Reading Hopkins in the Pizza Parlor

I am sitting in the pizza parlor on campus thinking about Gerard Manley Hopkins’ poem “Pied Beauty,” which my mom brought back to my attention this week.

Glory be to God for dappled things –
For skies of couple-colour as a brinded cow;

That first line always makes me think of the shadows of leaves on grass and park benches. After looking up “brinded”—gray or tawny with darker streaks or spots—I picture the irregular clumps of brown on Guernsey cows floating through the sky. I’ve loved this poem for years simply for sounding so good, not knowing at all what that second line meant.

leaf shadows
© Copyright Derek Harper and licensed for reuse under this Creative Commons License

MTV U plays endless music videos on multiple, large TV screens, and I am the only one watching. The college students at whom the barrage is aimed don’t spare it a second glance. I wonder if they would notice if it simply disappeared. I suspect the students would notice their own words, suddenly lacking a soundtrack, made loud in the silence. They might notice the steadiness of light when the images flashing continuously at the edge of their vision disappeared. In other words, they would notice both absence and presence.

For rose-moles all in stipple upon trout that swim;
Fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls; finches’ wings;

I Google images of chestnuts to confirm that they are indeed dark enough to resemble coals in a fire. My favorite part here is the simplest—”finches’ wings”—because how spectacular in their complexity and function are birds’ wings.

Or maybe the students’ brains are wired so differently from mine that I can’t conceive of what they would and wouldn’t notice. I sometimes think of how impossible it is for us to enter another’s point of view, to know what they’re experiencing in any given moment even if we know that person well.

Landscape plotted and pieced – fold, fallow, and plough;
And áll trádes, their gear and tackle and trim.

Anyone who’s flown over the Midwest has seen “Landscape plotted and pieced.” And who can deny the beauty of a well-plowed field, straight rows ready for planting or already harboring the seeds that will magically feed us?

I could add to this list the green-browning hills around campus, the triumphant wildflowers hidden alongside the music building, the bodies of the young men and women surrounding me, perfect in their physicality though likely none of them knows the beauty of their own smooth skin. But MTV U? What would Hopkins make of this constant bombardment of sounds and images?

I suppose it is, after all, dappled. Glory be to God.

Pied Beauty
By Gerard Manley Hopkins

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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