A Poem a Day: Divinely Dappled Things

Hopkins, Icon by Fr. William McNichols

Hopkins, Icon by Fr. William McNichols

“The effect of studying masterpieces is to make me admire and do otherwise. So it must be on every original artist to some degree, on me to a marked degree.” (Hopkins, from notes on ‘Heraclitean Fire’)

Gerard Manley Hopkins was an unexpected artistic genius. A brilliant student who studied poetry and the classics at Oxford university in 1863, he converted from Anglicanism to Catholicism, became a Jesuit priest, and withdrew from the world of pleasure to a life of austerity and obedience. He burned all his early poems to mark this early renunciation.

He managed to find God, however, in poetry when he began writing again in 1876. Hopkins created the meter form known as sprung rhythm: it counts only stressed syllables, and breaks up the sometimes pounding rhythm of the more popular iambic pentameter (consider Shakespeare’s: “Shall-I, com-PARE, thee-TO, a SUM, mers-DAY?”). Personally, I admire Hopkins for following his spiritual calling and reconciling it to what was clearly a distinct artistic ability and poetic brilliance. Read: I wish I could be brilliant and become famous, and have the choice to not quit by day job.

Pied Beauty

Glory be to God for dappled things –
   For skies of couple-colour as a brinded 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 áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.
All things counter, original, spare, strange;
   Whatever is fickle, freckled (who knows how?)
      With swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim;
He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change:
                                Praise him.
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