery in the first stanza of ‘Pied Beauty’:

    • “skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow”1 (Line 2) — Hopkins suggests that the white clouds against a blue sky are like the brindled pattern and coloring of a cow. This imagery unites the sky and the land, or heaven and earth, supporting Hopkins’s point that nature is a reflection of God.

    Pied Beauty Summary and Meaning Cow StudySmarterFig. 2 - A brinded, or brindled cow.

    • “rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim”1 (Line 3) — Trout are typically unattractive freshwater fish with a pink or rose-colored strip across their bodies. They are spotted in varieties of reddish-brown colors and patterns. Hopkins uses this image to suggest that even things that do not appear beautiful contain beauty in their design and the mystery of their making.

    Pied Beauty Summary and Meaning Trout StudySmarterFig. 3 - "Rose-moles" on a trout.

    • “fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls”1 (Line 4) — As black coal glows with bright flames as it burns, chestnut’s have a green spiky outer shell, which once removed, reveals the brown chestnut. Also, when chestnuts are cooked over a fire, they split open to reveal a softer, lighter-colored center. This image has religious connotations of purification of the soul, or the burning away of imperfections and sin in order to develop a heart like Christ’s.

    Pied Beauty, Summary and Meaning Chestnuts, StudySmarterFig. 4 - The layers of a chestnut.

    • ”finches’ wings” 1 (Line 4) — Finches are multicolored birds, often with spots on their wings. The reference to bird’s wings directly after the reference to the “firecoal chestnut-falls” suggests freedom by ridding ourselves of exterior things and burning away sins and temptations to reveal our inner Christ.
    • ”landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough”1 (Line 5) — This description refers to the patches of land farmed and in different states—some of it is planted, some is plowed. Imagine the patchwork-like landscape of the countryside, as parts of the land are sectioned off for different purposes. Gerard Manley Hopkins uses this reference to the man-made cuts of land to suggest that even unnatural things can reflect God’s beauty. Tending to the land in cooperation with God is caring for his creation.
    • áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.”1 (Line 6) — This description from the poem gives thanks for items and accessories used for work, which allow men to appreciate and create variations in nature and things. Though it seems like a strange thing to be thankful for, Christians view work as an opportunity to cooperate in God’s creation, as God worked to create the world and continues to work in nature and the hearts and lives of humans.

    In the second stanza of the poem, there is a volta, or shift in the focus of the poem from specific things in the world to be thankful for, to broader qualities that highlight creation‘s originality. Gerard Manley Hopkins begins the second stanza giving thanks to “All things counter, original, spare strange” 1 (Line 7). He uses these words in the poem to emphasize his appreciation for the mystery of creation in all its variety and variations. This mystery of creation is contained within a singular, unchanging God, who brings forth all of creation and “whose beauty is past change” 1 (Line 10). Gerard Manley Hopkins closes this prayer of thanks with the final words, “Praise him,” offering worship to a God who is capable of acting in an infinite number of ways, while remaining steady and unchanging.

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Full Poem

    Notice how the poet uses a wide variety of words related to spots and markings. What do you think Gerard Manley Hopkins is trying to suggest by emphasizing the images of markings in nature?

    Line‘Pied Beauty’ by Gerard Manley HopkinsNotes
    123456Glory 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.dappled: spotted, or marked with round patchesbrinded: streaked with grey or brown patches of coloring, brindledrose-moles: red-colored spots or marks on skinstipple: marked with many small dotsplotted: marked on a chart or graphfallow: land left unplanted to restore the soiltackle: equipment or hardware needed for a tasktrim: additional decoration of contrasting material or color
    7891011All 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.counter: opposing, contradictingspare: extra, additional, supplementaryfickle: variable, frequently changingadazzle: dazzling, gleaming

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Analysis

    ‘Pied Beauty‘ Form Analysis

    ’Pied Beaty' is an 11 line (or more specifically, 10.5 line), curtal sonnet written in Gerard Manly Hopkins’s characteristic, sprung rhythm. The rhyme scheme of the poem is ABCABC DBCDC. ‘Pied Beauty’ is a variation of the form of a traditional Italian or Petrarchan sonnet.

    ’Pied Beauty‘ as a Curtal Sonnet

    A curtal sonnet is Gerard Manley Hopkins’s term for his experimental, shortened, sonnet form. While a traditional Italian, or Petrarchan sonnet has 14 lines split into one 8 line stanza and one 6 line stanza, Hopkins’s curtal sonnet has one 6 line stanza plus one 4.5 line stanza (exactly 3/4s of the original number of lines in each stanza). The half-line contains significantly fewer words than the rest of the lines.

