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Pied Beauty

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May 16, 2010 Tags: Worship & Arts

Today's entry was written by the BioLogos Editorial Team. You can read more about what we believe here.

Victorian poet and Jesuit priest Gerard Manley Hopkins was noted for his focus on both religious and natural subjects, often intertwining the two. His sonnet “Pied Beauty” (published 29 years after his death) is just one example of Hopkins’ masterful ability to connect the beauty of nature with the wonder of God.

The poem begins with a clear call to worship (“Glory be to God”) before taking readers through vivid images of creation. As the title suggests, these images -- “skies of couple-colour” and “fresh-firecoal chesnut” -- stitch together to convey the diverse and changing beauty of God’s creation, much like the patches of a quilt.

As we weave through the images, caught up in the alliteration and sprung rhythm of Hopkins’ verse, we can feel the wonder and excitement of God’s creation building until the poem reaches its short yet powerful final line. Indeed, as we look back at the dappled beauty of the world Hopkins describes, what can we do but “praise him”?

Pied Beauty

By Gerard Manley Hopkins

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 all trades, 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.

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Martin Rizley - #14108

May 19th 2010

Beaglelady,  The existing languages on earth today have developed out of earlier languages that were spoken in the past.  For example, Spanish, Portuguese, French, Latin, Romanian, Italian, Catalan, as well as numerous other southern European dialects, all have their roots in Latin, and it could be said that they have developed out of Latin.  Linguists point to similarities between languages on a much wider scale, however, linking Sanskrit in India to European languages, and thus, they speak of the “Indo-European” family of languages (Interestingly, Japheth is often referrred to as the father of the Indo-European peoples, since the territories settled by his descendants—according to ancient historians like Josephus, Herodotus, Strabo, and Plutarch—- stretched from the northwest corner of Europe to the Indian sub-continent.)  It is really impossible today to tell how how many different languages were involved in the ORIGINAL dision of languages that took place at Babel.  The development of various ‘families’ of languages that bear strong similarity to each other is really a post-Babel development, in my opinion.

beaglelady - #14115

May 19th 2010

So God confused the languages and then they became more alike?

Martin Rizley - #14120

May 19th 2010

Beaglelady,  In a sense, you’re right.  Keep in mind that God confused the languages for a specific purpose—so that the people would be forced to “fill the earth” as He had commanded after the flood.  The people did not want to obey God’s ordinance; by dividing their tongues, therefore, God forced them to “scatter” and fill the earth, leading to the development of distinct nations and cultures.  It is not surprising, therefore, that variations of the original languages at Babel evolved over time by a natural development, due to the constant migration and isolation of populations.  This has led to the development of ‘language families’—languages which are closely related to each other, but not to languages belonging to other families.  None of the similarities between particular languages that now exist are universal among all the languages of the earth, however, so the linguistic division created at Babel remains to this day, although by the grace of God, those barriers have been partly overcome through the process of foreign language acquisition and the establishment of ‘trade languages’ for use in international relations.  ,

Syman Stevens - #14128

May 19th 2010

@ Charlie - #13896

“The poem goes through many beautiful things and attributes them to God, but then commands the reader to praise him because of the beauty?  Like I said in some of the other “beauty” posts, the fact that we humans interpret beauty in certain things does not imply a divine creator was responsible for it.  I really don’t get the connection between seeing something beautiful and linking it to God.”

Hi Charlie. We’re currently working on a series that touches on this sort question.  If all goes well, it should be ready soon.  Watch for a set of blogs by Oliver Barclay.

beaglelady - #14129

May 19th 2010

Yours is an interesting interpretation.  At any rate, have a blessed Pentecost!  At my church we wear red on Pentecost, in remembrance of the tongues of flame representing the Holy Spirit.  Does your church do something similar?

Martin Rizley - #14141

May 19th 2010

To be honest, like many Baptist churches, we are pretty “low church” and tend to pay little attention to the church calendar,  although (as a general rule) I do preach thematically related sermons at Christmas, Easter, Thanksgiving, and Mother’s Day.  Probably few in our congregation are even aware that this Sunday has been designated on the church calendar as Pentecost Sunday—although I will probably mention that fact, especially since I will be preaching on the Tower of Babel.

Mark Sprinkle - #14238

May 20th 2010

Charlie,Martin, Beaglelady, Headless, et al.—

This may be too late to make a difference now, but I’d like to point out that the discussion here has only a tangential relationship to the poem and what it’s trying to get at.  Charlie, your point is well taken, but I wonder if the poem wouldn’t seem like such a trite statement of piety if you noticed that the “beauty” being celebrated here is, well, “pied”—spotted, disorderly, even random.  This is not the Nautilus, the Perfect Rose, etc., but the strange, humble, broken ordinariness of the world, including it’s cycles of decay and rebirth.  There is implicit in Hopkins’  “who knows how?” a humility AND openness to wonder and discovery and surprise—a synthesis that ought to mark our practice of both science and faith, though too often we lack one or the other.  In the end, then, the “Praise Him!” is not a command to you, but an exclamation of curious astonishment on the poet’s part.  Does it address the issue of evil? No. But perhaps the idea that Christians can attend to what’s really in front of us without trying to shoe-horn creation into our narrow categories could be the starting place for further discussion.  peace to you.

Charlie - #14379

May 21st 2010


In your eyes, cycles of decay and rebirth are random?  Check out some of the other posts on randomness.  We cannot actually claim something to be random, there are just too many variables for us to predict the outcome.  Also, how do you interpret “praise him” to be an exclamation of curious astonishment?  Praise him=wow that’s amazing?

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