Gerard Manley Hopkins, son of earnest High Church Anglicans, converted to Roman Catholicism in 1845 while under the tutelage of John Henry Newman (“Moses the Type of Christ”). The Catholic Church, unlike its Anglican counterpart, represented a strong institution — one whose voice resonated with authority. After joining the Society of Jesus in 1868 and subsequently taking a four-year sabbatical from writing poetry — mistakenly perceiving the practice to possess self-indulgent and overly individualistic qualities — Hopkins addressed his work with a newfound religious fervor. His “Pied Beauty” (1877), for example, speaks to God as the Creator — divine architect of the world and all it encapsulates.

    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.

The poem opens with a declaration — “Glory be to God for dappled things” — that suggests the author’s reverence for God, the Creator. Hopkins proceeds to detail various “dappled things” that owe their existence to God, from the elements of the landscape to the creatures inhabiting the earth. The second stanza turns from these corporeal variations to the more spiritual, moral characteristics of the world. In listing several paradoxical traits — “swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim” — Hopkins emphasizes the spectrum of emotions and intangible qualities present in these physical entities. God, as the divine Creator, bears responsibility for the diversity and variability that exists in the world — physical and spiritual, material and impalpable. The poem’s final sentiment (“Praise him”) commands readers to venerate God, who “fathers-forth” all things beautiful.

The phrase “Glory be to God” stems from the motto of Hopkins’ Jesuit society, Ad majorem Dei gloriam, which, when translated, reads, "to the greater glory of God." The concept of championing God and His word resonates deeply with the Jesuit culture: they strive constantly toward expanding the Roman Catholic Church through preaching the “greater glory of God.” Predating the Jesuits, however, the phrase “Glory be to God” or, simply, “Glory to God” can be found scattered throughout the Bible. Perhaps the most well-known passage comes from Luke 2:12-14, which details the birth of Christ and the consequent glorification of God for His deliverance of the Savior.

[12] And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

[13] And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

[14] Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

The exaltation of God as the Creator — deliverer of all things beautiful and good — is a central motif of Catholicism, weaving itself throughout passages of scripture and the culture surrounding the Roman Catholic Church.

Questions

1. Why would Hopkins have chosen to praise God specifically “for dappled things”? How does this distinction in the first line relate to the poem’s title, “Pied Beauty” (the OED defines “pied” as marked, dappled, or speckled with)? What makes those animals and objects that are “dappled” or “pied” particularly beautiful? Note, too, the prevalence of the dappled falcon in Hopkins’ “The Windhover.”

2. Hopkins uses alliteration frequently, as is evident in phrases like “couple-colour,” “fickle, freckled,” and “swift, slow; sweet, sour.” What are the effects of this stylistic feature?

3. In the second stanza, Hopkins asserts that God is also credited with the creation of “All things counter, original, spare, strange.” Why is Hopkins sure to include “strange,” or unconventional, things in a poem that praises the creations of God? What statement is he making about the value of “all things”?


G. M. Hopkins Leading Questions Leading Questions

Last modified 22 April 2011