Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Glory be to God for dappled things –
- The speaker says that we should give glory to God for having created "dappled," or spotted things.
- If you're worried about not knowing exactly what "dappled" looks like, fear not: Hopkins is going to give you lots of examples.
- "Glory be to God" is a way of giving praise. If you've been to a service at a Christian Church, you might have heard this phrase before. Often it is sung in church hymns.
- In fact, the "hymn to creation" is a popular genre of hymn, which gives praise to God for all the things He has created. The speaker points to "dappled" things in particular.
- The "hymn to creation" is inspired by the Psalms in the Old Testament. These short songs are traditionally thought to have been written by King David of Israel (yes, the one with the sling shot who took on Goliath).
- Psalm 148 is one of the original hymns to creation:
Praise him, you highest heavens
and you waters above the skies.
Let them praise the name of the Lord,
for he commanded and they were created.
- As an ordained priest, Hopkins would have known these hymns well.
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;
- The speaker gives examples of "dappled things." In this poem, at least, "dappled" refers to things with multiplied colors.
- Hopkins's first example is really two examples in one. "Skies of couple-color" are skies that have two colors. The most obvious possibilities are blue and white in a clear sky that is "dappled" or streaked with clouds. This image in turn reminds the speaker of a "brinded cow."
- This line surely has to be the most famous usage of "brinded" in all of literature. The word means to have hair with brownish spots or streaks. It means the same thing as the more common word "brindle," often used to describe the color of dogs like boxers or pit bulls.
- "Brindle" is also a kind of cow, but maybe not the one you'd expect. If you're anything like us, you were probably thinking of the famous black-and-white Holstein cows. But brindled cows have a much more uneven coloring, usually in shades of brown.
- So there you go: a little lesson in livestock.
For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
- The small light-reddish dots or "rose-moles" on the side of trout are another example of "dappled things." They look like they have been drawn "in stipple" on the trout's body.
- "Stipple" is a technique in arts like drawing, painting, and sewing, to create texture through the use of small dots. (Here's an example.)
- Many trout, such as this Brown Trout, do have red dots on their bodies.
- You may have noticed by now that Hopkins likes to use hyphens to create new words. "Couple-color" was one example, and "rose-moles" is another.
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches' wings;
- And here come two more hyphenated words, along with two more examples of "dappled things." The first example is "Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls."
- This is probably the trickiest image in the poem, partly because we're not nearly as familiar with chestnuts as 19th-century English people would have been.
- "Chestnut-falls" is not too hard to imagine. It refers to chestnuts that have fallen off the chestnut tree. This hyphenated word points to the specific chestnuts that have fallen from the tree.
- But "Fresh-firecoal" requires some background on nuts, a field we at Shmoop like to call nut-ology.
- When they are on a tree, chestnuts are covered by a spiky, light-green covering, but the nuts themselves are reddish-brown. (Here's a picture.)
- When the nuts fall, they are "fresh" from the tree. Because of the contrast of red nuts with their outer covering, they look like the burning of coals inside a fire.
- To add another layer to this chestnut conundrum, people also like to cook these delectable nuts over fire. When the nuts get hot, they open up to reveal their "meat," inside. These opened chestnuts also look like embers.
- We're almost certain you now know more than you ever wanted to about chestnuts. Fortunately, the second example of a "dappled thing" in this line is much easier.
- Finches are small birds with streaks and spots. (Here's a photo.)
- The speaker focuses only on the finches' wings – a sign of his great attention to detail.
Landscape plotted and pieced--fold, fallow, and plough;
- Another dappled thing: the English landscape, divided up into different "plots" and "pieces" for farming and raising livestock.
- A "fold" is a fenced-in area for sheep, "fallow" describes a field that has been left empty, and the "plough" is a tool used to turn over the topsoil before planting crops.
- So far, the poem has not distinguished between big and small things. The cloud-speckled skies are comparable to the dots on a fish, despite the fact that these things are very different in size.
- Here the speaker transitions from a very small example – the "finches' wings" – to whole fields.
- He's also using a lot of alliteration, and "plotted/pierced" and "fold/fallow" are examples from this line.
- Finally, the speaker makes no distinction between untouched parts of nature and the parts that have been adapted by humans. According to the speaker, farming is a part of God's creation, just like the finches and the fish.
And all trades, their gear and tackle and trim.
- The speaker widens his focus from a single trade, or skilled job – farming – to all trades.
- He chooses three to represent the tools or accessories of all different kinds of jobs.
- Without delving too deep into their many possible uses, the words "gear and tackle and trim" point to fishing, sailing, and clothes-making, among other trades.
- "Trade" sounds old-fashioned now, but it suggests a natural connection between a person and his or her life's work.
- In this line, the dappled or spotted appearance of things becomes a metaphor for variety and mixture. In other words, the poem sets up a transition where "dappled" has a wider meaning in the second stanza.
- This meaning stands in direct contrast to the scope of the first stanza, in which the speaker focuses mainly on the visual.