Additional authors: Robert Gibbons, and Johana Gibbons Schliesser
I have been in love with nature since I was old enough to know what my eyes were seeing. I picked every tulip in my neighbor’s garden for my mother one late spring day when I was seven. I brought home quart canning bottles with holes punched in the lids, containing bees and butterflies and grasshoppers to set on the kitchen table during dinner.
In college, as a project for my Master’s degree, I prepared a multi-media production using music, three projectors, and more than 400 slides, along with recorded music, to try an convey some of my feelings about the beauty and variety of the creation.
I wrote about my love for the creative genius of the Father and the Son in an article for Meridian some time ago.
I have been reminded often by the scriptures that our world is the handiwork of an Almighty God who is filled with love and wants us to know it.
My feelings of reverence and wonder were multiplied when my daughter came home from high school one day and asked for help with an assignment to write a paper on a poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins called “Pied Beauty.”
I read the poem several times and marveled at Hopkins’ linguistic skills and poetic power, and I was breathless with delight at the world he described.
Here is the poem and the paper my daughter and I prepared.
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 all trades, 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:
—Gerard Manley Hopkins
Imagine comparing a beautiful sky to a cow. Gerard Manley Hopkins shows us such a sky, “couple-colour as a brinded cow,” in his poem, along with other grandeurs of God’s creations. Using striking and surprising words to reveal what the mind of God has conceived, and what the hands of God have created, he has written a poem of praise to the glory of God. Mr. Hopkins opens his heart and gives us a glimpse of the reverence he feels for the handiwork of the Almighty. Hopkins’ diction shows us a poet’s palette of unanticipated linguistic splendor.
The poet tells us at the beginning what he intends to tell us in this work in praise of divine wonder. The first four words, “Glory be to God,” are at once the introduction to and the summation of this poem. But Hopkins will funnel his interest into only one of the wonderful manifestations of that glory. It is a manifestation presented in the title: “Pied Beauty.” The word “pied” has myriad meanings: words and phrases such as jumbled, mixed up, patchy in color, splotched, a mixed and disordered condition, and variegated with spots of different colors, all convey a sense of what Hopkins means to teach us. The world he celebrates in this poem is truly a world of “pied beauty.”
Part of the beauty he extols is the beauty of color, but his perception of the colors of creation is singular. Listen to his color-words: “dappled,” “brinded,” “stippled, fresh-firecoal.” His “dappled things” are things with mottled markings or spots. He paints a sky of, “couple-colour as a brinded cow,” a sky that is tawny or grayish with streaks or spots of a darker color.
His trout are dotted, flecked, or speckled; they have “rose-mole in all stipple.” Whether as a fisherman or as an observer, he has seen fish with atypical eyes, and loved the scarlet slash and freckled loveliness of a darting trout. Most people look at autumn colors and see orange, yellow, or red. He sees the luminous flame of “fresh-firecoal chestnut-falls;” most people see flying birds, but he sees the shimmering flash of “finches’ wings,” and he knows who created it all. “Pied beauty” indeed! Gerard Manley Hopkins glorifies a God of unequaled imagination and composition.
But Hopkins’ God is more than just the God of colors; he is the God of diversity. God’s world, and this poem, show a “landscape plotted and pieced…fold, fallow, and plough . . .” Farmers’ fields have the symmetry and variety of a pieced quilt, in unending variations of green. However, in this portion of the poem, we see another element in Hopkins’ description. Men, not God, plot and piece the landscape, as they “fold, fallow, and plough.” Men labor in their trades, with all their “gear and tackle and trim.” Hopkins seems to feel passionate gratitude for a world that is not one color, one size, one shape, one thing. He rejoices in a world of infinite variety, and a world in which men and women share a small part of God’s creative diversity.
The writer reveals more than a planet of dazzling color and abounding diversity. He acknowledges God’s hand in the preparation of an environment of curious creations and enchanting contrast. Hopkins worships the maker of a universe where “all things counter, original, spare, strange . . . fickle, freckled,” and a world of opposites, where things are “swift, slow; sweet, sour; adazzle, dim.”
The God whom Hopkins praises uses light and color to paint sunsets, rainbows, butterflies, and flower gardens. He uses the breadth of his stunning intellect to create arresting absurdities and delightful diversity. The world has more than three hundred species of frogs. The state of Ohio has one hundred and forty-four species of butterflies. The world also demonstrates striking contrasts: light and dark, sun and rain, warmth and cold, gentle breezes and raging thunderstorms. Hopkins worships a God who deserves to be worshiped. Buried beneath each line of this poem is an invitation to love God more by looking at the world through new eyes. At the conclusion of his poem, Hopkins says it perfectly. “He fathers-forth whose beauty is past change: Praise him.”
About the time that my daughter wrote this piece, my son wrote a poem on the creation and creativity of God for a class at BYU. His insights delighted me with the same feelings that enlivened me in the poem by Gerard Manley Hopkins. Here is what he wrote:
The Greatest Author of Them All
A fan of fantasy I have always been
Intrigued by goblins, dragons, wizards, elves
Books and books of epics, thick and thin
Are stacked and stuffed along my many shelves
But strange enough, and true, I’d make the call
That I quite ably could outdo them all.
So grand, complex, far-fetched would be my Earth
With mystic beasts and magic therein set
I’d blast all other fiction; mine is worth
A thousand brilliant minds! And yet–
I know of one whose tale is so unique
That nothing can compare. Already old,
Not Tolkien, no, this man of whom I speak,
Who wrought the greatest story ever told
The oddest concepts central to his theme
Himself an ancient writer was the first
To ever think and act upon a dream
My best could never equal this man’s worst
What wild imagination, jammed within
Of life! The green-clad, hard-shelled, wrinkly-skinned
Which in a moment retract their pods back in
And hide themselves inside themselves; I stand
In awe at such a strange idea; it is
Profound. I never would have thought of that
Myself, and that is only one of his
Great visions! Such a mind beneath his hat!
The long-necked brute, the lengthy-snouted beast,
The weightless wings, the ice, the fire, food!
Abundance greets our eyes at every feast.
The rocks that tower high above have stood
For ages, while the valleys sleep below
Where roses, colors! sprout up from the ground
And trumpets, music! melodies will blow
And senses. Why a taste or touch or sound?
And love! What kind of abstract notion that?
Who made the loyal dog? The mouse? The cat?
And thought up all the silly games they play?
A world with night, the moon, the sun, the day
The heat, the cold, and countries! Greece and Rome
The Universe, the dream, the wind, the poem.
Design? Perhaps this same idea touched Frost
Though on his mind I think the point was lost.
If I had brains enough and time to weave
An Earth so rich in spirit and full of wit,
A thing that I myself would not believe
Could actually exist–
This would be it
Robert W. Gibbons