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Gerard Manley Hopkins’ "Pied Beauty" and "The Habit of Perfection"

Poetry became my passion after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class circa 1962.

Introduction and Text of "Pied Beauty"

The speaker in Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem/hymn, "Pied Beauty," offers a tribute to the Creator for all things natural and human inspired, with special emphasis on things that are multi-colored, dotted, striped, and patterned in ingenious ways.

The poem employs Hopkins’ famed sprung rhythm and unique rime scheme: ABCABCDBCDC. The poem may be considered a curtal, an eleven-line sonnet, which Hopkins coined to describe the form he employed in certain of his poems, including "Pied Beauty."

While the speaker’s emphasis in on beauty, by contrasting things that are widely touted as unpleasant yet possess a certain aura of unique loveliness, he ultimately leaves the impression that God has made all of creation to reflect a certain style of beauty.

Thus, the speaker begins by giving all "glory" to God for all these created things, and he concludes by insisting that God be praised for giving mankind these many patterned objects of beauty.

God and beauty are being weighed in special terms as the speaker creates in his hymn a drama of oppositional tension that results in the creation of balance and harmony.

Through appreciation and praising God for his gifts, mankind learns that balance and harmony in order to complete life’s goals and purposes.

Pied Beauty

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.

. . .

To view the exact style of placement that Hopkins created, please visit "Pied Beauty" at Poetry Foundation.

Reading of "Pied Beauty"

Commentary on "Pied Beauty"

Father Hopkins’ poem remarkably enlists several synonyms for the important title term, "pied." Those synonyms are dappled, couple-colour, brinded (archaic form of brindled), stipple, and freckled.

All of those terms refer to multi-color or dotted patterns that so often appear in nature, that this observant human heart finds divinely inspired.

The poem is, therefore, a hymn honoring the Supreme Creator of all that exists. The piece offers gratitude that the Heavenly Father-Creator has fashioned His world to provide delight for His children.

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First Movement: A Pattern of Gratitude

Glory be to God for dappled things –

The speaker begins by glorifying the Creator-God for having effected His world to include objects that are multi-spotted and multi-colored.

While the speaker undoubtedly offers God all glory to everything in creation, he also glorifies his Creator for not only things but also events. The act of creation remains of particular interest.

The speaker appears to be concentrating on a certain style and pattern that the Almighty has chosen to bestow on certain of His creatures and things. And this devout speaker remains most appreciative of those patterns.

Thus, the glory, the honor, and the achievement of God have infused this speaker’s heart and mind to express gratitude.

Second Movement: Examples of All Things Dappled

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.

The speaker then offers examples of those "dappled" things for which he is offering glory to God. He appreciates the sky that ofttimes appears as multi-colored as a spotted bovine.

The speaker is thankful also for the patterns that are dotted over the bodies of "trout that swim." These stippling patterns resemble small mole-like roses as they decorate the skin of those fish.

This observant, devout speaker also adores the beauty of fallen chestnuts that resemble freshly set-ablaze fire coals on a grate or in a stove. He also uses the "finches’ wings" to exemplify his appreciation for things "dappled." The wings of finches are often layered strips.

The speaker then widens his example to include even the "[l]andscape" or the farmers’ fields that the farmer has "plotted and pieced" in order to plough and "fold" or allow to lie "fallow."

He finds those patterns to be offering the glory that all "dappled" things offer; thus, he honors them by mentioning them as an example.

In fact, every commercial endeavor deserves a nod along with the instruments, their tools, which he refers to as "gear," "tackle," and "trim."

Third Movement: The Spice of Variety

All things counter, original, spare, strange;

In the second stanza, beginning with the third movement, the speaker shifts from simple spotted, multi-colored things to everything remaining that runs against expectation, or that is original and unique, or things that seem simple, and things that appear odd.

Because creation seems to offer an infinite number of styles, patterns, and ways of being, the speaker now wishes to praise God and glorify the Divine Maker by recognizing the Creator’s penchant for variety.

If the old adage, "variety is the spice of life," possesses any truth, then certainly the Heavenly Father-God is responsible for the creation of those spices. This speaker thus widens his scope for gratitude.

Fourth Movement: Things That Change

Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;

The speaker then offers further elucidation for the other components that make up his glossary of things that deserve attention and appreciation because of their having been offered to humankind by the Ultimate Reality, the Supreme Creator of the cosmos.

So the speaker reports that all things, beings, creatures that possess the quality of fickleness or changeability belong to his list of things that honor and give glory to God. Even "freckled" things, of which no one can define the origin, belong to this category.

Those "fickle" and "freckled" things all have several qualities in common; thus, they may exist and behave with speed or move measuredly.

They may possess the opposite flavors of sweetness or sourness. Some may also reflect light blazingly while others remain muted and subdued.

Regardless of the unique qualities, they are all part of the Blessèd Creator’s offerings to His children for their pleasure or for their edification or to light whatever pathway they are destined to follow.

Fifth Movement: That Which Does not Change

He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.

The speaker then concludes with a command, "Praise him." In the beginning, he made it clear that he was offering all glory to God for the things He has given through creation. Now he offers his stern command, but before that command he offers the reason that such praise is due Him.

The father of all this beauty continues, and although He Himself is "past change" or without the necessity to change Himself, He continues to offer through creation a beauty that is many faceted, multi-colored, multi-stippled, and brindled.

