In "Pied Beauty," Gerard Manley Hopkins writes a paean to "dappled things" in the form of a modified prayer. The opening line commences with a traditional Christian benediction, but quickly moves on to the unexpected. The first stanza juggles, juxtaposes and entangles many examples of "pied beauty," creating a sense of the multifarious vastness of creation:
The second stanza moves from description of the "dappled things" to wonderment about their creator. The rhythmic pace of the lines increases, propelling the reader to the commanding final half-line, which rings out with definitive simplicity after the complex wordplay and contradiction of that which preceded it.
The obscurity of Hopkins' language challenges ready interpretation. Peter Cosgrove quotes James Milroy's claim that "the dense texture and richness of the language dominates to such an extent that the topic of the poem seems almost to be forgotten" (447). The reader often has to dislocate the words from their assigned positions in order to explicate them and formulate an idea of their referent. Cosgrove suggests that this separation between sound and content might "provide a creative tension for explaining the limits of representation . . . the linguistic strenuousness is acknowledging the problem of using a verbal medium to create a pictorial image" (447). Creating a pictorial image does seem to be on Hopkins' mind, since many of his descriptions in the first stanza are reminiscent of word-painting, as found in the art criticism of John Ruskin. Hopkins, in fact, wrote to his friend and editor Robert Bridges that "wordpainting is, in the verbal arts, the great success of our day." He even employs "stipple" in line three, a specific artistic technique of using small dots to portray degrees of solidity or shading. The desire for visual language abounds in Hopkins, though, as Cosgrove states, his propensity for verbal and formal innovation may impede effective word-painting.
1. Does Hopkins' offbeat and dense style distract the reader from forming a visual image of the verse's content?
2. Does the interaction between the poem's aesthetics and its larger meaning have parallels to any Pre-Raphaelite paintings? Ruskin's theories of beauty and the role of visual art in capturing "nature's infinite variety"?
3. Hopkins seems concerned with the realistic portrayal of nature in his poetry. Can a poet use figurative language to evoke an image and still remain true to its intrinsic nature?
4. How does the initial and final invocation of the traditional prayer form interact with visual aspects of the verse?
Bump, Jerome. 'Victorian Religious Discourse as Palimpsest: Hopkins, Pusey and Muller.' Religion and the Arts 5.1 (2001): 13-33.
Cosgrove, Peter. "Hopkins's 'The Windhover': Not Ideas about the Thing but the Thing Itself." Poetics Today 25.3 (2004): 437-464.
Heller, Kevin. "Hopkins's 'Pied Beauty." The Explicator 59.4 (2001): 190.
Landow, George P. "Chapter 6: "Typological Structures" in Victorian Types, Victorian Shadows: Biblical Typology in Victorian Literature, Art and Thought. The Victorian Web.
Wagner, Jennifer A. "The Allegory of Form in Hopkins's Religious Sonnets." Nineteenth-Century Literature 47.1 (1992): 32-48.
Witemeyer, Hugh. "Introduction." George Eliot and the Visual Arts. span class="website">The Victorian Web.
Last modified 11 October 2007