Study Guide to Pied Beauty

Study Guide to Pied Beauty

This poem is another from the series of exuberant nature poems which Hopkins composed in the year 1877 while living at St. Beuno’s in northern Wales. Besides that exuberance the poem may be best known for its experimentation with the sonnet form. You may wish to consult the terminology guide for an explanation of the curtal sonnet, which is what he called this experiment: suffice it to say here that you could think of the usual characteristics of a sonnet and then ask yourself what would happen if you multiplied them by .75! The poem also contains sprung rhythm, which will be apparent when you observe how many lines begin with falling rather than rising rhythm, in other words begin with stressed syllables rather than unstressed ones.

Some things to think about regarding the poem:

  • The first six lines (the octet if this were a regular sonnet) list six examples of the “dappled things” for which he gives God praise, in other words six inscapes which the poet takes from the world around him. Using these examples, what are “dappled things” anyway? And how might they be related to the “pied” beauty of the poem’s title?
  • Line 6 offers tradesmen’s gear as its example of pied beauty. Doesn’t that seem strange? And if so, what explanation does the remainder of the poem seem to offer?
  • The penultimate line gives the one example of a beauty that never changes. What theological or spiritual point does the poet want to make here?
  • Notice how the final line consists of only two words, both of which are placed way over to the right. The intent here is to get us to pause before we read or speak them, and also to elongate the pronunciation of them. Read them aloud and slowly: do you “hear” (see?) a double meaning in the poem’s very last word? And what might the “other” meaning of that last word say about the intent of the whole poem?

For this poem you might want to be familiar with the following terms from the Hopkins Terminology:
alliteration | assonance | coinages | curtal sonnet | inscape | parallelism | sprung rhythm

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