    This shortened sonnet form compresses Gerard Manley Hopkins’s expansive imagery into a shorter span of words, creating nearly overwhelming flashes of comparative and contrasting colors and images.

    The half-line at the end of the sonnet (which is actually less than one half), allows for a reflective pause directed towards the final phrase “Praise him.” 1 This distinctive half-line serves as a break from the flood of flowing, compacted imagery, and reminded readers what the poem is actually all about—praise to God. The created pause before the phrase “Praise him” also mimics the pattern of how Catholic prayers are said at mass, where the leader or reader recites the prayer or intention, and the congregation responds with a verse of praise after a pause for reflection.

    ‘Pied Beauty‘ Meter

    While an Italian or Petrarchan sonnet is written in iambic pentameter, or 10 syllable lines in an alternating pattern of unstressed and stressed syllables, Gerary Manley Hopkins’s poems are written in his characteristic, sprung rhythm.

    Sprung rhythm is a term coined by Gerard Manley Hopkins to describe a meter that is more natural in mimicking regular stresses in speech. Sprung rhythm counts the stresses within a line (there are typically 5), but there can be a number of unstressed syllables in between, or consecutively stressed syllables. Therefore, the line lengths often vary in the number of syllables they contain.

    He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: —5 stressed syllables, 3 unstressed syllables Praise him. —Half-line, with 2 consecutively stressed syllables

    Gerard Manley Hopkins’s use of sprung rhythm in ‘Pied Beauty’ allows him to be more creative with the pattern of emphasis on words, creating a more natural, yet dramatic reading. Sprung rhythm also allows the poet to stress consecutive words, emphasizing words as unified ideas such as “past change” and “Praise him.” These ideas significantly influence the reader’s understanding of the poem. They explain that God is beyond change, or unchanging, despite all the variations found in nature, and remind readers that the poem‘s purpose is ultimately to praise God. The repetition of the consecutive words is suggestive of God's sense of stability and constancy amidst the everchanging world, which is mimicked by the changing stresses in the syllables around these phrases.

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Rhyme Scheme

    The rhyme scheme of ‘Pied Beauty’ is quite different from that of a Petrarchan sonnet, but Gerard Manley Hopkins hints at its resemblance to one by sticking to using four sets of rhymes, A, B, C, and D rhymes. The rhyme scheme of ‘Pied Beauty’ is ABCABC DBCDC.

    The end rhymes of ‘Pied Beauty’ follow:

    1. things — A

    2. cow — B

    3. swim — C

    4. wings — A

    5. plough — B

    6. trim — C

    7. strangeD

    8. how — B

    9. dim — C

    10. changeD

    11. him — C

    Gerard Manly Hopkins uses this rhyme scheme to tie together his poem with subtle links that create a sense of steadiness and fluidity amidst the poem’s experimental meter and structure. Notice that the rhymes for one word follow three lines later. For example, the word “things” ending line 1, rhymes with “wings” in line 4, and the word “cow” in line 2 rhymes with both the word “plough” in line 5 and “how” in line 8.

    This pattern creates continuity and balance across the poem's stanzas. The lack of rhyming couplets, or end rhymes in consecutive lines, provides a more subtle rhyming effect and keeps the poem sounding more natural and reflective rather than bouncy and songlike.

    The rhymes in closest proximity are “dim” and “him” in lines 9 and 11. This more evident rhyme helps provide closure to the poem.

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Tone Analysis

    The tone of ‘Pied Beauty’ is praiseful and awestruck by the wonders of God and his creation. Gerard Manley Hopkins is in awe of God’s boundless creative capacity. He exults, or praises God’s ability to create in such varied, mysterious, and even opposing ways. Gerard Manley Hopkins is joyful and amazed as he contemplates the wonders of an unchanging God made visible in the variety, patterns, colors, and qualities of the natural world.

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Themes Analysis

    The Beauty of Nature’s Variations

    The poem ‘Pied Beauty’ emphasizes the variations in colors, patterns, and markings within both the natural and the man-made world. Rather than simply being thankful for the sky, the trout, the chestnuts, or the sky, Gerard Manley Hopkins praises God for the beauty of their unique details. Gerard Manley Hopkins draws upon his concept of inscape, which regards the unique design and individuality of every created thing. He points to the wondrous capabilities of God to make creations with such great detail and variation that it seems nearly frivolous or superfluous. However, this exquisite design lends beauty and importance to every observable thing.