And all things remain on a spectrum that humankind cannot duplicate but is surely obligated to honor, appreciate, and glorify in the name of Father-God.

Gerard Manley Hopkins' "The Habit of Perfection"

Father Hopkins' poem, "The Habit of Perfection," dramatizes the importance of silencing and stilling each of the five senses in order to advance in the spiritual realm.

Introduction and Text of "The Habit of Perfection"

The title, "The Habit of Perfection," of Gerard Manley Hopkins' poem features a pun on the term "habit." As a monk, the poet had accepted the garb of the monastic, sometimes called a habit. Of course, the ordinary meaning of common routine also functions fully.

About the importance of silence, Paramahansa Yogananda has averred, "What joy awaits discovery in the silence behind the portals of your mind no human tongue can tell" (Spiritual Diary).

Jesuit Priest Gerard Manley Hopkins concurs with the Indian guru's claim. Father Hopkins' poem dramatizes the bliss of silence in seven rimed quatrains, each with the rime scheme, ABAB, featuring his famous sprung rhythm and inscape techniques.

The devotee/speaker commands each of his senses to cease their normal functioning, in order that his soul may meditate in holy silence and commune with the Divine.

(Please note: The spelling, "rhyme," was introduced into English by Dr. Samuel Johnson through an etymological error. For my explanation for using only the original form, please see "Rime vs Rhyme: An Unfortunate Error.")

The Habit of Perfection

Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

Reading of "The Habit of Perfection"

Commentary on "The Habit of Perfection"

Father Hopkins' poem, "The Habit of Perfection," dramatizes the importance of silencing and stilling each of the five senses in order to advance in the spiritual realm.

First Quatrain: Devotee of the Spiritual Path

Elected Silence, sing to me
And beat upon my whorlèd ear,
Pipe me to pastures still and be
The music that I care to hear.

The speaker reveals himself to be a devotee on the spiritual path, as he converses with "Elected Silence"; the devotee chooses silence as the place where inner awareness starts, remembering the biblical injunction, "Be still, and know that I am God" (Psalm 46:10 King James Version).

The speaker metaphorically likens his Elected Silence to music, capable of singing to him and beating upon his eardrum. This silence "pipe[s him] to pastures" in the mind which he wants to still. He, therefore, asks silence to be "the music that [he cares] to hear."

Second Quatrain: Commanding the Senses

Shape nothing, lips; be lovely-dumb:
It is the shut, the curfew sent
From there where all surrenders come
Which only makes you eloquent.

As an adjunct to the auditory sense, speaking or moving the lips must cease as well as catching sounds with the ear; thus, the speaker bids his lips to remain "lovely-dumb."

He tells his lips to form no sounds, stressing that the eloquent speech of the devotee is in his surrender to the Divine. The devotee must remain silent in order to hear the voice of Divinity.

Third Quatrain: Calming the Sense of Sight

Be shellèd, eyes, with double dark
And find the uncreated light:
This ruck and reel which you remark
Coils, keeps, and teases simple sight.

The speaker then bids his eyes remain closed. He commands them to seek "double dark" beyond which they can encounter the "uncreated light." In their seeking, the eyes may experience flashes of unearthly light that "[c]oils, keeps, and teases simple sight."

But the devotee's goal is to become so calm that the physical eyes cease to catch mere glimpses, while the spiritual eye becomes operational.

Fourth Quatrain: Calming the Sense of Taste

Palate, the hutch of tasty lust,
Desire not to be rinsed with wine:
The can must be so sweet, the crust
So fresh that come in fasts divine!

The speaker/devotee orders his sense of taste to cease its intrusion upon the soul. He specifically commands his taste buds not to crave wine. The sense of taste must be subdued by fasting, wherein the urge for food and drink become swallowed up in the bliss of Divine communion.

Fifth Quatrain: Calming the Sense of Smell

Nostrils, your careless breath that spend
Upon the stir and keep of pride,
What relish shall the censers send
Along the sanctuary side!

The sense of smell accompanies the act of breathing, and in meditation, breathing slows until it stops in deepest awareness of the Divine. The speaker commands his nose by asserting the premise that it functions through a sense of pride, which is damaging to the humbleness necessary for Divine awareness.

Sixth Quatrain: Calming the Sense of Touch

O feel-of-primrose hands, O feet
That want the yield of plushy sward,
But you shall walk the golden street
And you unhouse and house the Lord.

The speaker then promises his greedy hands and feet, which desire softness and comfort, that they will be rewarded to walk the golden street, if they cooperate in sacrificing their worldly comforts for heavenly ones.

Seventh Quatrain: Union of Soul and Divine

And, Poverty, be thou the bride
And now the marriage feast begun,
And lily-coloured clothes provide
Your spouse not laboured-at nor spun.

In the final quatrain, the speaker alludes to Jesus' command not to become overly conscious about one's clothes:

And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow; they toil not, neither do they spin: And yet I say unto you, That even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. (Matthew 6:28-29 KJV)

The speaker avers that taking Poverty as his bride, he will enjoy all the comforts of heaven. As a monastic, the speaker has taken a vow of poverty or simplicity because he is seeking treasures not afforded by the material world.

As he silences and calms all the senses, his true marriage feast begins, his marriage or union with the Divine, in Whom all worthwhile treasures are acquired and all worthy goals are achieved.

This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.

© 2022 Linda Sue Grimes

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