Themes in Pied Beauty

The beauty, variety and uniqueness of Nature

This theme stems from an obvious fascination Hopkins had with ‘dappled' things, which included for him varieties of light and shade. (See Binsey Poplars for another example of this). This is Hopkins as amateur artist. A uniform world would not be a true expression of the fullness of God, nor would it be beautiful.

Victorian aesthetic would support Hopkins: design, decor, layout were varied and colourful. By contrast, twentieth century modernism saw starkness and clarity as virtues.

Nature as God's book

The second theme stems from the first: if Nature is a reflection of God, it is because he has created the world out of his nature. God as ‘father' refers here not so much to the Christian concept of the Trinity (God the Father), as God creating in his likeness.

However, Hopkins stresses of God that: ‘his beauty is past change'. The variety in nature, which reflects God, is not the result of changeableness. The Bible puts it:

‘Every good and perfect gift is from above, coming down from the Father of the heavenly lights, who does not change like shifting shadows.' (James 1:17)

Variety may mean beauty; it does not mean change or a lack of perfection. More on God's beauty?

More on God's beauty: Nowadays we restrict the use of the term ‘beauty'. Describing God as ‘beautiful' is unusual to the modern ear. However the Bible refers to this subject: for example the Psalmist talks of:
  • ‘seeing ‘the beauty of the Lord and (enquiring) in his Temple.' (Psalms 27:4).
It is in the perception of the beauty of the Temple that the Psalmist can see the beauty of God. So here, too, in the beauty of Nature, Hopkins perceives God's beauty.

Investigating Pied Beauty

  • The terms ‘variety' and ‘variation' seem similar.
    • Does either term seem to imply the idea of permanence more than the other?
  • Look at Themes and significant ideas: Beauty and its purpose.
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