    Nature as a Reflection of God

    The variations of nature mentioned in the poem add to its beauty by suggesting its mysterious and magnificent qualities. Ultimately, this mystery, magnificence, and beauty is a reflection of God, who brings forth creation with incredible, incomprehensible detail and design. Gerard Manley Hopkins views contemplation of nature and the world around him as contemplation and appreciation of God in all his mysteriously wonderful creative capabilities.

    ‘Pied Beauty’ Literary Devices


    Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings” 1 (Line 4)

    Gerard Manley Hopkins is known for using an abundance of alliteration, which is the repetition of beginning sounds in phrases. Alliteration helps establish the stresses within Gerard Manley Hopkins’ irregular sprung rhythm, as the stresses tend to fall on alliterated sounds.

    The repetition of the ‘f’ sound in this example helps carry the reader through the phrase and unites seemingly divergent imagery with the familiar sound. Normally, the “fresh-firecoal” would not be associated with “chestnut-falls,” but the repeated “f” sound links the two phrases to suggest a parallel between the two. As black coal burns to reveal bright flames, chestnuts cooked over fire reveal a light-colored inside. “Finches’ wings” seem completely separate from the coal fire and chestnuts, however, the “f“ of “finches“ lends a degree of continuity. The idea of chestnuts falling from a tree can be linked to the imagery of birds.

    Rhetorical Question

    ”Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)” 1 (Line 8)

    Gerard Manley Hopkins uses a seemingly out of the blue rhetorical question in order to suggest that only God knows how all of these variations and colors of nature come about. Though a rhetorical question is not meant to be formally answered. The fact that there is only one question in the whole poem, and it is separated in parentheses, forces readers to question Hopkins’s question.

    The rhetorical question, “Who knows how?” can be understood in terms of the word preceding it, Who knows how freckles come about?, but also in the poem as a whole. The poem describes the odd amazements of nature‘s marks and beauty in intentional imperfections. Hopkins engages and puzzles the reader with the abrupt question “Who knows how?” to encourage them to think about how only God knows how all these things come about.

    Gerard Manley Hopkins poses this rhetorical question to lead readers into the explanation that is to come in the following lines of the poem.


    “With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim1 (Line 9)

    Gerard Manley Hopkins uses oxymorons, or contradictory terms in close proximity, to answer the question “Who knows how?” in a detailed yet indirect fashion. The poet suggests that all these things he has listed include such variation because God can bring forth beauty in a multitude of ways—in “swift” or “slow” time, in “sweet” or “sour” tastes, in dazzling or “dim” light. Though these pairs appear to be oxymorons as they are opposites, they actually come together to suggest the singular infinite capacity of God. Hopkins suggests that nature, in all its unique beauty and variation, reflects God, who can work and be seen in an infinite number of ways.

    Pied Beauty - Key Takeaways

    • ‘Pied Beauty’ was written by Gerard Manley Hopkins in 1877.
    • ‘Pied Beauty’ is a poem of praise and thanks to God for the magnificence of his creation.
    • ‘Pied Beauty’ is a curtal, or shortened sonnet.
    • The tone of ‘Pied Beauty’ is exulting and awestruck, or amazed.
    • Key themes in ‘Pied Beauty’ are the beauty of nature’s variations, and nature as a reflection of God.
    • ’Pied Beauty’ uses literary devices such as imagery, alliteration, rhetorical question, oxymoron, and rhyme.

    1 ‘Pied Beauty,’ Poems by Gerard Manley Hopkins, 1918.

    Frequently Asked Questions about Pied Beauty

    What is the meaning of ‘Pied Beauty’?

    The literal meaning of the title ‘Pied Beauty’ is something that is beautiful in being multicolored. Hopkins’ poem, ‘Pied Beauty’ is a poem of praise to God for his ability to create things with such great detail, variety, and mysterious design. 

    What things are focused on in ‘Pied Beauty’?

    In ‘Pied Beauty,’ Hopkins focuses on the imagery of the sky, a brindled cow, the red spots on trout, coal, chestnuts, finches’ wings, an agricultural landscape, and work tools to present the glory of God in the everyday world.

    What is the tone of ‘Pied Beauty’?

    The tone of ‘Pied Beauty’ is exulting and awestruck by the wonders of God and his creation. The poet is in awe of God’s boundless creative capacity. He exults, or praises God’s ability to create in such varied, mysterious, and even opposing ways.

    What is Hopkins praising in ‘Pied Beauty’?

    In ‘Pied Beauty,’ Hopkins is praising God and God’s boundless creative capabilities. 

    What is the poem ‘Pied Beauty’ about?

    The poem ‘Pied Beauty’ is about how God’s nature and power is reflected in the details of world around us.

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