by Gerard Manley Hopkins
Pied Beauty Theme of Transience
According to "Pied Beauty," the beauty of the earth is dependent on change. With the help of our microscopes and telescopes, we now know that when you look close enough, both the macro and microscopic appear "dappled." Hopkins sees the same patterns of transient beauty in the greatness of a clouded sky or the smallness of finches' wings. According to the speaker of this poem, God is the only being that does not change. God brings change into the world, like a person who slowly turns a kaleidoscope. Hopkins adopts the Catholic view that God is the only unity in the world – everything else exists in diversity.
Questions About Transience
- Why is God "past change"? And when, then, is change a good thing?
- In a famous poem called "Sunday Morning," Wallace Stevens argues that "Death is the mother of beauty" because death brings change. Do you think Hopkins would agree, disagree, or would he want to tweak Stevens's idea?
- Do all of the various "dappled things" in the poem change in the same way, or in different ways? How, exactly, are they "transient"?
- How would you define the word "fickle" in its context in line 8? In what contexts have you heard the word used before?
Chew on This
The poem argues that worldly beauty is created through the cycles of life and death.
Although "Pied Beauty" speaks of God's "beauty," the poem has no means of evaluating the beauty of God, because in the poem God is praised according to the beauty of creation, which is changeable. In other words, there is no absolute concept of beauty that does not change.