Pied Beauty

September 1, 2017


The other day I again read “Pied Beauty” a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins which, despite its period, speaks to America’s present national moment of racial angst.

This is it:

“Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brindled 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; a-dazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
Praise him.”

To parse that poem for what it may mean to us, but to avoid a 21st century hate-fueled American “discussion”, we should set aside the divine patriarchal reference of its last line as well as its opener either of which might draw us into a fruitless religious debate. Regardless of who or whatever brought this world into being, what the poem clearly suggests is: beauty is intimately entangled with diversity. If you believe in God, he suggests, the world’s diversity is integral with its beauty. If you don’t nothing’s changed, it still is.

In his poem Gerard Manley has said a manly thing.  It’s manly to stare truth in the face and say, I see it! It is! It’s also womanly. It’s even gender-neutral, any of which should not scare off gun-brandishing-swastika-waving white supremacists —nor presidents for that matter. It’s cowardly on the other hand to lie in the face of truth. But, in this American moment such cowardice seems to be the apogee of careers, especially in high places.

But I digress.

In Pied Beauty Hopkins calls out diversity in colors and species —beautiful! he says. Brindled cows, stippled trout; landscapes of every configuration —beautiful! he says. Human trades countless as invention itself, all one with the world’s beauty!

And who would deny that if the world were colorless, if species were indistinguishable, if landscapes were featureless and predictable as fake firings on reality TV, if trades where such that we all spent eight hours a day or more at identical tasks —if all were as homogenized as milk ugliness would reign supreme and dreariness would be a kind of hell —though in our ego-drive to desiccate the planet and destroy its diversity this, sooner rather than later, may actually come to pass.

But I digress.

God (or not) in His (or Her’s or Other’s) wisdom has laid out for every being on the planet a smorgasbord of diverse beauty and has given only to humans the power to wreck it, yet, in the main, we remain clueless of our destructive potential and what it even means to be truly, beautifully human.

What I like most about Pied Beauty (in light of the sudden public eruptions of festering discord due to our differences) is what it says in its last stanza, how it embraces the “counter, original, spare, strange” how it wraps them in the arms of beauty. What it implies about American pluralism is that the range of our ethnicites, our skin tones, facial variations, sexual identities preferences and differences, our religious beliefs and that which runs counter —that which we may find strange, fickle, freckled… all are expressions of beauty; in fact, as Hopkins believes, of God’s beauty; because, as our myriad religious doctrines insist and as any open mind can see, God (or whatever unknown) has brought forth this diverse beauty. 

However, if you believe God did not, you may have a valid but bigoted leg to stand on. In which case you may howl ignorant hate at the moon until bronze monuments collapse of their own historical weight and no one could call you hypocrite; just please do not run through streets waving or quoting Bibles or Korans, or any other religious scriptures for that matter. Your supremacy and superiority would then be only in hypocrisy and ugliness …and in making grotesque electoral choices.

But I digress.

Jim Culleny


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