Ugly: Part 6, Pied Beauty

In my most recent church class on Ugly my dear friend Sherry, one of the most admired English professors at the school, walked us through her insights into the poetry of Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-1889).

Hopkins was a Jesuit priest and is now considered one of the most significant Victorian-era poets. But this recognition came many years after Hopkins' death. Hopkins' poems, perhaps too innovative during his lifetime, became noteworthy later on for his innovations in imagery, rhyme, wordplay, and meter.

The Hopkins poem we spent most of our time on is entitled Pied Beauty. It might be helpful to know that "pied" is an old word for speckled, splotched, or multicolored things:

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 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:
Praise him.

Many reflections were shared in class about this wonderful poem. What follows are some of mine.

What I like about this poem is how it calls us to a "generous aesthetic" (echoing a "generous orthodoxy"). That is, we generally don't find beauty in splotched, freckled, blotched, speckled, motley, stippled, flecked, and blotted things. Hopkins calls us to see the "counter" and "strange" as beautiful. Not just the sweet but also sour is to be seen as wondrous.

As I think about Pied Beauty I wonder if Hopkins is not simply asking us to see the beauty in our pied surroundings; I wonder if he is also speaking metaphorically about human affairs. About how we see the counter, strange, slow, and sour people around us. And I also wonder if Hopkins is not wondering about our pied souls and lives. We are original, counter, fickle, and freckled. Our hearts dance with light and dark, sunlight and shadow, joy and sorrow, saintliness and sinfulness. To be human is to be pied. And there is a homely and honest beauty, if somewhat of a mixed-up sort, in the human experience.

That which is pied, obviously, isn't necessarily or typically ugly. But living life with eyes for pied beauty, in creation and in our social sphere, is at the heart of what I'm hoping to call us to in this series. A call to living life with a "generous aesthetic," a hopeful curiosity and expectation that beauty is to be found in the most mundane and unexpected of places.

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2 thoughts on “Ugly: Part 6, Pied Beauty”

  1. I'm just a southern Ohio guy. I barely have enough brain power to track most of the conversations that take place at this site. Therefore it is very difficult for me to communicate how much I appreciate them.

    This poem and the expression "generous aesthetic" touches me deeply today.

    I am the "Benevolence Deacon" within my congregation. I have never been happy with the way "benevolence" is generally conducted. I am striving to understand why it is the way it is, and consequently, what change is needed. Currently, this has me wrestling with understanding the socioeconomic dynamics of being a middle-class church attempting to reach a low-income community.

    I continually look to God to teach me how to serve Him. Today, I delivered over $100 of supplies to a complete stranger. She rubbed me the wrong way! I cannot imagine how to help this lady even if she would cooperate with me. I feel the age-old temptation to give-up.

    Reading this post, and having read the prior "Ugly" posts, I am renewed to keep moving forward. I think what I am gaining is the realization that much of what "rubs me wrong" and discourages me is aesthetic in nature. It may be that toward a more "generous aesthetic" is where God is leading. Or at least a more generous aesthetic is prerequisite to the next lesson. Maybe? Maybe not? Nevertheless, I am encouraged to keep moving forward.

    So, thanks.

  2. Hi Jason,
    Thanks for your comments and sharing. Speaking for myself, I share the same struggles. This series is for me if it is for anyone.

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