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The title of the poem itself is a clear indication of what follows (“pied” meaning ‘of more than one colour’), a celebration of imperfection; of diversity. The poem opens with the poet praising and thanking God for spotted or dappled (imperfect) things, “Glory be to God for dappled things”. This one line alone sends the reader into contemplation—having always associated beauty with perfection, this makes one look at things from a whole new perspective; a perspective not tainted with the artificial and superficial human ideals about beauty.
The poet then draws the reader’s attention to the ever-changing skies and compares them to a “brinded cow”. The poet uses a simile because, just like the cow, which is usually white with streaks of brown or black, the sky too is streaked with different colours: red, yellow, purple, blue, white and orange. And while most of us acknowledge the brilliance of the sky (“most of us” meaning those who take the time “to stop and smell the roses” as the saying goes) we rarely ever give a second thought to cows— let alone ever perceive them as an object of beauty.
In our quest for ‘perfection’ we tend to overlook the earthly kind of beauty. But if perfection was the key word, then clear, blue skies should hold more appeal than cloudy, stormy ones; instead, though we might wish for one now and again, blue skies would bore us pretty soon; it is the variety that keeps us enthralled. Though the things described in the poem are normal, everyday things, it takes a poet’s eye to draw our attention to the everlasting, “real” beauty.
For example, trout, which is mainly seen as a source of food, is described as something which would (or should) most definitely earn a second glance.
The word ‘mole’ usually always invokes the ungainly imagery of warts, however, in “For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim”, ‘rose’ is associated with ‘moles’, banishing all thoughts of ugliness and enabling the reader to be able to see the beauty in something as common as trout. “Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings”. Here, chestnut kernels are compared to smoldering embers; the reddish-brown meat inside the chestnut, being similar to the fiery reddish-orange hue of glowing coal.
However this alliteration is contradictory since ‘fresh’ chestnuts are covered with spiky, green moss and are most definitely not like coal; it is only when they are ripe, and burst open when they fall to the ground, that the insides are revealed. While until now, the author had been mainly dealing with two colours, “Finches’ wings” brings to mind a great big melting pot of vibrant hues; the black and white wings, the sun glinting off their airborne feathers, transforming this common bird into a kaleidoscope of colours; a blur.
This might also mark an end to the concrete references, since from the next line, things become more general and abstract (just like how one cannot pinpoint a single colour on the finches’ wings; therefore, their reference is also perhaps a glimpse of what follows…). Hopkins now talks about one of the most ancient and relevant occupations: farming. Farming is one occupation which brings humans closer to nature; helps them get in touch with their humble and down-to-earth side. However, we have now started seeing it as something mechanical; lifeless.
The joy and exhilaration our forefathers used to link with this has given way to routine; we have started taking it for granted, which is why the poet feels the need to thank God for “Landscape plotted and pieced—fold, fallow and plough”(ALLITERATION), the result of a farmer’s daily toil. And though farming has changed the land and it no longer looks natural and unspoiled, it bears harvest, which gives way to joy. And now Hopkins talks about all the other trades that have brought us closer to Nature and God: “And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim”.
Here the poet is also thanking God for all the little things that help us get by; things that we take for granted (when have we appreciated the fishing net, or the mining machines? ) The poet now moves on to “All things counter, original, spare, strange”; thereby effectively including every single component of nature. Here, the poet celebrates uniqueness as in “strange” or “original” and “spare” as in the context of being one of a kind, and balance in nature due to all things having an opposing creation-“counter”.
This tone is continued in “Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how? ). Barely has the fact that fickleness in humans is something which is looked down upon registered, that one is hit by the realization that this very fickleness in nature is exactly what makes it so appealing in the first place. ”With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim”. The poet uses these oxymorons to illustrate that it doesn’t matter if something is fast or slow, sweet or sour, because they all hold some intrinsic beauty. Here the author is once again celebrating fickleness in
nature, for something which is sour, say, an unripe apple, can also be sweet, when given enough time, there are two sides to every coin ;but each form is as valuable as the other, for example, a river, in its early stage is swift and might seem exciting and alluring with its fresh water, but as it slows down, it is just as important, for now it deposits all of the goodness it carried along with it in its early stage; or take diamonds, those dazzling lumps of carbon are not any more important than graphite, which is just another form of carbon.
The poet plays on all our sense by choosing these particular words. “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change” This gives a sense of continuity, enforced by the words, “fathers-forth” the bond remains unbroken. The beauty of His creation is transitional; they do not end, but simply moves on to become something else.
The concluding line “Praise him” is simply a reiteration of the first line and not in any way a reference to Christianity; “him” is simply God or whatever you would like to name the Divine Creator. The poem speaks of happiness; of finding joy in everything around you and being able to appreciate it. The usage of the hyphen in the first 3-4 lines is to link together words one would normally not associate with each other, thereby forcing the reader to revisit his views on the objects around him.
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