Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
- The speaker expands and elaborates upon his list of things for which to praise God.
- Rather than list specific objects, he uses adjectives to describe their qualities.
- The items in the list are characterized by their uniqueness. They are "counter" to what is normal; they are original, they are "spare" and don't appear in great numbers; and they are "strange" or unusual.
- Remember, in this poem, Hopkins is primarily concerned with the quirky and unusual things in nature.
Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
- This line gives two more adjectives to add to our main adjective, "dapple."
- Surprise, surprise, they begin with the same letter: "fickle" means something that changes a lot, and "freckled" returns to the topic of spots or dots.
- In other contexts, "fickle" can be a negative quality in a person who changes his or her mind too often, but in nature, fickleness brings about new things at which we can marvel.
- In parentheses, the speaker voices his private wonder at how all these things acquired their "pied beauty."
With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
- Check out the semi-colons in this line. They mark the division between three pairs of opposites: fast and slow, sweet and sour, and bright ("adazzle") and dim.
- The speaker doesn't know how it's possible for one thing to be "freckled" with two opposite qualities.
- Think of a slice of sugary lemon cake, which is both sweet and sour. Hopkins would be in ecstasies over that slice of cake. How'd they do that?
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
- The speaker says that God is the "father" of all these beautiful things, but his own beauty never changes.
- According to Christian thought, God remains the same even as the world he created constantly shifts and flows.
- We think that Hopkins must have read his Shakespeare. The phrase "fathers-forth," which means "to bring into existence," resembles a line from Shakespeare's Hamlet. The character Hamlet sarcastically notes that his mother's marriage to his uncle after his father's death was so fast that "The funeral bak'd meats did coldly furnish forth the marriage tables" (Act 1, Scene 2).
- The end of the poem circles back to the beginning of the poem and the idea of praise and glory.
- The phrase "Praise Him" occurs over and over again the Psalms, and Psalm 148 in particular.
- This simple declaration of humility contrasts with the high-flying language and rhetoric that comes before.
- This statement could be a two-word summary for the entire poem.