Language and tone in Pied Beauty

The poetic interest is in the vocabulary and diction of the poem.

Compound adjectives / epithets

The literary term for a compound adjective is compound epithet (epithet really only meaning adjective). Hopkins aim seems to have been to provide striking new ways of seeing words.

More on compounds: We see many examples in Hopkins poems. As in chemistry or maths, a compound is putting two terms or elements together. So in English, we can combine a noun with another (e.g. side+walk); an adjective with another, or with a noun, or even combine verbs with nouns or adverbs, making one new word. Two English poets who did this a great deal were Shakespeare and Keats, both very influential on Hopkins. The Greek language also frequently does this, as does German. Hopkins, of course, knew Greek very well. Poets are constantly fighting against exhaustion in words - their overuse, when the sense of their strength and even strangeness is lost (sometimes recaptured when a new language is learnt).

Other features

The other thing Hopkins does here is pair opposite words in the sestet:

  • ‘swift, slow', ‘sweet, sour' (familiar to us through Chinese cooking).
  • ‘Brinded' in l.2 is an archaic form of ‘brindled', which means having dark markings on a gray or brown skin.
Investigating Pied Beauty
  • List the compound epithets here.
    • What extra force do they gain from being put together?
  • Have you noticed the alliteration is muted?
    • What alliterative patterns can you find?
      • Do they seem significant or trivial?
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